Why I don’t trust marketing

A while back, maybe a decade, I attended a lecture by Plain Dealer columnist Dick Feagler. Dick opened his talk by telling our students he writes 12 columns a month for Ohio’s largest newspaper. About twice a month, he said, “I actually have something to say.”

columnist_dick_feagler.gifDick would make a fine blogger. Like columnists, bloggers don’t always have something relevant to say, but our readers expect something nonetheless. So we write, sometimes when we shouldn’t.

In the grand scheme, few people will care — as the headline says — why I don’t trust marketers. But since it’s been gnawing at me for, oh, 15 years, I figured I’d put it out here for your consideration and feedback.

Why now?

Blame it on the blogosphere. I see too many 30something PR bloggers who don’t or won’t differentiate between PR and marketing. Most use the terms interchangeably, and I worry that a generation of practitioners may come of age not knowing the difference.

images.jpgMarketing: PR’s “evil twin.”

I started using the pet name “evil twin” about a year ago –my flippant way of differentiating the PR function from the distinct discipline of marketing. My concerns took root in the early 1990s, when the folks at Medill coined the term “integrated marketing communication.”

Under IMC, public relations becomes part of the “marketing” effort. That’s OK in some instances but not others. Without question, PR professionals must support the marketing effort. When the challenge is to sell something — a product, service or brand — PR’s gotta be on board.

At the same time, marketing must never dominate the partnership, since marketing is not the answer to every communication challenge. Marketing is too vested in the sale.

By definition, marketing is the process of getting goods and services to customers using those 4 Ps we learned about in college: product, price, placement and promotion. Notice, there is no “PR” on that list, but those who edited the wikipedia entry about marketing were happy to list PR as a “specialist area” of marketing. Yes, some newer marketing models include PR in the marketing equation, but mostly for its publicity function.

Most marketers value what PR brings to the table, but I’ve yet to meet one who really understands the function in theory and in practice. Most marketers never take the time to learn it, and PR is partly to blame for not forcing the issue with business schools. At Kent State, PR undergrads take between 3 and 6 marketing classes (depending on if they want a minor in the subject), plus courses in management, accounting, and economics. But it’s rare to see business students in our classrooms. Damned rare.

As such, business and marketing majors seldom learn of PR’s 2-way symmetrical model, and they rarely discuss PR’s role in the context of relationship management or conflict resolution. That’s precisely why we can’t surrender the tools of PR to those who live and die by the sale. If we do, then we abdicate the role for PR so clearly outlined by the symmetrical model.

Some background. The symmetrical model, proposed by Grunig and Hunt in 1983, is grounded in the idea that success grows from mutual satisfaction between organizations and their publics. Along with clear and meaningful communication, PR involves adaptation of behavior — a process through which organizations work to align themselves with the needs of publics.

The symmetrical model, over the past quarter century, has redefined PR’s role as that of boundary spanning. As the textbooks tell it — and as I preach it — PR professionals must live with one foot inside the organization and one foot outside it. We must advocate for our clients but also for the stakeholders they impact. We walk a fine line between organizational goals and goals of society — kind of like an ombudsman or arbiter.

For the most part, cheerleaders of social media understand the concept of symmetry. They see social media as giving voice to stakeholders and empowering organizations.

Sadly, no matter how hard we try to counsel our evil twins, marketing-driven clients are abusing social media for surreptitious selling and to infiltrate influencer groups with fluffy and misleading messages. For communicators driven solely by product sales, blogs aren’t a conversation but an SEO booster.

Under the marketing banner, PR tends to focuses on image and presentation — on the sell. Grunig and Hunt model, that’s called “two way asymmetrical.” You may want to call it the fine art of persuasion — or the sell job.

This isn’t a new idea. PR practitioners have understood (though not always practiced) a form of symmetry for a century now. Ivy Lee embraced it when he penned the Declaration of Principles in 1908, Arthur Page when he became the first corporate PR exec at management’s table. Even Ed Bernays, sometimes better known for his mass persuasion techniques, acknowledged the importance of organizational adaptation in his 1955 classic, “The Engineering of Consent.”

Marketing is critical to any organization, since it drives sales, and that drives bottom line. But can we count on marketers to oversee important relationships with internal and community publics? Are marketers schooled in public affairs or crisis management?

Perhaps I’m fighting a war of semantics. Does it matter what we call this discipline of public relations? I think it does, because what we do is too important to hand over to a sales function — at least on my watch!

The smart clients know they need public relations. Do we?


Thanks to the late Pat Jackson for inspiration on this issue. As Pat used to say: “Business isn’t about making money, it’s about building relationships. Money is just how we keep score.” Too bad Pat died so young. He would have been the top PR blogger of them all.

48 Responses to Why I don’t trust marketing

  1. Shelley Prisco says:

    It’s sad that most people don’t even know the difference between marketing and PR. They lump them together as one big “fluff” bag. If you had to take a guess, Bill, do you think that most companies use the symmetrical PR model or the asymmetrical one? I would hope that there are at least a few organizations that have ethical and balanced communications practices. I’ve been wondering that for the past five years.

    One of the reasons that I’m not fond of marketing or advertising is because they both are about the “bottom-line”. Nothing meaningful comes out of the messages that both disciplines try to convey. Who pays attention to ad copy on products or billboards? The average layperson could care less. It’s not based in credibility, only in claim. At least PR has that opportunity to be grounded in credibility, if the practitioner chooses to do so. I know, a great deal of the time, the PR practitioner has pressure from the boss to do things his/her way. But where do you draw the ethical line?

