It is easy to think that public relations and marketing are one and the same, especially in an era in which professionals in both fields increasingly focus on activities such as social media management, online content creation and metrics analysis. There are financial as well as cultural reasons for blending modern PR and marketing:
Financial reasons for the convergence of PR and marketing
According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers, clear majorities of client-side marketers are in the process of upgrading their PR operations. More than 60 percent of respondents plan to increase internal PR staffing in the next five years and 75 percent reported that they will also boost PR spending over that same timeframe.
An even greater share of the survey-takers (89 percent) cited the achievement of “measurable business objectives” as the best way for PR programs to demonstrate value to the organization at-large. In second place was “improve measurement of results,” at 53 percent of responses. These goals reveal how PR is being incorporated into marketing at many enterprises, with the intent of driving upticks in revenue, customer numbers and overall reach.
Such a role for PR would be somewhat at odds with its traditional function as a discipline focused mostly on building relationships. The door separating PR and marketing has usually hinged on the different ways in which they contribute to an organization’s overall mission:
• PR manages the communications channels that link the company to its public, to evolve its image in the eyes of anyone who is interested. Actual sales are not necessarily an objective, as revealed by the forms that PR materials often take: interviews, longer articles, crisis management communications and other documents that do not solicit a sale, but instead attempt to foster awareness and advocacy.
• Marketing is more sales-oriented and, as such, it will seek to encourage direct spending by customers, who constitute a separate – and narrower – audience from the public at-large. Accordingly, the return on investment (ROI) from marketing is easier to quantify than it is with PR. New customers acquired and revenue earned can be compared directly to how much was spent on advertising, calling and other tactics.
Metrics usage in PR and marketing
By merging PR and marketing, many organizations are hoping to apply a common system of metrics to the two and, as a result, align PR more closely with revenue generation. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), while it has not explicitly approved of this convergence, has previously established a set of PR-specific metrics that could, in theory, be used for PR-marketing alignment.
For example, among the PRSA’s metrics are highly mathematical and financial categories such as reach, engagement and ROI. The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) has also created a matrix with instructions for putting these metrics and others into practice to reach either PR (e.g., advocacy and reputation improvement) or marketing (sales and lead generation) goals.
Social media has become the glue holding PR and marketing together. Many of the metrics that the two share became more closely tracked following the emergence of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other platforms as essential tools in both fields. The Global Communications Report 2017 identified “digital and social media” as one of the four most common reasons to work with a PR agency, and social media by itself was designated the third most important skill for future growth among PR professionals.
Plus, the report revealed widespread belief that PR and marketing were converging around the financial, operational and logistical goals, including shared focus on social media, we have discussed so far. Pluralities of in-house and agency PR professionals (45 and 47 percent, respectively) expected marketing to become more aligned with PR, compared to a comfortable majority (61 percent) of marketers. Nearly 90 percent of PR professionals thought that “public relations” would not be an accurate term for what they would be doing in five years’ time.
Cultural reasons for the convergence of PR and marketing
A white paper from the global PR firm Ketchum, “The Principles of PR Measurement,” pointed out the shift of PR into analytics, which is simply the term for the collection and analysis of statistics for organizational purposes. Analytics skills enable PR teams and agencies to deliver what Ketchum calls “business results,” i.e., outcomes that may go beyond standard PR relationship-building to encompass financial matters.
After the affinity for social media management, analytics may be the second most important area where PR and marketing overlap. Pivoting to analytics will often create a new, more collaborative culture at organizations that had not previously emphasized data management:
• IDC estimated that the market for “big data and business analytics” was worth $130.1 billion in 2016; by 2020, it could be worth more than $203 billion as organizations of all kinds invest in technical platforms and additional staff.
• This increased investment can make almost any company into a de facto software company, with significant resources devoted to not only IT infrastructure but also to practices that prevail in modern software development, such as DevOps.
• Without going too much into its technical details, DevOps is mostly about collaboration between previously isolated (“siloed”) teams. It encourages timely and consistent software releases, and it can have a spillover effect across the entire organization, for example between technical (working directly with analytics) and nontechnical teams.
Greater attention to analytics spurs a culture of collaboration, further enhancing the use of marketing and PR data as part of a virtuous cycle. But what do PR and marketing professionals – and the rest of the organization – gain from working together on projects?
Content marketing development in PR and marketing
Content marketing is a prominent field that benefits from this free exchange of information and ideas between these two departments. Depending on the campaign, it might blend essential characteristics of PR, such as honing a brand-specific voice and tailoring a message for multiple audiences, with ones that are also fundamental to marketing, including calls to actions and discussions of the standout features of a particular product or service within a piece of content.
By drawing upon the strengths of PR, content marketing can deliver tangible benefits acceptable to companies committed to analytics and metrics:
• According to Demand Metric, one-quarter of the typical marketing budget is allocated to content marketing, and these dollars get good returns in most cases.
• Content marketing is less expensive than older alternatives such as outbound marketing and it generates three times as many leads as they do, too.
• Blog posts, ebooks, email newsletters and even podcasts are all content marketing forms that are heavily utilized for inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing has become an attractive and proven alternative to outbound marketing now that so many of the old advertising tactics and strategies have become less effective. Ads on the web can be bypassed via ad blockers built into a browser, while TV ads can be easily skipped with a DVR or a premium subscription to a service. PageFair estimated that 615 million devices worldwide used ad blocking software in 2016. In this context, it makes sense to integrate the culture of PR, so that future marketing initiatives are less reliant on outdated approaches like easily blockable ads, as well as more competent and comprehensive in their use of alternative written, visual and audio content.
PR can thrive in a close-knit environment alongside marketing. The heightened attention to analytics at many agencies and within in-house PR teams is likely to put a premium on collaboration. Accordingly, we can expect the gradual elimination of many organizational silos as well as the development of multi-faceted skills among employees, all as ways to maximize the value of data use in realms such as content marketing.
If PR and marketing are ultimately to converge to the extent that many of the Global Communications Report respondents foresee, then producing positive results will require a sustainable organizational culture that balances emphasis on the bottom line – the traditional purview of marketing – with an appreciation of the more qualitative aspects of PR. An advanced degree is an excellent way for practitioners to understand the ongoing convergence and thrive under the new expectations of their industries.
Earn a Master’s in Strategic Public Relations to stand out from the crowd
PR and marketing appear set for a tighter relationship in the years ahead, as organizations of all kinds look to align the relationship-building benefits of PR with the more analytical attributes of marketing. Professionals in both fields will need well-rounded skills that enable them to excel in blended environments in which the traditional lines separating PR and marketing become blurred. An online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University can prepare you for the converged reality of PR and marketing. Learn more about requirements and courses by visiting the main program page today.
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