Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

August 5, 2009

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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