    I guess I’m too idealistic about the way communications should be. After all, we do live in an unfair world where everything is about money and not meaningful relationships that could enhance organizations and society both.

  2. It’s sad that most PR people don’t understand what PR is. They usually see media relations as PR, and look at you like you are smoking crack when other tools come into play.

    An excellent post, Bill, with lots to chew on. On a theoretical level, I agree with much of this (surprise!). This para. was great:

    “Sadly, no matter how hard we try to counsel our evil twins, marketing-driven clients are abusing social media for surreptitious selling and to infiltrate influencer groups with fluffy and misleading messages. For communicators driven solely by product sales, blogs aren’t a conversation but an SEO booster.”

    I see PR as building trust and credibility. Sales and marketing should build trust, too, but they get stuck on transactions. and the reality is that conventional marketing isn’t working as well anymore. Largely because it’s about the sell. I think Permission Marketing and PR are very similar (Godin). but the “new marketing” often focuses on building communities, which in reality is PR. Ultimately

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    Shelly: As always, thanks for stopping by and offering your insights. And keep being idealistic. That’s what professionals do. It’s keeps the standards high.

    Geoff — Maybe it’s another semantic point, but I think real PR professionals DO understand what PR is about because they’ve taken the time to learn. They’ve read the textbooks, they participate in the professional groups, and they regularly attend professional development programs. They embrace PR in both theory and in practice.

    Permission-based marketing clearly draws from the symmetrical model of PR, so the marketers are starting to tune in.
    As for Godin, you may be right. The guy lost me with Purple Cow, a book I found entirely “unremarkable.” I’m with Nash, “I’d rather see than be one.”

    My beef with so many marketing types — especially those who claim to offer “PR” services — is that they’re little more than publicists and pitchmen when it comes to the PR realm. They ruin it for the real professionals, and there isn’t much we can do about it. Or is there?

    I’d like to launch a discussion at some point on how we can differentiate the true PR professionals from all the hacks out there. Accreditation, by PRSA and IABC, hasn’t worked. And we can’t license PR people — at least in the U.S.A. — as there are too many free-speech obstacles.

    Let’s stew on this a while. I have some ideas on how we can approach it from the education side. More on that in a week or two.

  4. Judy Gombita says:

    Did you deliberately move from Purple Cow to your “beef,” Bill. If yes, great symmetry. 😉

    I think the work of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management is making great strides in codifying the discipline/practice of public relations. For example, the PR Landscapes, located here:

    “PR Landscapes are a series of practical guides profiling the public relations industry and business, cultural, political and media landscapes in countries throughout the world.”

    (I don’t find much relating to marketing, advertising, technology or other PR wannabes in the various PR Landscapes.)

    Earlier in the year on PR Conversations, Jean Valin, APR, CPRS Fellow, the second elected chair of the GA, commented on the work the GA was doing (and why). I’ve snipped the relevant bits:

    “…most of these objectives were at the core of the rationale for the creation of the Global Alliance. This is why I pursued so vigorously the establishment of world standards, in particular to solidify our grasp on what the profession stands for. Ethics was number 1 on our list and we have achieved that by analysing and subsequently prescribing a global code of minimum standards for ethics. We are in the process of doing the same for accreditation and have also began work on curriculum standards.

    The latter is a long-term piece of work as it requires consideration of a lot of things such as the role of culture and the effect of globalization on the profession. Nevertheless, we need global standards in these three areas to call ourselves a true profession. It is simply not good enough to each have our own set of rules and say that we all practise public relations.”

  5. It’s a major quandry. A solution will be a challenge as I am afraid the modern definition of PR has been bastardized.

    I have zero faith in any of the orgs, too. Accreditation means little to me (although I am sending an employee for APR accreditation because she has no formal training and needs it). Because agencies and cos enforce a doctrine of media hits = PR. And APRs and IABCs (?) go along with it.

    On the semantic front, I think we were on the same path. When I say PR pros I mean folks who get paid to execute PR. My angst is perfectly described by these statements: “My beef with so many marketing types — especially those who claim to offer “PR” services — is that they’re little more than publicists and pitchmen when it comes to the PR realm. They ruin it for the real professionals, and there isn’t much we can do about it.” I like the distinction of “Real PR Pros.” 😉

  6. Kami Huyse says:

    I am very late to this discussion, but this two-way symetrical model is my passion. I think it is why the social media opportunity was so compelling to me when I found it. However, this was my operating philosophy well before I ever banged out my first post on a blog. In fact, one of my very first articles (November 2005) was one called “PR as Ombudsman.” If you type this into Google it is the second result. My argument was, “Can you imagine the media buzz if a company would be so transparent as to assign someone to represent the interests of the consumer?”

    It also was the basis for my further thought that in its most elemental form, PR is Customer Service.

    I do think there is a distinction, but I wonder if at this point the term “public relations” has been lost to the hacks? That makes me sad.

  7. Bill Sledzik says:

    You aren’t late, Kami. But I am. It happens in finals’ week, when I have little time for conversation and even less for writing.

    You may be right about the term “public relations.” Maybe we should let it go. I’d hate to, since it’s so very descriptive of what we do. At the same time, it’s become a pejorative term in most every context. (My favorite quip: “Is that true, or is it just PR?”)

