Why PR will matter more than marketing in 2014

Let’s face it – there is a steamy love-hate relationship going on between marketing and PR. That’s mainly because it can be a bit nebulous.

PR was once an afterthought to marketing. It was considered to be a tactic to generate publicity or to launch a product or service.

Today PR has progressed from a tactical postscript to a strategic partner that helps position an organisation with the public and stakeholders.

Let’s first understand what each one does.

According to James. E. Grunig, both marketing and PR have different agendas: marketing is about selling, its consumers and creating and supplying to demand. Public relations, as the name suggests, is about relationships — reducing conflict and improving co-operation.

The implicit goal of PR is to gain positive perceptions and predispositions which translate into goodwill and reputation. And this is seen and noted as ROI.

How is this measured?

There are many systems of measurement but it is sufficed to say that public opinion, which is expressed, and public support are excellent tools to measure success. 

And here’s the thing, everyone agrees that good public relations means a great environment for marketing. But simply providing that support and environment for marketing is not what good public relations is all about. And it’s also very limiting and boring. Whether it is a multibillion multinational or a start-up, PR is a strategic imperative critical to competitive success rather than just advertising or marketing alone.

Grunig also says that while marketing adds value by increasing income, PR adds value by decreasing the stress and expenses that occur if issues are ignored, expectations are not set or the right groundwork is not done. 

So looking into the future, here is what I think will be critical on PR agendas and what will differentiate PR from marketing:

  • Crisis is a part of everyday life – the internet, social media, activists, regulatory bodies etc. they are all compressing reaction times. I heard that it takes less than 15 minutes for a tweet to become viral and less than 59 minutes for a Facebook update to become viral. This is just not enough time for any organisation to react.  Managing crisis is a PR priority.
  • It’s all about reputation, reputation and reputation! A C-level concern from large corporations to the teeny weenie startups. Good public relations is no longer just the icing on the cake, but all about reputation – building, managing and sustaining it.
  • The media is dead! Long live the media – it’s alive and kicking, and ever changing. Ethical media relations is key to credibility and reputation.
  • Messaging, context, content and values matter, as do valuations. Therefore storytelling and narrative is sheer PR genius at work.

Our world is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and great PR will not just survive, it will thrive and grow in such a dynamic environment. PR is about relationships and reputations and it’s no surprise, therefore, that the PR function is at long last getting the respect and the status that it truly deserves – a boardroom view. Because PR is organisation pervasive and effective, PR touches the lives of all stakeholders in ways marketing can’t.

So while marketing a launch or a product is important from the profit and loss point of view, PR goes a step further and tells the tale of an organisation, its merits and its virtues and why the average consumer and stakeholder on the street should buy in. To that effect, marketing is but a sub set of the PR/communications function.

They say the best things of life are not seen but felt or experienced – great PR deals with a light touch as opposed to aggressive marketing. But great PR also yields great benefits for the organisation.

If you thought PR was all about spin doctoring, well, think again! As Viv Segal once quipped: “PR means telling the truth and working ethically – even when all that the media wants is headlines and all that the public wants is scapegoats. Public relations fails when there is no integrity”.

This view busts the popularly held belief about PR that it’s not always the straight road. But it is. To borrow an analogy from cricket, the best PR happens when played with a straight bat.

At the end of the day, I believe that marketing and public relations will work optimally when they work as separate and discrete functions or as equals on a team, thereby integrating the business process. Both marketing and PR need to work as complementary rather than as competing strategic functions.

Shravani Dang is Vice President and Global Group Head of Corporate Communications at Avantha Group and Advisory Board member of Women in Leadership Forum

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