Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

Is PR becoming more like Marketing ? I recently read a fascinating white paper by David Meerman Scott,  “The new rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly,” an insightful dissection of the changes digital and social media are driving in the world of PR. David notes that:

“Today, savvy marketing professionals use press releases to reach buyers directly…The media has been disintermediated. The Web has changed the rules. Buyers read your press releases directly and you need to be talking their language…Your audience is millions of people with Internet connections and access to search engines and RSS readers.”

Now I don’t know about you, but it sounds like PR is evolving to be more like Marketing. Why? Because traditional media is no longer the key intermediary it once was. PR is becoming more direct–just like Marketing.

Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

What is PR ?

Historically, PR has been differentiated from Marketing in several ways:

  • It communicates with multiple stakeholders, many of whom don’t buy the firms products or services — e.g. media, analysts, NGO’s, etc.
  • PR addresses topics of public interest using mediums that don’t require direct payment, unlike advertising.
  • PR often occurs thru 3rd parties that provide legitimacy that traditional marketing doesn’t have.

It’s clear that Marketing and PR, always uncomfortable bedfellows, are becoming more, not less, similar. For example:

  • The rise of social networks is increasing the influence of opinion leaders who don’t buy the products or services, but are influential nonetheless. Someone needs to be tasked with engaging and influencing them–but who?
  • Digitally enabled news releases, social media, and corporate web sites have created numerous opportunities for companies to communicate with consumers without paying anything for media. Is this PR–or Marketing?
  • Traditional media is under assault by the twin forces of non-subscription based alternatives and the democratization of information and news via blogs, Twitter, etc. Who manages these new “gatekeepers?”

The Erosion of Traditional Media as Gatekeeper

The key point is that the traditional media no longer hold a near monopoly on media and publishing. Marketers can often go direct to consumers with tools long associated with PR, but without the barriers to getting published. Again, to quote David:

“The news cycle has changed…With Web-based access to information, consumers have real choices for how they learn about the world around them…Not too long ago, the only way for corporations to influence news was for their PR people to issue a press release (intended for media only)…Editors and reporters were in a power position as the filter between organizations and the public. With the old news cycle, all PR people knew the rules: The ultimate goal was to get some magazine or newspaper to write a positive story that would appear weeks or months later…No more. Information control is decentralized.”

What Does This Mean For Marketing ?

  1. Marketing Must Take A Leading Role in Understanding Consumers PR Needs — In the past, PR could be trusted to know what the media wanted and what would get published. With the disintermediation of media, the need to understand consumers PR needs becomes more important. This is a task uniquely suited to the Marketing function. Segmenting various stakeholder groups, understanding their different needs–opinion leaders, users and non-users may all have different motivations–is a critical first step.
  2. Marketing Must Adapt its Communication Style — News releases and other PR like channels–even direct to consumer–are not advertising. While Marketers are trained to understand how to use advertising to communicate effectively with consumers, this training is lacking when the mediums are PR centric. Consumers have different expectations of these channels and communication styles and tonality need to change with the medium. Marketers need to listen to consumers and learn what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Marketing Must Drive a Content Publishing Strategy –– A simple recitation of the brand promise is unlikely to be very effective with these channels and mediums. Marketing needs to drive a clear content strategy that springs from the brand promise. Content that surrounds, supports and deepens the brand promise becomes an integral part of the PR communication strategy. Marketing needs to define and drive this.
  4. Marketing Needs to Optimize the Web Site for PR — Part of the new PR model is ensuring that your web site and web capabilities can enable the appropriate new PR efforts. This includes posting news releases in a news section on your site, ensuring your news posts are search engine optimized, enabling RSS feeds to key distribution channels, optimizing brows-ability so readers can find new information, and optimizing links to related content.
  5. Marketing & PR Need to Define New Governance Models — These changes beg an important question: what is the right organizational structure and governance model for the Marketing and PR organizations? Are they one or separate ? Does PR report to Marketing ? is there a division of tasks? If so, who owns what? The CMO and Chief Communication Officer (CCO) need to have a joint and aligned game plan for how to play in this new environment.

PR is going through many of the same transformational challenges as Marketing. The disintermediation of the traditional media means that Marketing will play an increasingly important role in PR going forward. CMO’s need to take notice and define how they and the CCO will tackle this new Marketing challenge.