    PRSA studied the problem more than two decades ago when the same concerns arose about the way we label our profession. Government stopped using the term long before that, and most corporations call PR names like “global communications,” “corporate communications” or even “public affairs” — a term I associate with the government-relations specialty. Horror of horrors, the hospitals in my area simply lump us under “marketing,” and even my own university labels PR “university communications and marketing.” (Had they consulted me I’d have set them straight!)

    Could be it’s time to revisit the issue, and as Judy points out, the Global Alliance is doing just that, and I plan to pay closer attention. Thanks, as usual, to Judy and all the folks at PR Conversations for reminding us that the core issues of PR affect folks well beyond our borders.

    And while I’m in rare conversational mode (I haven’t started grading projects yet), I want also to acknowledge a complementary essay that my post triggered from Jason Falls, who blogs at “Social Media Explorer.”

  8. FYI: The Arthur Page Society has an interesting take. Sadly, it almost sounds like Werner Erhard’s EST. Brian did a fine write up. See http://tinyurl.com/266h4z .

    Here: The solution to the problem is NOT an “ombudsman” role. Well, not if you want to eat and pay your mortgage. We will NEVER serve two masters. The solution is to embrace our role as creators of artifice and to find a way to have it independently vetted, no more no less.

    Now if you say that this is presently being done with social media, you’re ABSOLUTELY wrong. The free market of idea is a pipe dream. Hitler was a popular movement. The problem with the ESTies here in the discussion is that they bought the “community over content” crap. Variously and invariably, PR dies there.

    – Amanda

    PS Bill, love the “surreptitious selling” phrase. Wish I had thought of it. Oh, that’s right, I did. 🙂

  9. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for coming by, Amanda. And yeah, I owe you a footnote on “surreptitious selling.” I may have to backtrack a ways, as I’ve used it before knowing full well where I’d heard it. Is that plagiarism or just flattery by imitation?

    I saw Brian’s post on the Page Society and will get back to it. No time this week, so I won’t comment. I have to flunk a bunch of students out before they decide on long-term careers in this business!

    I agree with you that social media does not provide vetting for our messages, but it does provide opportunity to reinforce and extend our efforts to build trust and credibility. But no, it does not provide the broad “third party endorsement” we get from bona fide MSM exposure, which remains very much a part of the PR function, and will for a good long time.

    Where we have always disagreed (and I hope respectfully) is on the model of practice we embrace. I’ve used the symmetrical model to build dialog and trust, and I’ve see it carry far, far more power than any independently vetted message in the MSM. I’ve worked campaigns in which we used face-to-face messages to win the support of key influencers, who in turn, influenced the larger masses and moved behaviors. Now granted, I wasn’t selling the iPhone or running a presidential election. My objectives were more narrow, along with my stakeholder groups. But the trust we built was enduring, as was its effect on brand image and marketing.

    And you understand so well, the task of the PR pro under the symmetrical model still requires a mastery of the communication arts. Great presentations, effective collateral, and superb writing remain a critical part of the task. I worry, as I know you do, that these skills are at risk (and often nonexistant) in some corners of the blogosphere.

    While great presentation of message remains central to our success, there’s no reason it can’t coexist with good listening and a willingness to adapt — the core of symmetrical practice. If I’m straddling the fence here, it’s because that’s what PR people do — one foot in the organization and one foot outside. Maybe that’s why it’s so damned stressful.

    Nice to have you back and in the game. Drop by anytime.

  10. Kami Huyse says:

    Bill: Exactly, it takes a real professional to see and harness the opportunities offered to make the symmetrical model finally viable. Trust, as you so aptly point out, is reliant on our ability to build relationships with key influencers and for them to chose to advocate for us. I think the problem in the online environment has become the reliance on buzzwords over substance. I know that this is what Amanda is so incensed against. But again, the use of jargon over substance is not relegated to social media and its ilk, it has been a problem for some time.

    Likening social media to EST and other Lifespring-like indoctrinations makes me laugh. it’s a bit overstated. There are many online communities, and each one has its own culture that requires some conformity to participate, but that is how it is in every structured social situation.

    I like you Bill and Amanda, still believe in MSM and other vetted third-party credibility as essential to the overall mix. However, there is a reliance, and even an expectation, that people will be able to get unvetted feedback about a company by their peers. It has shown up in several trust studies, however stunted Amanda might find them, and I also heard it in a series of focus groups I conducted for a client this year. People also want real people to give them the scoop. Amazon and others have popularized the model of customer review. We as communicators can’t ignore that reality no matter how much we love to craft the message and content.

  11. “It takes a real professional to see and harness the opportunities offered to make the symmetrical model finally viable. Trust, as you so aptly point out, is reliant on our ability to build relationships with key influencers and for them to choose to advocate for us. I think the problem in the online environment has become the reliance on buzzwords over substance.”

    God almighty, Kami. Read that. Ironically, it’s totally buzzwords over substance. Actually, coincidentally, it’s just the kind of pure dee horse hockey an editor or any third-party independent standard would stifle. Again, like EST, there’s no there there. “Symmetrical model finally viable,” c’mon! That, like Jeff says here earlier, requires the repudiation of the idea of “transaction;” AND SUBSEQUENTLY A TOTAL NEGATION OF THE FUNCTION OF PR!

