Repeat after me: Public relations IS NOT marketing.
We all know that PR professionals sometimes support an organization’s marketing efforts, and to resist that integration is foolish. But PR also supports relationships with many constituencies outside of marketing’s reach, e.g., communities, employees, investors, government regulators, elected officials, volunteers, alumni…
While I’m not advocating that marketing report to PR, it’s clear that public relations has a broader reach, not to mention a very different tool kit than the marketers. Still, no matter how hard we fight the perception, people tend to view us as “promoters,” or part of the marketing function. In fact, our job is to sustain the relationships that make our organizations successful, and that goes well beyond the distribution, promotion and sale of products. (Thanks to Catherine Arrow for the “sustain relationships” language, lifted from her comments on my last post.)
As we argue about what public relations IS, it may help to talk about what it is NOT. Here is a list of terms I discuss with my PR Principles classes and now with you — more PR 101.
Public Relations is NOT…
Advertising. Advertising is chiefly concerned with the sale of products or services using paid media messages. Advertising is largely one-way communication aimed at eliciting responses from members of the target audiences (though Web 2.0 is giving advertisers interactive opportunities). Public relations practitioners sometimes use advertising to advocate ideas or causes, or to build and/or reinforce an organization’s reputation.
Promotion. Promotion is communication designed to create incremental sales of a product or service over a short period of time. Promotion often is used to supplement regular brand advertising. Tools typical of sales promotion are coupons, sweepstakes, special events, and “buy one/get one free” offers. At times, a promotion will tie in with a public relations activity such as special events.
Publicity. The communication tool most often associated with public relations, publicity is factual communication designed to gain favorable exposure for a client, product, or idea in the news media. Publicity’s most common form is the press release, but staged events, interviews, fact sheets, pitch letters, and talk show appearances are other tools used to generate positive media coverage. Some marketers use the terms promotion and publicity interchangeably. They aren’t the same thing.
Media relations. MR is a specialty of public relations that oversees the publicity function and works to sustain positive relationships with media gatekeepers (which now includes bloggers). Because working with and “pitching” media is one of the oldest public relations activities, it’s the one most associated with our field by outsiders. And since media relations was the primary job of PR a generation ago, many old-school managers still insist that former reporters make the most effective PR practitioners. (This has not been my experience!)
Public affairs. When used in the context of government and military, public affairs is synonymous with public relations. In the corporate world, however, public affairs is a subset of the public relations function that deals with government relations and lobbying, plus social issues and policies.
Selling. Selling involves direct contact with customers and prospective customers for the negotiation of a purchase. Sales people often rely on tools developed by public relations people (brochures, fliers, websites, etc.). Sales people often benefit from the good works of public relations people, e.g.,publicity stories, customer service programs, research studies, special events, etc. And because sales people are the organization’s front-line storytellers, it behooves PR to understand their needs and to support them in their efforts.
Drum roll, please! Public relations is not…
Marketing. Marketing deals with getting products or services to the customer. If you’re over 35, you learned marketing as the “4 Ps”: product, price, placement and promotion. Marketing has become a lot more sophisticated with the advent of databases, but the goals remains the same — to move product through the pipeline.
In fairness to our partners in marketing, they’re coming around. The term “relationship marketing” arrived back in the 90s, and earlier this year the AMA recast its definition to reflect…well, to reflect a understanding of public relations. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Not everyone is happy with AMA’s new definition. How about you?
“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.”
Now, tell me our “evil twins” haven’t been reading the PR textbooks. Society at large? Wow! But if you check AMA website, be sure to note the name at the top: “Marketing Power.”
I’m not sure a power trip is a good way to launch a relationship or to serve “society at large.” So I’m hopeful our friends in marketing will just continue to sell stuff. They’re damned good at it — especially when PR helps them!
Disclaimer: Once again, none of the ideas or definitions in this post is original to me. I have lifted them from old lecture notes, handouts and PowerPoints. And all that came from people way smarter than I. When you teach as long as I have, words and sources sometimes get separated. I’m not a plagiarist, just a lousy record keeper and a forgetful old fart.