One More Time: It’s PR, Not Marketing
Don Hale, principal of the Don Hale PR consulting firm, is vice president for public relations and marketing communications at Georgia State University where is the chief public relations counselor to President Mark P. Becker.
I have long been troubled by the misuse of the term “marketing” and its seeming predominance over public relations in our industries’ lexicon. Some colleagues have told me repeatedly to shut up and move on. It’s just a problem of semantics, they say.
Properly chastened, I have gone dark on this topic even as I see the continued abuse of the words and a complete and widespread misunderstanding of their definitions.
Now comes an irresistible opportunity to address the topic one more time.
I’ve learned that a higher education colleague at a major university has won the “Marketer of the Year” award at the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) higher education conference in Austin, Texas.
This is wonderful recognition for an outstanding professional and one of the really good people in higher education. Unfortunately, she really isn’t a “marketing” practitioner. She is a public relations pro.
I am certain she made important contributions to the marketing of her institution to prospective students. I am equally as certain she made little or no contribution to determining the price of that education, deciding when and where to deliver courses or defining the university’s academic offerings (courses and such).
She likely did an outstanding job on one of the “four P’s” of marketing: promotion. As part of her public relations responsibilities she is quite probably and appropriately in the marketing communications business.
One more time for the critics and those who deny the importance of these distinctions in the practice of our profession. Public relations is the strategic function that addresses all of an organization’s key constituencies. Marketing addresses consumers of a product or service. Product promotion or “marketing communications” is the area where the public relations function addresses the consumer audience.
Readers of my blogs at donhalepr.com know I have hammered at the need to build understanding of public relations so our work receives the same recognition and is afforded the same value as the work of our marketing colleagues. We must keep at it, not because we need more credit, but because our institutions will benefit from the knowledge of what public relations and marketing actually do. With that understanding they will be able to set realistic priorities and assign appropriate resources in those professional arenas and, most important, better be able to evaluate their effectiveness.
It’s not just about semantics. As PR professionals we have an obligation to educate organizational leaders about those differences so they understand the contributions of each profession.
The AMA’s recognition of a public relations professional as its “Marketer of the Year” speaks volumes about the true value of PR, its impact and its pervasive influence in an organization. But marketing communications is just one tool in the PR toolbox. By properly and accurately defining public relations, marketing and marketing communications, organizations can employ a more thoughtful and synergistic strategy that harnesses the full power of these practices.
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Marketers Or PR Professionals? Who Are We?
Tom Eppes, APR, Fellow PRSA is Chief Communications Officer, Ole Miss and Executive Committee, PRSA Counselors to Higher Education
Is public relations a subset of marketing, or is marketing a subset of PR? Does it even matter? Might they be so intertwined that one cannot be separated from the other?
It’s a popular topic, one sure to stir a debate. In fact, it was about 30 years ago that I debated the topic in North Carolina magazine with Joe Epley, former PRSA president and longtime friend and competitor at North Carolina’s Epley Associates. I’m sure each of us thought we won that debate, and we probably haven’t changed our minds. But three decades in PR later, including three years’ practice in higher education, I have some observations that confirm I was right. (Sorry, Joe. :-))
In fact, I’ll increase the stakes and suggest that every activity – not just PR – in almost every organization is either a subset of marketing or so tightly connected to marketing that it’s hopeless to argue they’re separate. How could an entity survive without marketing – unless there’s a generous philanthropist in the wings who is able to contribute because of the money earned at some other enterprise that depends on marketing to generate it?
Let’s start with the semantics. Arguably the most popular definitions of marketing include the 4 P’s – product, price, place, promotion. Let’s unpack those terms – very briefly. Whether you’re a manufacturer or a service business, a non-profit or an interest group, you have a “product” to sell. (For this piece I’m defining services and even issues/ideas as products.) That “product” must generate revenue to pay the bills, so there’s a price. And there must be easy enough access to the product (distribution) that people can engage with it. Finally, there must be promotion (or communication) to create awareness, preference, and differentiation – and maybe even a relationship.
If you’re still with me, you noted the “R” word, relationships. That’s the glue that holds it all together. Better yet, it’s the oil that makes the mechanics of an organization run smoothly – or run at all. Someone must be responsible for creating, maintaining and growing those relationships, perhaps everyone in the organization. But who more than public relations professionals plays a more central role in relationship management, whether creating, maintaining or growing them? Public relations in its simplest form is about relationship management, and all of our daily activities in some way support that: media relations, events, social media, speeches, advertising, internal communications, e-newsletters, websites, etc.
So, if the marketing mix is composed of the 4 P’s, the letter “R” is the elixir that makes the pieces and parts and every other “P” work together. Relationship management, the #1 job for public relations people, is a subset of marketing, but it’s also so deeply intertwined with marketing that one cannot be separated from the other.