Let’s blame marketing for PR’s rep slippage

The folks at PR Conversations are talking about how marketing is eroding public relation’s reputation. Poster Heather Yaxley establishes the premise this way:

Can we blame PR’s poor reputation on an increased focus on promotional communications for competitive differentiation (the reductionist view of PR as solely a subset of marketing)?

As a tactical function, PR is reduced to generating “free advertising”. That means evaluation ranges from calculating advertising value equivalent (AVE) to demands to prove return on investment in terms of sales generated from media coverage.

At the other end, those championing PR as a strategic management function seek to distance themselves from the press agents. But in doing so, aren’t they ignoring PR’s proven ability to achieve marketing objectives, either alone or as part of an integrated approach?

I’m not sure PR folks can blame marketing entirely, or that PR ever needed marketing’s help to sully our rep. But it’s making for some interesting commentary.

Part of the problem for PR practitioners, methinks, has to do with the fact that many of them come to the business from journalism. Since many journalists — not all, but many — enter the craft with a moralistic sense that they are on a crusade to speak truth to power, when they enter the PR side, they experience some cognitive dissonance. They (we) still want to present the truth, but now they’re doing so from a different perspective: as representatives of organizations or institutions that may not share those same moralistic values that drove the PR person toward a journalism career in the first place.

Maybe PR folks should just get used to the fact that we’re in the marketing business.

After all, how many times do you hear marketing people complain that PR is tainting their image?

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

2 thoughts on “Let’s blame marketing for PR’s rep slippage”

  1. Andrew,

    Thanks for picking up on my post at PR Conversations -I don’t believe marketing per se is responsible for the poor reputation of PR, but those who see PR as just supporting marketing promotional activities have tended to practice questionable tactics that lead to criticisms.

    In response, those who believe it is a strategic function, seek to distance themselves entirely from the marketing objective aspect of PR.

    What I actually advocate is that PR should work closely with marketing colleagues, as equals, to identify suitable objectives that can be achieved – alongside the role that both disciplines should have beyond promotional communications.

    I don’t buy the idea that most journalists have “a moralistic sense that they are on a crusade to speak truth to power” and hence suffer cognitive dissonance as organisations do not share such high ideals.

    If that was the case, then former journalists would be more concerned about how they practice PR – are their “supposed” ethical principles so easily abandoned, or sold?

    Journalism today does not reflect a moralistic purpose – how could it when most of the media exists to satisfy commercial needs?

    This might be a reason for journalists hating PR practitioners who embody the commercialisation of the media via the ubiquitous content-less press release.

    One could argue that maybe journalists should get used to the fact that they in the marketing business?

  2. Heather – Thank you for commenting. I think we both agree that PR is marketing, or an aspect of marketing, and that attempting to separate the PR function from a broader, integrated marketing approach is a false construct. I think the argument that journalism is also marketing has merit, too, even if journalists and the J-school profs don’t see it that way. (Yet another false construct.)

    I didn’t mean to imply that journalism today reflects a moralistic purpose. But some who get into the craft of journalism often do so because they see it as a calling of sorts. At least it used to be that way for some of us, when I was a lad. ;)

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