    With regard to jargon, how ’bout your use of the word “trust”? Do you even know what “trust” is? It’s not some humpless relationship crap. It’s simply the suspension of criticism. I don’t need ANY conversation or relationship to make that happen. I need a product that works and a transaction that is complete. Period.

    With regard to “People wanting real people [whatever that is] to give them the scoop,” then what’s your role again? As Weinberger says. “Markets are conversations but conversations don’t need marketing.” This would be where you’re going to get all ESTie on me (again).

    – Amanda

  12. Eric says:

    I just gotta say, what a conversation! I’m only a student, but I’m learning a lot from this discussion. Thanks to all involved, especially you Bill, for stirring the pot.

  13. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hey, Eric. Glad you stopped in. It’s always fun when the heavyweights step into the ring, isn’t it? No slugfest here, just some gentle sparring among rivals. I’m always glad to host such discussions, so long as they can remain civil.

    What’s crazy is that I find myself nodding in agreement with both sides. But that’s OK. As I said in an earlier post somewhere, I’m just a rube who’s marooned somewhere between “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and “The Cult of the Amateur.” Both works made compelling cases, one for and one against social media’s impact on the world. The real answer, as with most things in life, lies somewhere in the middle. That’s where I hang out — and It’s not such a bad place to take it all in.

  14. […] post on public relations and marketing is compelling. Upfront, I admit that I am in complete disagreement. I teach from an IMC perspective and believe […]

  15. [This is what I posted to my blog…hoping that your post will draw even more people into this valuable discussion]

    Dear Bill,

    Your post on public relations and marketing is compelling. Upfront, I admit that I am in complete disagreement. I teach from an IMC perspective and believe that students who are PR “purists” or who learn from that point of view are entering the workforce at a disadvantage.

    Based on my own decade-long career as a “communicator” (rather than PR and/or Marketing label) at companies like Ernst & Young, Fleishman-Hillard, and Bank of America, and my own teaching, I don’t see how PR can be “on board” in one sense, as you say, “support[ing] the marketing effort,” then out of the equation in another.

    From my perspective, the breakdown is separating marketing and PR into silos within an organization, rather than looking at them from a truly integrated viewpoint. It is not about which branch will “dominate the partnership,” but building a single organizational point of view (Management by Objectives) that places the needs of the company/organization ahead of differences between marketing and PR.

    Communications management, using a centralized view, then focuses on aligning all an organization’s efforts toward mutual ends. Thus, a PR professional may use her skills best in an internal communications setting, developing an intranet content system or designing a better employee-based newsletter, while at the same time, a marketer is doing product development work or presenting at a trade conference, but BOTH are working off the central plan set out in a MBO setting.

    I am also not sure that the two-way symmetrical model is important enough to criticize marketing, just because they do not preach the same jargon. Grunig’s two-way model, like his (and his co-authors’) so-called “Excellence Theory” is filled with logical holes.

    And, is it unrealistic to think that public relations practitioners can (or should) “walk a fine line between organizational goals and goals of society – kind of like an ombudsman or arbiter?” PR professionals are a part of this organizational conscious, but so are all other employees across the organizational chart. We could call into question how business schools and universities in general teach ethics, just as we are questioning the role of PR courses.

    By labeling marketing “our evil twins” and using language like “surreptitious selling,” “infiltrate influencer groups,” and “the sell job,” you are guiding readers to see sales as a negative. I do not see companies and organizations selling products as an automatic bad thing.

    Where I completely agree with you is in how the problem of misunderstanding PR begins. At the University of South Florida, we require students to take Economics, Management, and Marketing courses, and many minor in Business. However, because of admission requirements to get into the School of Mass Communications, business students cannot get into our classes.

    However, I think the challenge runs deeper. Marketing professors, business school deans, etc., have no real interest in adding PR to their curriculum. So, future execs are getting their knowledge of public relations from a part of a chapter in a marketing textbook. All the sudden, they think they understand the profession. Obviously, the number of PR crises that occur daily show this isn’t the case.

    And, I do not throw all the blame on business schools or scholars. As a profession, public relations has a long history of doing little or nothing toward getting these distinctions softened. After all these years, there are still arguments about the true definition of PR, like that matters in the bigger picture.

    You wonder if you are “fighting a war of semantics” at the end of your post. I think you are correct in questioning the relationship between the two disciplines. I just see the battle differently. What we should be fighting for is to get public relations into business schools.

    The PR profession also needs to be a part of this effort, initiating a communications campaign to reeducate the public about the field and its historical and current benefits. It’s all our concern (and fault, perhaps?) if people assume that PR is nothing more than pimping the Hiltons and rap stars of the world.

    Respectfully yours,


  16. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful response, Bob — and for that label of “purist” (in the headline of your post). I will wear it proudly, even though my wife is chuckling over my shoulder.

    In the end, I don’t know that we disagree on all that much. I’m just trying to make the point that a sales-driven decisionmaker can be blinded by the bonus check, and that can get us all into trouble. There are those times when PR — in an IMC model or not — has to push back from management’s table and assert itself.

    I do want to respond to this:

    By labeling marketing “our evil twins” and using language like “surreptitious selling,” “infiltrate influencer groups,” and “the sell job,” you are guiding readers to see sales as a negative. I do not see companies and organizations selling products as an automatic bad thing.

    It’s not my intent to portray sales and marketing as negative, but I guess my little term of endearment kinda does that. What I’m doing with the label “evil twin” is warning PR folks to keep a watchful eye on our impish siblings who too often seem willing to overstate their messages. When I mention surreptitious selling (a term borrowed from Amanda), I’m referring to the unethical uses of social media that seem to be all around us. But I am sure it’s more than the marketing folks who are doing it.