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16 Responses to Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

  1. Hi Randall. Actually all those quotes were from my ebook. You can read them direct here. “The new rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly”

    Yes, using press releases as a way to reach buyers directly is a lot like marketing. On the web, the lines between marketing & PR have blurred.

    Take care, David

    • beardrs says:

      David — Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct–the quotes are from your white paper. I incorrectly attributed these to Jeff Bullas, when in fact, he excerpted your white paper and this was clearly stated. I’d like to point out to readers that most of the thinking in Jeff’s post are actually yours, and your white paper is well worth reading. The white paper is one of the best thought pieces on where PR is headed in the future that I’ve seen. Thanks for correcting this.

  2. My pleasure. Thanks for adding to the discussion here. It is certainly a new world we are living in. David

  3. Great post! Press releases can be very helpful to have more focus even on small business advertising.

  4. […] the original: Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ? Tagged as: a-search-engine-frien, becoming-more, david, david-meerman, marketing, phrases-instead, […]

  5. Rob Bosveld says:

    Hi Randall, a contribution from Holland here. I agree that PR and Marketing are growing together more and more. (And let’s face it, they serve the goals of the same company, so how big is the diffrence in essence?) On the other hand, just because of the enormous amount of ‘information’ available on the internet, the gatekeeper function of traditional media becomes more and more valuable.
    It struck me again this summer, when looking for recommendations for a camp site, that more opinions and more information doesn’t nescessaraly mean: better or more trustworthy information. Quality of information, or opinon, depends strongly on the quality of the sender and/or publisher.

    Of course you can send out numerous Press releases about any, even slightly relevant topic. And yes it can (and probably will) be read read by more people, quicker than ever before. But what is the value of this? Will those readers ‘believe’ your information? Especially when you are not a well known bilion dollar company, like about 80% of the businesses, how much credebility does your press release bare? (Of course taken in too account that you write impecable press releases, that do not contain gobbledygoo etc.)

    So, allthough the rules have changed, in a way they also stay the same. I still prefer my press release getting quoted in the (critical) national daily, over publication on weblogs that just publish whatever is sent to them. Because in the end I believe the consumer is not stupid.

    • beardrs says:

      Hi Rob–Thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion. You’re right that traditional media will not go away and will still play an important role in the future. One of these roles is to provide 3rd party believability and credibility, as you say. This relates directly to a couple of implications I noted for Marketing–understading consumer needs and creating relevant content. If Marketing does those well, what is produced should have credibility and added value to consumers. I’ve personally worked on advertising that had very high credibility with consumers, so I know from firsthand experience that credibility does not require media endorsement. Having said this, your point is a good one that traditional media will continue to have an important role and can add credibility, but also that the role and expectations of Marketing are changing as well. Both will be necessary to do the “PR” job well in the future.

  6. Nancy Chou says:

    Hi Randall,

    I’m extremely interested in this discussion from these perspectives:

    1. How do you feel the role of PR in a b2b has changed?

    2. For sure, what you’ve said is true in b2c, however, many consumer product companies still believe an appearance on the Oprah show is a badge of effective PR. If so, do you agree, all the online tools in the world and SEO optimized press release can’t replace a PR professional pitching the folks at Oprah?

    3. The final issue is that of, we’re now in the era of “do it yourself…you can reach consumers directly, etc.” So, naturally, the final question is, what’s the role/value add by PR agencies and professionals? In the not so long ago past, one of the key values that PR agencies brought to the table, particularly in the b2b environment is their editorial contacts. They nurtured relationships with key editors. They tailor their clients’ press releases to be relevant to the areas the editors covered which in turn, reflected what the readers (buyers and influencers) wanted to read and learn.

    Very interested in following this discussion thread.

    • beardrs says:

      Nancy — Thanks for reading the blog and commenting. I wrote this post specifically with B2C business models in mind, although I think many of the ideas and principles apply to SME business as well where it is still largely a one-to-many engagement model. For larger B2B business models where you know the customers firsthand and have deep relationships, it is probably somewhat less applicable.

