Categories: PR issues

5 November 2009


PR to marry and lead marketing?

What’s the difference between marketing and PR? That’s a good question, particularly when the likes of Lord Chadlington and Lord Bell are, rightly, calling for more integration between the two disciplines.

One person who thinks she knows the difference is Echo Research’s Group CEO, Sandra MacLeod, who asserts In PRWeek:

“Where marketing loves command and control, PR thrives on influence and relationships. The concepts of customer, employer and global citizen brands are merging. This, if ever there was one, is surely PR’s time.”

I think Ms MacLeod is wrong to say that the difference between the two disciplines is one of approach. I disparage her tacit implication that marketing is a blunter, more clumsy instrument than the deliciously professional and nuanced, human, PR. Her view reflects a popular misconception that needs dispelling. So here goes.

It so happens that I read her thoughts while midway through re-reading Greater Good: How good marketing makes for better democracy, by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz (Harvard Business Press, 2007). So let me review its wisdom a little.

At the core of Greater Good is how marketing not only exists to sell goods and communicate ideas (just as PR does), but also mediates between consumers and suppliers to ensure the market gets – from feedback – what it desires. Or as the book puts it on page 3, the economic function of marketing “is the interface between supply and demand”.

Hence, two-way engagement, interaction, dialogue and feedback are the essence of good marketing practice (just as it is the essence of good sales practice). As the book says:

“Consumers are engaged and involved with marketing and the consumer marketplace. They relish expressing their identity, being part of community, and exercising their creativity – not through every purchase decision they make but through those in which they have chosen to be involved.”

Moreover, a marketing-led company such as Apple, which is closely bonded to its customers, is a command and control-led body at the level of management. The two concepts are not contradictory, as anybody can testify who has studied Professor Theodore Levitt’s – of Harvard Business School – explanation of Henry Ford’s innovative use of production line techniques.

The authors of Greater Good also interestingly point out that a testimony to the power of marketing to forge relationships with consumers is how many of today’s top brands have their origins in the 1800s: Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, H.J. Heinz, Ivory Soap, Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s, Nestlé, Unilever, Siemens and many more.

Perhaps one should also remember that a successful brand is as much in the hands of consumers as of its shareholders; let’s never forget what happened to New Coke.

BTW: I intend to review Greater Good in more detail at another time. There’s much to be said about what politics and marketing have in common and what differentiates them. There’s much good insight in Greater Good, but I shall make the case that the authors overstate the synergies between marketing and democracy, because politics is about power first and foremost, and marketing is not.

But, meanwhile, I recommend Greater Good to anybody in the PR industry who wishes to read a contemporary account of what marketing does and how it is responding to new technology and societal challenges.

Now it is back to today’s subject matter: the relationship in future between PR and marketing. Here’s what Lord Bell said when he echoed earlier remarks from Lord Chadlington:

Integration is the new buzz word, but it is not about lowest common denominators: it is about being channel-neutral, it is about ensuring the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts.

For the PR industry, it is not about the old battle for a share of advertising dollars, but how to work collectively, with all the other disciplines, to a common strategy so that wherever the message appears, it contributes to the overall reputation objectives. Everything must be complementary, not contradictory. There also looms an obsession with new compliance procedures and new regulation across the world, an inevitable but wrong reaction to a collapse of trust.

Coordination, integration and alignment of messages and objectives, then, is the aim of the “new” game. But, of course, it has always been the case that much PR has been marketing – selling – by other means, rather than developing reputational strategy. PR is at its unique, necessary, useful and amusing best in that latter role. But it always did wide work. Edward Bernays, for instance, pioneered issues management as a tool to flog more product whether he was running soap competitions or inspiring women to light Torches For Freedom.

We know that advertising is having to adopt what were once thought to be PR strategies. That’s because firms are having to be more and more clever in hunting down their audience members, and catching their attention.

Moreover, the recession has resulted in a much stricter regime of cost control and increasing demands for return on investment. And, as Lord Bell points out, there’s an obsession with new compliance procedures and new regulation across the world.

Doing away with silos and antiquated departmental demarcations that often produce contradictory messaging makes sense. It is a price both marketing and PR are going to have to pay as we all move on in the post-Credit Crunch environment.

I believe that PR is going to do well where it can prove (or convince) that it can do better than marketing and, in particular, advertising. To what degree advertising is going to become more expensive per eyeball, or less persuasive per dollar on social and mainstream media, I wouldn’t like to say. But I acknowledge that advertising has a proven track record and role that are hard to dismiss, which explains why its budgets far exceed those allocated to PR.

But overall, we might well see PR emerging (or merging) as a major vehicle of marketing: an innovative way of selling stuff and ideas in the digitally networked world. But we will also see plenty of PR professionals still engaged in their traditional roles as advocates in the courts of public opinion and as burnishers of reputations.

So yes, PR and marketing functions will increasingly integrate. Moreover, I maintain that just as PR can do marketing, marketing can do PR, but only up to a point. While neither discipline is inherently superior, there will always be a difference – although not always a clear one – between defending, say, a political policy or corporate reputation and licence to operate, and marketing, say, a chocolate bar.

6 responses to “PR to marry and lead marketing?”