    I’ve supported many a sales campaign with pride, and we highlight many IMC cases in my classroom. But I’m also quick to warn the students not to become a shill.

  17. Bob, Bill:

    I too think it is correct to question the relationship between marketing and PR (today). The semantic struggle is the product of a fundamental change in the marketplace dynamics as brought about by the Web. With Web 2.0, the role of marketing is extended, the role of sales is broadly empowered… the role of PR is becoming quickly disintermediated.

    HERE: our job was to secure 3rd-party endorsement via an independent vetting mechanism, i.e. mainstream media. Of course, there are infinite permutations of that. The ONLY reason it worked is because in a democracy, we have a strong independent media to inform and protect us (at least in theory).

    Regrettably, a few years ago, Richard Edleman and other PRs saw/see a whole new revenue source by convincing their customers that a “revolution” had happened. They preach (even in this thread) that it is PR’s particular expertise to go direct to customers to foster “relationships” and “conversation.” However, that makes us a VERY different business. We’ve now taken a huge leap from message and story creators and pitchers… to plain old shills. Does business value that? OF COURSE! Indeed, “PR ‘purists’ are entering the workforce at a disadvantage.” But that’s NOT a good thing. It is a very disturbing trend.

    Now, so we are clear, why is “surreptitious selling” (shilling) necessarily bad? Because no matter how much the kids, enthusiasts and zealots claim transparency and ombudsmanship… they work for one master and “influence” (i.e. “manipulation”) is the goal. The scary part of all this is to project this out a generation: All your “friendz” are Amway salespeople probably. You likely don’t know. But it sure explains all the shit in your garage and why you’re financially and culturally bankrupt.

    – Amanda

  18. Kami Huyse says:

    Amanda; I don’t have time right now to respond in detail, but here is the disconnect, I don’t agree with you that PR is 100 percent media relations. What about community relations, event planning and other direct to consumer disciplines within public relations? Yours is a stunted view of PR.

    I don’t come from an agency background, so maybe that is why I don’t see it that way. My job in corporate communications always required me to wear many hats and communicate with many constituencies, more often directly than not. In many ways, I see myself as a communicator (see Bill I am already walking away from PR although I still love it). It is not a particular expertise of PR, but it suits the symmetrical view of PR to which I subscribe.

    You argue for a filter between companies and the public in order to keep the sheep from jumping off the consumer cliff because of their association with manipulative public relations professionals. However, people are increasingly expecting the public relations department to respond directly to their demands. I saw this first hand in the many calls I received from customers from our Website, and I also saw colleagues shy away from this contact with the unwashed masses.

    But no matter what your preferences, the fact remains that we live in a post media world. This doesn’t mean that the media is irrelevant, Lord knows I love the media, and we still have a significant swath of the public that get their information no other way (read: Boomers +). But their attention is becoming more fragmented and eventually they will die out.

    The expectations of the customer/stakeholder have changed and technology has driven that change. People expect immediate and personalized information from companies. The urgency of that expectation varies based on what kind of information they need (a complaint versus a crisis situation).

    The problem is, the next generation is even more demanding of direct information than those before them.

    Public Relations will have to change, maybe even its name. But like Bill, I am fond of that name, however tarnished.

  19. Kami Huyse says:

    And obviously, I found the time. 😉

  20. […] an outstanding post that analyzed the differences between the PR and marketing disciplines, “Why I don’t trust marketing.” His beef was that too many 30-something PR bloggers blend marketing and PR,  and in […]

  21. Like I said Kami, I thought you might get ESTie on me, i.e a lotta groundless beliefs and platitudes. You folks make up stuff that bolsters your beliefs, interview each other and then quote nonsense like it’s bible.

    KAMI: “The fact remains that we live in a post media world.”

    RESPONSE: No. We don’t. Do you have ANY idea how big the media industry is?

    KAMI: “But their attention is becoming more fragmented and eventually they [media] will die out.”

    RESPONSE: Nonsense. This is an evolution. If I were a prognosticator, I’d actually short your belief. The more bullshit in a system, the more quality becomes a premium. The Web 2.0 revolution is already saturated… with crap, porn and pedophiles. And the “hyper commons” is NOT about to clean itself up; not while you and others are handing out spray-paint cans. No, the longer and dirtier the tail, the more people value the head which happens to be MSM. Simple economics.

    KAMI: “The expectations of the customer/stakeholder have changed and technology has driven that change. People expect immediate and personalized information from companies.”

    RESPONSE: More hype noise. People expect a product that fulfills the promise of the transaction. That’s all. I don’t want a relationship with Sony; I want the camera to work.
    But to your point, there are lonely and neurotic people out there that indeed want inappropriate relationships with product/service providers. They don’t have anything else. From a business perspective (i.e. the client paying you), that’s a problem, not a good thing. The bottom line is: it is much cheaper for Sony to give you a new camera – for free! – then foster and maintain the relationship you suggest.

    KAMI: “Public Relations will have to change, maybe even its name.”

    RESPONSE: No. PR needs to stick to its knitting. You and the other ESTies need to come up with a new name. How ‘bout “Direct Marketers”? Or maybe, the “Shill Society”?

