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Marketing should be the brains of the outfit, including a deep concern for customer relationships. Marketing, in an ideal scenario, should provide clear direction for any communications function, including PR.

Should marketing direct strategic communication moves?

However, what’s unfortunately more often the case is marketing being rather clueless about what the business or brand story (competitive differentiation) should be. Then it becomes a case of the tail wagging the dog, where PR needs to lead marketing to effective strategies for being heard in the market place and help drive brand awareness and credibility.

[This is a guest post by Ford Kanzler.*]

If marketing is only focused on “turning a buck”, it’s not being undertaken by very good marketers. They probably ought to move over to working in finance. Those are the ones who just look at numbers and typically have no sense of connecting with customers or any other constituencies, except perhaps for stockholders, who are also quite often just trying to turn a buck as well.

Marketing leads

If an organization is set up to deliver goods and services, then frankly marketing ought to be at the helm. Consider what PR would be doing if there were no Marketing…finding and delivering something for an interested group.

What organizations exist without an aspect of Marketing? What organizations exist that exist solely for the purpose of public relations?

  • PR is a service to the organization: it’s the “voice of business”
  • An election campaign is marketing a candidate
  • A benevolent cause is marketing to potential donors
  • Manufacturers are marketing a product.

Consider that reputation, community relations, issues management, internal communication, investor relations and much more are all supporting and sustaining the organization’s or business’ purpose of delivering a goods and services to “customers” or whatever you want to call the recipients.

Cooperation is key

Certainly, I agree that marketing and public relations must work together effectively. PR doesn’t exist in isolation.

However, PR serves the purposes of the organization whose essential reason for being is marketing. I suggest getting upset about who’s directing the show is quite pointless. What’s true is that PR quite often needs to provide communications direction when marketing fails in that area.

Skilled marketers know what needs to be transmitted to their market. Lack of marketing direction doesn’t automatically make PR necessarily ‘in charge’. We’re merely filling an often occurring leadership vacuum.

PR pros shouldn’t get too full of themselves about doing that, even if it’s often a very necessary and valuable role. After all, what are you promoting or communicating about if there’s not a marketing objective?

Effective marketers, now and historically, have a clear vision of what customers want and why and provide PR (and/or marcomms) with the insight and direction needed for communicating well about the organization, products and services.

If PR is also “dedicated to the holistic organization-stakeholder set of relationships, including marketing imperatives,” so much the better. Then both functions are on the same page and things will likely work out a lot better.

Bringing a focus

I prove my value to clients by helping them understand what, how and when they should be communicating about their business. Then I help execute appropriate campaign tactics that carry their story to receptive prospects.

Am I doing PR when I move back up the chain of events to create communications strategy? I don’t think so. I’m doing the work of the marketer who should have figured out how to tell their story before I showed up. Thankfully, lots of businesses haven’t figured that out, so I and other PR pros can help marketers that way. We’re doing marketing so we can do effective PR.

The mind directing the voice

If public relations isn’t a service to marketing, then apparently most companies have it all wrong.

Everywhere I’ve been PR reports to the Marketing VP or Director. If it reports to someone lower on the totem pole than that, it sure isn’t going to be very strategic to the company’s business.

What also enters into today’s PR practice has been labeled corporate social responsibility (CSR).

I suggest strategic-thinking PR pros have long focused on their organizations’ or clients’ social or public responsibilities as critical to protecting the brand’s overall, long-term perceived value.

Were they always listened to? Certainly not and often to the detriment of the business they were counseling. Now we have a name for this traditional aspect of PR, specialists practicing it and books written on it.

However, CSR also must connect with the business objectives and either temper or enhance what the business is planning, doing or not doing. It’s here where there certainly may be potential conflicts between marketing, other groups and PR.

CSR, or PR pros working in that vein, have the opportunity to act as a corporate conscience. When PR pros want to separate their work from marketing and seem to consider PR a higher or loftier calling there’s going to be trouble. Corporate and marketing management will be quickly turned off by PR pros who are not well connected with Marketing’s objectives and strategies.

To Craig’s point that, “organisations are driven by their vision, values and business objectives,” I agree. The last time I checked “business objectives” are definitely about communicating and selling goods, services or an idea, typically to earn revenue. Creating awareness, credibility, preference, willingness to engage and purchase or adopt something from the organization sponsoring the communicating drives revenue.

This is at the heart of PR’s support of the organization’s marketing and sales effort. Creating good will or positive regard or reputation are all intimately connected to business growth or maintenance.

Savvy Marketing and Public Relations

Even organized religions are marketing and publicizing in a range of ways to raise funds or gather members.

I’ve done PR for the Boy Scouts to help grow membership, community support and involvement. It’s all the same game. Yes, the scouts are driven by their ‘vision and values’. However, bringing new scouts and their parents into the fold to grow and maintain the organization is what the organization’s survival is all about.

Not tying PR efforts (objectives, strategies and tactics) to business objectives is, frankly, a sure way of losing your job or your client. Do marketing and public relations need to play well together for best effect? Certainly! Their working hand-in-hand is key.

What did you think of Ford’s assertions? Should public relations always be a service to marketing? Are those PR pros working in a CSR vein taking the opportunity to act as an organisation’s conscience? Even if PR is not working in a CSR-specific (or branded) area, should it still be acting to some degree as an organisation’s conscience?

*Ford Kanzler is a Managing Partner at Marketing/PR Savvy and has extensive experience in both marketing and public relations. His just-published book, Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business, illuminates the ups and downs, and pros and cons, in each discipline cooperating and understanding each area.