There’s a never-ending debate about who’s the leader – PR or marketing – when it comes to getting an organisation on the map. Ford Kanzler argues that marketing is the ‘brains’ of the outfit’. That it provides the direction for all communication. PR is the helpmeet providing the support. If there was no marketing, there would be no organisation. Ford takes this further in saying an organisation’s “essential reason for being is marketing.”

Collaboration and negotiation for PR and marketing

Let’s examine this a little closer: Honda’s essential reason for being is to make cars, Nokia’s to make mobiles, Microsoft’s to make software, Sanitarium’s to make Weetbix … and of course, they don’t want to just make them, they want to sell them.

These companies weren’t set up with their raison d’être being marketing. They were set up to make stuff. Marketing is their tool to sell their stuff and marketing is essential to this end – in fact, it leads when it comes to getting those products on the shelves in the marketplace. And so it should, it’s no coincidence it’s called marketing.

[This is a guest post from New Zealand-based strategic communicator, Helen Slater.*]

But I am skipping forward just a little. Let’s look at what it is we all do. I’ve seen the LinkedIn discussions about public relations and marketing, who does what and their place in the hierarchy. I deliberately use the term communication, because public relations is such a maligned term and many people don’t understand what it is we do.

But while I don’t term myself as a marketer, I do use marketing within what I do. I use advertising too. And social media. I’m not an advertising exec, or a social media strategist. But I am a public relations specialist and communicator.

So where’s PR in the mix?

Part of the problem and what contributes to the confusion, to my mind, is the PR industry simply hasn’t defined with any exactitude what it is we do (I think of the many times the Public Relations Institute of NZ has talked about ‘PR for PR.’)

I had this conversation just the other day, with a CFO telling me that PR is simply media and key messages, while strategy belongs to business strategists and the two are separate functions. Hmmmm. This was a not-for-profit sector, but the person concerned has a commercial background and was drawing on his past experience.

I asked him where he saw marketing – at the head table? No, because according to him, marketing isn’t about high-end strategy either.

Public relations is about relationships (funnily enough). That’s why it’s called public relations. The difficulty is what this means to our various audiences.

Public relations is about developing strong relationships with our stakeholders – staff, consumers, investors, general public and communities, competition, suppliers etc. That’s where reputation and trust is made and lost.

And it is reputation and trust that influences the relationship and therefore the buying decision. As others have said,  public relations is about the long term relationships and sustainability of the business.

If it’s about buying, then marketing leads?

Whether you’re a producer of products (FMCG, manufacturing etc), a provider of services, or a not-for-profit, you have consumers you rely on to invest in your product, service or to donate to your organisation. So therefore, marketing leads surely?

Well, yes, you could say that if sales were only based on people buying into the sales pitch, rather than the package – which is trust in the brand and reputation of the company.

And who develops that brand and reputation? It’s the PR function that develops the strategy to deliver on the promise – typically the promise of an organisation that is socially responsible, a good corporate citizen, a good equal-opportunity employer and which produces darned good product.

Ford argues this all supports the marketing drive and that an organisation’s business objective is typically to earn revenue. Of course it’s about revenue. But if that’s all it is, it’s not going to have longevity in the market these days.

People expect a lot more than that from business leaders. Better to say, one primary objective is to earn revenue. Others might well be to first make the product to spec or provide the service they were set up for in the first place, or in the case of Ford’s Boy Scouts, to help young people become better citizens .

Marketing is one of the means to that end.

Most CEOs are savvy – they know their customers expect much more from them than the drive for sales. CEOs’ business objectives are these days more geared to a sustainable contribution into the community they rely on for their existence. And that corporate social responsibility is driven by public relations and marketing needs to be connected into that.

(Note: I deliberately mentioned Sanitarium before, as an example of an organisation which relies on reputation and trust, and whose primary business objective is to contribute to those in need through its profits from making healthy food – another business objective.)

When I am developing a strategy with my clients, it’s a core business strategy supporting the business goals, to maintain and build trust and reputation. We look at risks and issues, identify perceptions present and desired, decide our objectives and the business actions (including marketing) required to achieve our objectives.

This is public relations: one tent, many occupants.

Ford asserts that marketing and public relations need to play nicely in the sandpit, working hand in hand. He’s right. They’re also playing in the same sandpit. It’s the communication sandpit. When Ford talks about PR reporting to marketing in every organisation he knows, that’s because there is such little understanding in the wider business world of what PR actually does.

Public relations needs PR. And get its own story out there. Then we won’t have the perennial complaint of not being at the top tier, in the C-suite.

What public relations is trying to achieve

PR and marketing are vital components of communication. Rather than fighting over who is supporter and who is driver, let’s reframe it into public relations and marketing specialists working together within communication, each reliant on the other, and the rest of the organisation as a whole, to ensure the organisation’s business objectives are met.

This includes internal communication, community relations, investor relations, branding, marketing, and the myriad of other persuasions of communication. When they’re all in the one communication tent, working as a team, there’s much greater opportunity for the organisation’s voice to be in harmony (even if there’s still some discordant notes within).

I know Craig has a particular position on this idea – which is we will end up with a hybrid trying to address two different agendas – making money vs reputation. I understand and have sympathy with this position. I also figure if you have a lousy reputation, you’re not going to make money.

I’m not necessarily saying public relations, or marketing for that matter, should die and a communication ‘hybrid’ take over their roles. Public relations and marketing are good descriptors.

PR has, however, been drowned in the perception of fringe-flicking chicky-babes in high heels quaffing bubbly at the fashion shows.

PR must define itself properly in a business context and get that message out there (practice what it preaches?). In the process it needs to work alongside and align with marketing – and yes, we all do come under the communication umbrella.

What do you think of the precepts Helen presents? Can’t marketing influence reputation as much as, if not more than, public relations? Is marketing the dominant business discipline in a best-practice organisation, as Ford can be construed as implying?

*Helen Slater is the owner of Strata Communications, a consultancy that provides public relations, marketing and, yes, business communication services. Helen has 25 years’ experience in public sector and corporate communications, radio and print, in a wide variety of sectors including local government, property and real estate, financial services, ports and shipping and health