  22. Kami Huyse says:


    Okay, one by one. We live in a post media world. Of course we do, the media no longer owns the only way to get information out.

    Also, I will clarify my statement “But their attention is becoming more fragmented and eventually they [BOOMERS and older Americans NOT the Media] will die out.”

    I have many times said the media will adapt to whatever reality they are faced with. The biggest threat to the media at this time is not social media but their own shareholders.

    And characterizing people who like to gather online and share photography best practices and information with other Sony cameras online “lonely and neurotic” is just another example of overstepping the argument, which I must admit is your particular expertise. Even Strumpette has its own private-label community, so calling community building pointless, manipulative and expensive is just your rhetoric and not your practice.

    Okay, now I’ve got some real work to do, I will leave the last word to you since I know that you can’t stand not taking it 😉

  23. There you go again. Arrrgh.

    KAMI: “We live in a post media world.”

    RESPONSE: No… we don’t. That’s absolute rubbish. You may imagine you’re smarter that Rupert Murdoch. You may even dream you’ve got more money than he. But the fact is you and ALL your “friendZ” do NOT measure up to the legions of seasoned crème-de-la-crème professional he has employed for the purposes of maintaining his empire. That’s a fact.

    KAMI: “[BOOMERS and older Americans NOT the Media] will die out.”

    RESPONSE: Indeed. You, ironically, point to one of the biggest issues with the movement. The movement values McDonald’s over Rosebud’s. Livingston just did a video touting “media snacks.” It’s crap!

    What you fail to realize in your zeal is that culture is a language. As you and others directly and indirectly promote the dismantling of cultural institutions in the name of vacuous self expression, we lose that language. Your kids may never know how to appreciate Mozart. That’s sad for all of us.

    KAMI: “The biggest threat to the media at this time is not social media but their own shareholders.”

    RESPONSE: Not a clue what you mean. If you are saying that shareholders are in mass converting to this anti-corporate anti-property EST stuff, yes. Then you have a point.

    KAMI: “Characterizing people who like to gather online and share photography best practices and information with other Sony cameras online ‘lonely and neurotic’ is just another example of overstepping the argument.”

    No. Never said hobbyists gathering online are the “lonely and neurotic.” I said that the extension of your argument that customers are now in control is pure dee bullshit. Again, as a business, and in support of a brand, I just need to fulfill my promise; I don’t need (or want) a relationship with you. Too expensive.

    KAMI: “Even Strumpette has its own private-label community, so calling community building pointless, manipulative and expensive is just your rhetoric and not your practice.”

    RESPONSE: Strumpette is NOT transactional. Our purpose is purely to promote questioning. If fact, ironically, we do indeed show the value of blogging. We don’t build; we dismantle.

  24. Judy Gombita says:

    If you haven’t already, be sure to read Toni Muzi Falconi’s new post on PR Conversations, called the “Latest research on relationships between journalists and public relators indicates huge perception gap on what pr is about. Our fault?”

    Of course Toni’s study is European in focus, so the results might very well be substantially different in the U.S. (and even Canada). You’re right that your readers should be thinking a bit more big picture, Bill…after all, this is supposedly the age of globalization, so it’s past time to be parochial in one’s viewpoint about the definition and function of public relations.

    Since PR Conversations was launched in April 2007 as a collaborative blog, I have learned a phenomenal amount (both online and offline) from my international colleagues (such as Toni from Italy, Benita Steyn from South Africa, Cathy Arrow from New Zealand, Heather Yaxley from England, João Duarte from Portugal, Markus Pirchner from Austria, Yaryna Klyuchkovska from the Ukraine, etc.) on how public relations is viewed and practised in different parts of the world. There are huge, huge, huge differences, in terms of focus and orientation, level of respect garnered from the various publics (including government and media), not to mention effectiveness of deployment. I have to say that the heavy influence of marketing on the public relations functions seems to be primarily an American (to a certain extent North American) concept. The marketing aspect is much less apparent in the UK, Europe and various African nations, for example.

  25. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks, Judy. That global perspective is what I enjoy about PR Conversations. The U.S. public relations industry — along with us bloggers who reside in it — can become pretty insular at times. If we’re to continue the debate on the role of public relations, it should be with a global audience tuned in.

    But you know, this debate was going on before I got in this business, 30 years ago last month if memory serves, and it will likely be going still when I retire on May 19, 2020 (save the date), which will coincide with my wife’s 39th birthday.

  26. Judy Gombita says:

    Of course PR Conversations has stellar U.S. representation from Frank Ovaitt. Between his role at the Institute for Public Relations (where he is chair and CEO) and its new affiliation with the Society for New Communication Research, Frank is well placed to provide an informed American opinion or point us to credible (re)sources when it comes to public relations. Plus he has a great sense of humo(u)r.

    Maybe on the day you retire your just-turned-39-years-old wife will grace us with a guest post on Tough Sledding. That and a resolution to this debate are two of my most fervent wishes.

  27. Judy,

    With regard to Frank and with all due respect… deep credentials are good… maybe. Arthur Page society just released their faux “white paper” “The Authentic Enterprise. Totally awful. See http://tinyurl.com/266h4z .

    Frankly, I am tired of “informed” opinion. I’d like someone/anyone to make a strong case.

    – Amanda

  28. Colin Morris says:

    This isn’t perfectly related, but it’s sort of close: I just did a post about the problem of too-good marketing, specifically when a brand name becomes so well-known it replaces the name of its good or service (i.e. “Xerox,” “Kleenex,” “FedEx”).