  1. Heather Yaxley says:

    Paul – interesting post, but you confuse many different aspects here. Firstly, integration as in Lord Bell’s quote is nothing more than sensible management – any organisation that is not ensuring all functions are contributing towards the overall strategy will be wasting resources.

    Secondly, your discussion of marketing is primarily one of marketing communications – but marketing is much more than this. Likewise, PR when you compare it to advertising means solely tactical press relations – but advertising is actually a communications tool that can be used for marketing or PR purposes (among others – eg recruitment advertising for HR purposes). And, we both know that press relations is just one aspect of PR.

    What irritates me most though is the implication that marketing = sales. Sales is an expert function in its own right and marketing is one approach (as can be PR) to increasing customer demand and satisfaction.

    I also take a bit of issue with you over Apple – and Henry Ford’s motor business – being customer oriented whilst also being command and control driven. Apple may well know how to hit the buttons of many people, but its approach seems to be driven from an internal vision, not really customer feedback. There are many, many issues with Apple products that should have been addressed much earlier than occurs – the company seems largely dragged to respond to customer complaints.

    And, Henry Ford was driven by the economies of production – not customer requirements – that’s what opened the door for GM to better respond to customers with more interesting products. Old Henry didn’t much develop his original products for decades (although it is a myth that the Model T was only available in black).

    However, overall, like you, I don’t see the value of PR and marketing fighting turf wars. The perspectives of professionals in both areas (along with others such as sales), are needed. But it would be helpful if colleagues in marketing bothered to learn more about the wider remit and perspective of PR professionals.

  2. Paul Seaman says:

    Heather, as ever your points are exciting and challenging.

    My reading of Henry Ford comes from Professor Theodore Levitt at Harvard Business School. His marketing classic “Marketing Myopia” makes the case forcibly that your account of how Henry Ford arrived at his production line solution is a popular myth. Henry Ford worked outside in – from the market to production to deliver the right product at the right price. The fact that he might of lost the plot somewhat at some point is irrelevant.

    I define marketing’s economic function as the interface between supply and demand, as do the authors of Greater Good. I’ve never read a better definition. I shall look in more detail at marketing as a business and societal force when I review Greater Good fully.

    Counter-intuitively, two of the most successful companies right now are command and control freaks and marketing led companies – Apple and Ryanair. Neither one of them goes in for social media conversation the way social media gurus advocate. Both are innovators when it comes to the use of Web technology, connectivity and developing sound business models.

    I dispute your assertion that Apple does not thrive on customer feedback. Perhaps you’ve forgotten what Apple learned from its Newton product? Most of Apple’s later success was based on the lessons learned from customers from that product’s spectacular flop.

    Apple has a relationship to its customers that only now – many years on – is the PC world trying to emulate. Are Apple’s products better? I doubt it – but the marketing is the best there is.

    But they are not the only shows in town. Theirs are but two routes to success.

  3. John Ribbler says:

    I have spent 25 years in public relations and have high regard for the trade, but you need to get real. The entire PR industry in America will generate around $8 billion in advertising this year. Four wireless companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile) spent almost that much just on advertising in 2008. Integration is a noble and righteous theory, but PR is likely to remain a small player.

  4. Paul Seaman says:

    John, your comment is well taken. I think part of the answer comes from what Lord Bell calls learning to work in an integrated complementary fashion to defend reputations in today’s rougher tougher climate. That might still see PR remain a secondary force compared to the resources at the command of our marketing colleagues. But the wild card is disintermediation, which is perhaps PRs opportunity to change the rules completely. That might well result in a fundamental shift for all the major marcomms disciplines as their clients and employers become the media themselves.

  5. Heather Yaxley says:


    From my direct PR experience working with Ford (and a previous life as an analyst of the motor industry), there are undoubtedly many myths created about old Henry – but I think you’ll find Levitt is as guilty as most writers of using a case study for his own purposes.

    I agree that originally Ford understood the market for a low priced car – and the automated production process was a way of delivering that – but once he had his product, Henry did not respond to customer requirements – or indeed drive them, in the same way that GM did.

    In a similar way, Apple and Ryanair strike me less as customer responsive organisations and more as ones that get their products “right”. My point is really that neither focuses on customer relations to the same extent that they use marketing to create a buzz around their products – regardless of the reality of actually how good they are. Classic command and control smoke and mirrors in marketing.

    I think your definition of marketing as “the interface between supply and demand” is very broad and encompasses much of management in a variety of other disciplines in there. But then, the delight of definitions for PR, marketing, etc is that you can usually find one to match whatever you want – especially as every book seems to create a new one to meet the author’s purposes.

    In respect of John’s point about budget spend on advertising raise the very point about the purpose and value of PR. Any organisation spending huge sums on an area which is not proven to be effective (in the main), has to be asking questions about this. So is marketing powerful because it controls a budget? Or is it vulnerable because of this?

    Interesting that as such questions start to be asked, marketing is morphing more into PR’s traditional territory. Especially as arguably the areas where PR works are even more difficult to prove a cause and effect relationship about.

    Mind you, look at the money being spent in areas such as designing apps for iPhone and you wonder whether marketing’s ability to allegedly clothe the Emperor aren’t simply continuing.

  6. […] I loved this article on the relationship (serious, now) between PR & Marketing: It’s about time. I feel like one of those old aunts who have been trying to get the two marrie… […]