PR has its own shoes

Big nod to Steve Rubel for finding this juicy article from the Economist about PR filling the shoes of the stumbling advertising business. At the onset I was enjoying it. But the more I read the less inclined I was to not grit my teeth and clench my fists. The unsettling began with this phrase, “PR is an increasingly vital marketing tool” and then proceeded to offend me even more. I took particular issue with this segment:

The goal of PR is usually to secure positive coverage in the media, and the well-worn tactics include calling a press conference, pitching stories directly to journalists, arranging eye-catching events, setting up interviews and handing out free samples. But as PR profits from advertising’s difficulties, it is taking up a host of new stratagems—and seeking to move up the corporate pecking order.

In his book Value-Added Public Relations Thomas L. Harris admits that PR is a great tool for marketers because it gives marketing the credibility factor. Well, yeah!

I don’t know what your personal definition of public relations is, but I do not define it by how it is used by marketing. Can marketing and public relations work together to achieve some great goals? Yes. But I get really tired of people – marketers, advertisers, or any other communication people – who refer to public relations when what they are really talking about publicity. Is publicity a part of public relations? Yes. But I also consider advertising a subset of marketing. I mean, doesn’t advertising belong to one of the Ps? Promotion? Can public relations be used for promotion? Yes, excellently so, but that doesn’t mean that public relations is a marketing tool. It’s making the role of PR subservient to other parts of an organization and I disagree with that. PR is an entity in and of itself. PR is about communicating with the organization’s publics – all of them – not just consumers. Excellent PR affects the environment in which an organization exists, but not just to sell or create buzz about products. The article also goes on to say:

Some PR firms see an opportunity to move up their clients’ hierarchy—becoming not just service providers, but also purveyors of strategic advice to senior management.

Yes. PR is a strategic management function. Management function, not marketing tool. I do wholeheartedly believe that PR should have the ear of senior management; PR should be at the table. But it is not a tool for any specific part of the an organization, like a hammer, it is the arm that swings the hammer, that works in tandem with the rest of the organization.

The article, in my opinion, covers some interesting ground and makes a good point. Advertising is struggling and PR is stepping up to fill those shoes, but I just disliked the wording of the piece. Maybe I’m being oversensitive or unrealistic, but that’s just how I feel about it. Someone convince me otherwise. PR has its own shoes.

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One Response

  1. Luke and I love this debate…
    And I would like to add my bit…
    I, like you, hate the misnomer that PR=Just Publicity, Just press conferences, good image and reputation. It’s superficial. And also, why does PR become a guest, a distant cousin, in an organization’s hierarchy subservient to the Marketing department. I don’t think an organization obtains a stellar reputation from media coverage alone or from avante garde advertisements. It’s the strategy. Every organization needs PR because it ties the organization to the community and gives it a voice. Also, every organization needs marketing. I posit that marketing and PR can be shared in strategy. Some campaign aspects call for PR functions and others marketing. But I think advertising is struggling because consumers have stopped listening and media use has changed so much advertisers have not found the right formula in a multimedia-use consumer environment.

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