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It’s A Shaky Bridge Between Marketing & Public Relations

There is a trend for companies to combine the Marketing and Public Relations (PR) functions. In some companies the new marriage has had immediate success in terms of cost and the seamless deliver of corporate messages;  but it could be a bumpy road ahead.

Traditionally, Marketing and PR operated in silos. Marketing was product and sales oriented and focused on sending commercial messages to customers. PR on the other hand, was not overtly commercial and was more concerned with communicating corporate messages to a wider audience of stakeholders including the general public, regulators, media, investors, lobby groups and the like.

Why Are The Changes Happening?

As both functions require different skill sets, have different tools and vie for different audiences, what is driving the consolidation of Marketing and PR into one?

Firstly, there is the obvious advantage of having a seamless message when going to market. Working in silos often led to disasters because ‘smooth’ messaging was not available. For instance, when the recall of some Toyota brands was going on a few years ago because of brake problems; the Toyota PR machine was working in overdrive explaining the problems and the recall; but unknown to them, the recalled models were still being advertised on TV in some countries. Perhaps that would have been avoided if the Marketing and PR machines were one and the same and did not operate in silos.

Cost saving is another aspect – the consolidation of Marketing and PR certainly has staff cost implications, particularly at the higher, more expensive end of the management structure.

Mainly, however, it has been technological advances that have fueled the move to consolidate the two functions. Both PR and Marketing have become reliant on fast and successful social media interaction and digital content. Organisations are being built on the results of successful communication. Look at BuzzFeed, a company that markets with communication. It advertises via community engagement. It sells products and services with online quizzes, videos, and must-have trend pushes.

A Marriage Fraught With Dangers

Although there are distinct advantages in consolidating the two functions, as with all changes, there are dangers as well. The major downfall of combining Marketing and PR to leverage off better technology is that when you are not marketing a product directly and instead selling through association, you can create a sense of mistrust amongst consumers. There is a very distinct impact on the authenticity of your messages and the credibility with which they are received. The result – the content creator loses audience trust.

Spam is another way to harm your market. In the past, it was one of the easier ways to expand your reach. In the current market, such an act is seen as dated and annoying. There is a fine line between delivery, and over-delivery. If you overuse these channels for Marketing purposes, you destroy them for PR messages that may be necessary tomorrow. What PR and Marketing need to do is either retain separate channels, or find a balance in content creation.

Trust Is The Question

As lines of responsibility continue to blur between PR and Marketing, there will be advantages, but you need to somehow retain the different skill sets for the different hats of PR and Marketing. An important understanding that is being lost is that PR is reactive. For instance, when things go wrong, the company needs to communicate quickly and with credibility with media, regulators and consumers. unfortunately, the channels to do PR effectively, are being damaged because of their overuse for marketing purposes. Consider the situation when an airline company has an emergency landing for one of its aircraft; or when a consumer is hospitalised after eating your product. At times like these, it will never be enough to come up with an advertisement or cleverly created social media content to address the public concern over the disaster. More would be needed. The use of social media by political figures is the perfect example. If a politician regularly uses Tweets to make a political point, or stir-up the emotions of an electorate; when it comes to receiving a serious message, how much faith do you put in the same politician’s Tweet?

If you are merging Marketing and PR, be warned that one day you may find yourself  trying to manage an emergency situation like the BP oil spill, with nothing more tangible at your disposal than a low credibility social media campaign with a negligible open-rate, to get your messages across.