    My case in point: Mapquest, which is inferior to Google Maps but regularly wins over would-be converts because they don’t know where else to “Mapquest” something.

    Anyway, now for the self-promo: “The Problem with Branding Success: Google Maps > Mapquest”

  29. mediatide says:

    I predict that there will be peace in the Middle East, a Cleveland team will win a world championship, and it will snow in Miami Beach in July before a resolution to this debate occurs! And a resolution to this debate will happen before Sharon writes a blog post!

  30. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for ending this thread on a lighter note, Andrew. I mean, it’s the holidays, man.

  31. Bill – thanks for getting this discussion going. Lots of sacred cows up for slaughtering which is great. Although the thread is tailoring off, I’d just like to add a few thoughts.

    I think we are talking more about mindset than a simple PR vs marketing distinction. There are those within organisations (regardless of their functional description) who see the need to address issues affecting those within and outside the organisation (eg environmental pressures). They recognise the complexity of the world and that for organisations to achieve their goals, there needs to be engagement with others. This goes much further than communications and into the fabric of any organisation. It doesn’t mean MBO (since those objectives may need to change as a process of understanding what others want).

    As a result, we may see better products designed to suit the needs of consumers, working conditions that respect employees, respect for local communities by cutting pollution, etc. Such actions have to be self-enlightened not purely altruistic. If the organisation isn’t making a return on investment, (financial or otherwise if it is not-for-profit) then it will simply cease to exist – we can’t live on goodwill alone.

    Such organisations will need effective communications – which may be in the form of relationships or even partnerships, where appropriate, but can also involve one-way advertising and other ways of satisfying those seeking or processing information. They also involve the myriad of informal communications that can’t, won’t and shouldn’t be considered the preserve of the “professional communicator”.

    We need marketing – and sales – as part of the transactional relationship which is at the heart of most organisations. Not just customers who want to buy things (it isn’t just organisations wanting to sell), but also employees who want a decent wage for their labours, stockholders who need a return on their transaction, etc etc. Even society which needs a return for enabling organisations to exist.

    Organisations also need a strong media – to act, in part, as the “independent” voice that Amanda seems to relish. Unfortunately, a lot of MSM and online has other interests – and so rather than relying on someone else to intepret messages, the public needs to be able to recognise the genuine from the puff. A lot of trust has been lost by business, government, the professions, public services and even charities in recent years – partly because of more information being available, but also with too many people adopting the mindset of exploitation of others. Of putting What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) over any sense of mutual benefits.

    If we want to transact or build relationships with others, we’ll need to prove we are worthy of their efforts (time, money, attention, whatever). Otherwise employees, local communities, politicians, customers and others will all put up the barriers becoming increasingly suspicious of everyone. Any hope that online offers a new world of trust is naive when we see fake reviews, bogus blogs and a focus on exploiting social media by business, brands, politicians – in fact, anyone who wants our attention.

    These are the “evil twins” – you’ll find them in any organisation, in any discipline – not exclusively sales, PR or marketing. They see concerns over the environment as a hook in creating a green sheen for their dodgy products and services. They conceive of nonsense like carbon neutral schemes. They use “social responsibility” as a cloak of goodness with charity links used cynically just to promote the brand.

    It is all illusion – rather than re-engineer a product or invest in new technologies, the communicators offer to spin a web of deceipt. They’ll use any and every means until the legal eagles clamp down on their evil techniques – or they become discredited and/or ignored.

    Like Amanda says, we’d all sooner have products that work rather than pseudo-relations with brands. Instead of all the flim flam of noise around organisations (online, offline, direct, or mediated), we actually need solid sales skills. We need to be able to research information, evaluate it, compare options and follow through with a transaction. Let’s improve the front end – offer things that people want and ensure the “purchase” process is painless. Do things well and others will reward you – with genuine recommendations.

    On the education front, I’m involved in teaching PR as a module on the advertising degree course at Bournemouth University in the first year. This isn’t about an us and them perspective, but about ensuring we all recognise there are genuine ways for organisations to operate – in which communications and relationship building can play a key role. And, then there’s the “evil” way – of short-term gain, manipulating, money-grubbing, etc etc.

    I’m reminded of Charles Dickens and Ebeneezer Scrooge – which was a reflection on business long before advertising, PR, marketing, MSM or social media could be blamed. The choice is yours – Merry Christmas or Bah Humbug!!

  32. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for that wisdom, Heather. You show clearly why this issue can’t be defined as “us” versus the “evil twin.” What I see in your discussion is the need for an organizational commitment to values that all — or at least most — of our stakeholders can embrace. But I also see the call to balance bottom-line concerns with relationship building, which aligns with my premise nicely.

    It may be that my thinking is skewed by working in advertising agencies for many years, right alongside those “evil twins.” In our zeal to help clients sell parity products that had no unique features, we manufactured points of difference and we prided ourselves on highly intrusive messaging. It always troubled me, and my objections to it troubled my bosses even more.

    Your comment also reminds me of an email I sent yesterday to our mutual friend, Judy Gombita. I told her that one of the great benefits I get from hanging out in Web 2.0 is humility, since I am constantly being humbled by folks who are way smarter than I. It keeps the ego in check, to be sure! So thanks for stopping in.

