Marketing vs. PR / Channel vs. Conversation

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There continues to be great debate in the marketing industry regarding who should “own” what in the era of social media. There are rational arguments and real opportunities on all sides of the fence. Marketers leverage word-of-mouth tactics to engage consumers. Advertisers create branded profiles and channels in social networks and community properties. Communication professionals (i.e., public relations, marketing communications, investor relations, etc.) engage in the conversation and secure editorial placements with influencers and among consumer-produced sites.

Perhaps this is oversimplified but here’s what I see happening. Few organizations trust or understand how to tap the influence of conversation. And they still want control. So they opt for the creation of a channel, whether it’s a Web site, a profile in a social network, a podcast or a video on YouTube. Easy stuff. And it’s easy for advertising and marketing companies to sell because it’s related to what they have done for years. 

The power of outreach and need to spark conversation seems to be lost on the average marketer. Even in New York, which is one of the most progressive pools of talent in the industry, the lack of new thinking (other than a new wrapper for old ideas) is astounding. PR professionals that understand how to navigate social media and new communications are creating some of the most appropriate original thinking. Professionals from all marketing disciplines need to spend time in the social media space to understand what really matters and what works.

In the end, it’s not marketing vs. PR. It’s channel and conversation. An integrated mix of messaging platforms is the best way to proceed. Establish a bit of control and participate in the ups and downs of uncontrolled communication.

[tags]public relations, social media, marketing, digital channel, conversation, conversational marketing[/tags]

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8 Comments on “Marketing vs. PR / Channel vs. Conversation”

  • 10 December, 2007, 21:14

    I agree that when discussing who might acquire social media it’s not really marketing vs. public relations. Social media is a communication tool.

    However, it seems that social media has made people wonder whether public relations might best serve an organization under public relations. And that extension, which social media has made visible, is relevant.

    There are some good thoughts here.


  • 11 December, 2007, 16:27

    Extremely articulate and persuassive. Seems like the basis for a more detailed white paper or essay. I think any number of people in the profession would be interested in having a better idea how to express something they may believe, but haven’t really found the right way of conveying yet. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • 12 December, 2007, 21:24

    It’s interesting to watch, especially as I am outside the agency world now.

    And, I think it depends on the holding company leadership to drive smart tactics and partnerships within to get the best results. And, that causes problems, but a firm and strong leadership can get it done.

    I just read more and more articles in WSJ and NYT that are social media related, and being owned by advertising.

  • 12 December, 2007, 22:34

    Thanks for the comments guys. Jeremy, I know what you mean about media coverage of ad firms in the context of social media. Journalists aren’t used to PR and communications folk taking the helm. I wonder how they’ll feel when PR people rely on them less to get the news out?

    I’m really digging the “channels and conversations” mix. It really captures the reality of digital communications in a very simple concept. PR people are creating channels in addition to navigating conversations. As the channels gain prominence, the influence of mainstream media could wane. Maybe it already has waned a bit.

    Media still have credibility, but they lack the diversity of a search result or a walk through the blogosphere. It’s difficult to retain readers in such a rich tapestry of content. It can be done, but media need to continue to embrace a variety of channels and embrace conversation.

  • Christine McKenna
    3 February, 2008, 7:09

    Interesting piece, Dave. Agree with John’s thoughts. Sadly I can’t add anything relevant as I am a PR practitioner in Dubai, a strategy-free zone where PR consists of sending out press releases (which the press prints word for word) and wearing bright colours. They understand marketing, they understand advertising. PR just isn’t there yet, and it is a rather frustrating exercise.

    Thanks for stimulating my brain cells again!

  • 3 February, 2008, 13:59

    Great comment, Christine. Since my move to New York, I have had many opportunities to work with communication professionals around the world and there are definitely limitations and exceptions. The most important aspect that define your programs is the audience. If they rely solely on media then that makes the most sense, but there is so much research and work out there that proves people are looking beyond media. I know its hard to sell in. We just roled out a program across 11 countries in the EMEA region and it wasn’t easy. But once professionals get exposed to the opportunities, the acceptance grows rapidly. Funnily enough, the Arabic countries we worked with were some of the fastest adopters. Nothing is predictable but the opportunities are real. Best of luck in the colourful “strategy-free zone”. Happy to help you build a case at any time.

  • Peter Collins
    29 May, 2008, 11:24

    Hi David, I agree with your comments:

    “PR people are creating channels in addition to navigating conversations. As the channels gain prominence, the influence of mainstream media could wane…It’s difficult to retain readers in such a rich tapestry of content. It can be done, but media need to continue to embrace a variety of channels and embrace conversation.”

    My thought is that social media is best addressed by public relations professionals in general and media relations specialists in particular.

    PR is on the front lines of the battle for mindshare and various mediums disseminating and dialoguing messages and ideas. Whether it be a new blog or the New York Times, there remains a constant struggle in the evolution of communication.

    We live in an interesting time. So-called conventional media (and channels) are under-seige and risk their demise and extinction, if they do not quickly address the needs of the audience and “embrace conversation.”


  1. Fleishman-Hillard Point of View — It’s Not Marketing vs. PR; It’s Channel and Conversation

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