      I’m also not suggesting that traditional PR goes away. Product placement and media endoresements can be good things–including Oprah. A well equipped and capable PR organization will play an important role in these and other areas. Also, the media will continue to provide 3rd party credibility in many cases that is difficult to generate on your own–regardless of the quality of your content. Much depends on your target market and who or what they see as credible. What’s interesting is that within the social media space, there are many newly credible sources of information and opinion (people and organizations), and these have to be engaged as well. So, there will continue to be an important role for traditional PR and media gatekeepers.

      Having said this, it’s pretty clear that the the boundaries between PR and Marketing are blurring and this raises important questions as to roles and responsibilities. Part of the post’s objective is to challenge people to think about how the roles are changing and what types of skills and governance models will be needed in the future.

      Hope this helps address your excellent questions.


  7. Nancy Chou says:

    Hi Randall,

    Thanks for your response, however, may I get a more precise and directed response from you based on the premise that increasingly, the popular belief is we now live in a “can do practically everything ourselves using free social media&web 2.0 tools” world, and many people have that mentality?

    So, if we were to breakdown businesses however you’d like b2b versus b2c or make it into a matrix of big versus small, b2b versus big versus b2c, or even within b2b, make it into b2b tech companies versus everyone else, no matter, what do you think the role of a PR agency is and what are their value-value that even the toughest of “we can reach buyers directly ourselves” CEOs can’t dispute?

    Based on your above response, you cited product placement and media endorsement, particularly relevant to b2c but less so with deeply technical b2b businesses like semiconductor chips if I may say so myself, as 2 examples where a PR agency has traditionally added value and that you believe it does easier/better than a “we can do everything ourselves” driven business.

    However, in your example, how would you argue against “Gees, I don’t a PR agency to do traditional product placement for my cool widget in the next 007 Bond movie, because I get viral marketing going on my own via Twitter YouTube, etc”?

    Next, for a deeply technical b2b company where traditional product placement (say, have it appear in the next Bond movie) is not applicable and media endorsement is valued/measured more commonly by a tech editor writing about your product’s technology space and hopefully cites you in the round up products that are available in the market (let’s leave the business press aside for the moment), how would you argue that a professional PR agency can add value to helping your company in generating revenue?

    My arguement is, in the not so distant past, only PR pros ordered, downloaded and studied editorial calendars. They cultivated long term relationships with all the key editors, pitched stories, drafted press releases (before keywords & SEO were invented), placed them over the wire (before bloggers became a new breed of folks who exercise tremendous influence on the buyer’s decision making process), followed up to ensure press pick up, and faithfully compiled “clip books” for their client’s review and validtion of the PR agencies’ worth.

    Today, in the era of social media and web 2.0, how have PR agency’s roles and value-adds been marginalized and/or how have the need & metrics for proving their worth shifted?

    Best regards – Nancy

    • beardrs says:

      Hi Nancy — Thanks for your follow-up questions and comments. I do see a continued important role for PR to play. Specifically, the area that you reference is an important one. Your argument for the traditional role of PR continues to be valid. A PR organization, whether in-house or external, can still cultivate relationships with media that have credibility and 3rd party expertise, and “pitch stories, draft releases, place them over the wire…,” etc. I’m certainly not arguing that PR is going away. I think the big change is that in addition to the PR function, there now exists technology and capabilities to go direct to the customer without going through the traditional media. They are no longer the sole gatekeeper. It really isn’t an either/or question–both will co-exist. Happy to continue the dialogue off-line if you like.