  33. Andrew says:

    I just wanted to comment on the issue of the supposedly fragmented media picture. There is evidence that despite a growing number of news outlets, there is in fact a shrinking number of news sources. We are seeing a growth in distribution and re-distribution of news rather than the creation of ‘new’ news.
    The evidence for that would be the recent Techmeme analysis showing the importance of the traditional news agencies and press release distribution agencies as a source for bloggers (and therefore social media in general?) and also the work of Chris Paterson (search for News Agency Dominance in International News on the Internet).

  34. […] Heather Yaxley didn’t write about my post at her blog, she did chime in with the most perceptive comments of all. Also, her post at PR Conversations includes more insight (IMHO) than all of our nattering […]

  35. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for that insight, Andrew. I’m only sorry it’s so deep in the thread, which means many won’t see it. Many of the “true believers” in the “promise” of Web 2.0 have celebrated the decline traditional media, yet most continue to feed from them daily for their content. Unpaid “citizen journalists” simply don’t have the resources, or in most cases the know-how, to gather an distribute legitimate news on a regular basis.

    The need for information professionals to gather, organize and vet news content has never been greater — nor has it been in greater peril. That redistribution of news that you speak of steals consumers from the MSM and the advertisers who support the MSM. As more and more legitimate news agencies cut staff or disappear altogether, democracy is imperiled. Yet, as you point out, we are more reliant on these news content creators than ever before.

    This is where I part ways — and in a big way — with those who think a citizen-driven media can do a better job of informing the citizenry than the MSM. Who’s going to pay them? Hmm?

  36. Kami Huyse says:

    Wow, I came back today to see this thread that hasn’t died yet while I have gone on to get some major client work done.

    Andrew, you make a great point about the consolidation of news sources. What I meant by fragmentation is that people are gathering news from more places than they ever have. Readership numbers and viewership numbers are going down, not up.

    Also, I want to clarify what I meant by the shareholders being the biggest threat to media. As media companies are held by big public companies, they are expected to return bigger profits every year. Most newspapers have a 20 percent profit margin, 20 percent, and still the news organizations, like my local paper for instance, are laying off staff in droves.

    All I am saying is that as a generation, we have Media Attention Deficit Disorder. In a sense, we are truly going MADD from the media forms that are vying for our attention (gaming, multiple channels on television, sattellite radio, blogs and other social media, the Internet in general, IM and other social tools). The channels are getting wider rather than narrower.

    Personally, I love MSM. I spread the physical newspaper out on my kitchen table and read it as I eat breakfast. I know I am not alone. While I spend a lot of time learning social media and using it for clients, I don’t see it as a superior news source. However, it is a superior communication gathering tool. But in the end, it is just a tool.

  37. Bill Sledzik says:

    Amazing, isn’t it, Kami. Eight days and we’re still at it — an eternity given the short attention span of most in Web 2.0. We’ve veered from the original topic a good bit, but that’s OK.

    You bring up a point that reminds me of yet another concern I’ve talked to friends about a lot — the problem of being over-connected. I’ve tried to rein it in. Shut down the Twitter account (which I only used to lurk anyway) along with the “myregan” site. I respond to LinkedIn requests to network, but I never go there. Facebook I love, but I mostly to watch the others play. I keep the feeder at 30 blogs — still too many, but I know folks who monitor hundreds.

    Can’t quite shake the blog addiction, and I love days like this one, when I don’t have pressing appointments, classes or grading. But you know, I should be getting some exercise. Instead, I’m working on a case of carpel tunnel.

    I know this comment isn’t what you were talking about as MADD, but it’s another problem that instant connections can create. I will differ with you on one item on your MADD list, and that’s satellite radio. When I turn on XMs “Deep Tracks,” I almost never touch the buttons again. Great music, no commercial intrusions. Now, if only the DJ would shut up!

  38. […] Susan Payton, Geoff Livingston (also see), Mack Collier, Jeremy Pepper, Kami Huyse, Susan Getgood, Bill Sledzik, Robert Passikoff and Lewis Green. Share This Related Posts: Is Customer Service the New […]

  39. […] this argument for public relations might seem odd coming from me, particularly if you read Bill Sledzik’s fine blog and my stab at a rebuttal. But, Fish’s idea about what a space a discipline should claim […]

  40. […] to Judy Gombita for the link and to Mitch Joel for his thoughts. As you may know, I’m a bit suspicious of marketers, but this definition tells me they’ve been taking PR classes and looking beyond the […]

  41. […] second was Bill Sledzik’s tome declaring reasons he mistrusts marketing. He refers to it as PR’s “evil twin” and hints that […]

  42. […] persuasive messages, then we don’t need marketing communications at all, do we? Hmm. A world without marketers? Let me savor that one for […]

  43. […] exchanges with our “evil twins” in marketing have been cordial most of the time and only occasionally combative. And while I’ve enjoyed every one of the debates […]

  44. […] I’m wondering if those who insist that social media is changing PR’s DNA really understand the business, or if they simply see PR as a branch of marketing.  That’s another post — one I believe I’ve already written. […]

  45. […] it as a marketing conspiracy that put profits ahead of the authenticity of this game we all love. I told you not to trust those […]

  46. […] can’t move on without a parting shot at my “evil twins” over in marketing (That post ranks 19th). I’ve spent way too much time explaining the […]

  47. […] the leadership role. I had a meaningful conversation with my colleague Bill Sledzik about this at ToughSledding years ago and discussion touching on the same points with James Grunig and others at […]

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