  8. Dear Randall
    A very interesting posting. (Perhaps I should ask you to read a similar white paper I wrote a few years ago: The Changing Face of Communications in the Reputation Economy … from supporting transaction to facilitating interaction).
    I was particularly interested in the comments from Rob Boswels and Nancy Chou which dealt, respectively, with the gatekeeper function of traditional media and the particular value of editorial contacts in B2B marketing.
    Like Rob and nancy I suspect that, given the plethora of 3rd party comment online, the traditional credibility bestowed on material published in certain traditional media will, in fact, increase …. particularly the material published by B2B trade publications. (Even Google, in a recent survey of B2B purchasers, cited trade publication editorial as second only to personal sales contact when it comes to convvincing a prospective customer of the appropriateness of a company’s offering).
    So in the case of B2B marketing, far from the trade press being less of the key intermediary (gatekeeper)it once was, might not that trade press – if approached correctly – become an equally important gateway and multimediary?
    My own company’s internet-based system for global B2b editorial placement enables our multinational B2B clients to distribbute editorial articles (not press releases)direct to a long-established database of 13,000 trade press editors in over 50 business areas across more than 100 countries. In effect we provide a B2B exchange for the world’s trade press; to the benefit of editors, their readers and those companies wishing to talk directly to those readers.Those editors are not left having to scour the digital diaspora for material of potential value to their readers … they subscribe (for free)to be notified (digitally) of specific editorial material likely to be of relevance to them. Intead of intermediaries, the editors can act as infomediaries, helping themselves, their readers and the marketing and communications managers of B2B organisations to weld new media distribution to a form of traditional B2B media usage which is unlikely to disappear for the reasons underlined by both Rob and yourself.
    Asfor consumer marketing and PR (the focus of your posting)the web has, as you say,changed the rules and I hope both PR and marketing evolve … evolve from the ‘tell and sell’ hurling of one-way publicity at a decidely 20th century creature, Homo Consumus. Marketing and communications managers, and their marketing services providers, will increasingly need to develop new skills, as well as sharpen their traditional skills, if they are to successfully shape market and public opinion via new communications channels deployed across a more complex socio-economic landscape populated by a new 21st century creture … Homo Informus.

    • beardrs says:

      Hi Hylton — Thanks for reading the blog and your interesting perspective. I clearly opened the door for a spirited discussion on the B2B front–and I think it’s a good one. I think your point that the media explosion/fragmentation has the potential to make traditional well known and respected publications/media even more important and authoritative is a reasonable one. The question then is: how important is this marketing touchpoint in your business ? This touches on a very important point which is not well understood by many Marketers–the relative importance of various marketing touchpoints. There are several research techniques which can help any brand quantitatively understand the relative impact of different marketing contact points in a given category. In some categories, professional or expert recommendation, articles in trade publications, etc. are highly important, and in others less so. If you’re operating in a category (perhaps B2B as you state) where professional or expert recommendation is very important, then nurturing these relationships and marketing through this channel could be very important. Lastly, I’d love to read your white paper–how do I access it ?

  9. Hi, Randall. A comment from the middle distance: Underlying what’s being observed in the article and the discussion is the ripple effect of technology development in media. PR, marketing — these are professional systems that grew up in the Midcentury era. Today we are discussing the huge Millennial impacts of the web, globalization of media, the resulting consumer behaviors, and the ensuing reformulation of the marketing and PR industries. These are big industries that carry water for even bigger industries — the castles of the macroeconomy — P&G, Amex, etc. All that structure does not bend and twist easily.

    Forgive me if this sounds overly theoretical. I have a small shop and work as a generalist. I focus on message and have less invested in the operations of the PR or marketing industry — I do marketing, I do PR but have no cause to grapple with the distinctions because I have no large specialized departments or (as in the case of holding companies) diversified agencies to support. So I’m kind of a fly on the wall of this issue.

    The marketplace for sales drivers has always been about whatever works. Today there’s more whatever, and as noted the mass media have become more democratic. Whether in response PR is functioning more like marketing or marketing like PR, I see this discussion as a snapshot in the evolution of a support system that’s been around as long as commerce. How do we persuade people to buy? My question is, what are the consequences to the PR and marketing industries if their “definition” is changing? How does this affect the way they compete?

    • beardrs says:

      HI Evan — Thanks for reading the blog and a great point. In the end, it’s all about having impact on the business. To this end, as I noted in another response, I think it’s critically important to stay on top on the most important and impactful marketing touchpoints in your category. Given the changes in the digital landscape and the many new forms of media that are exploding onto the scene, I suspect that impact of marketing touchpoints are changing in many cateogries. If we’re clear about who we are targeting, what we want to say or have a dialogue about, then the next critical question is where does the communication take place ? Measuring this is important in deciding where to focus limited resources and have real business impact. After this, it’s up to each organization to decide what’s Marketing and what’s PR, which have always been defined by somewhat arbitrary distinctions anyway, and then develop an appropriate governance model so everyone is clear on how they work together to produce great results.

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