“If marketing is a sprint, then PR is a marathon that can deliver amazing results in terms of reputation and education. For example, by using scientific proof to boost vaccination levels in Vietnam.”
Ever thought, or heard, that PR is a part of marketing? Think again. Here’s my invited contribution to IPRA’s thought leadership essay series to help clear the confusion. Originally posted on IPRA.
PR used to be very distinctive. But nowadays, many people tend to put everything under the marketing umbrella. Even marketers would think that PR is part of marketing. However, just like marketing and communications stand separately in “integrated marketing communications”, communications, or PR, has its unique values. I’d like to talk about why business leaders should not lump PR and marketing together, and address the values that PR offers in the 4.0 landscape.
Business reputation is a company’s biggest asset. And PR practitioners are here to protect it, not marketers!
Is PR an element under the marketing umbrella? We can easily come across PR activities within a bigger marketing campaign, which is why most people feel as if PR is a part of marketing. To find the exact answer, we need to look at the core concepts and objectives of PR activities. Although PR could indeed assist marketing in building brand awareness, brand loyalty, and brand love, managing corporate image and company values is what set PR apart from marketing.
While marketers focus on generating demand for companies’ products and services, the focus of PR practitioners is on building corporate image and reputation. Just ask yourself, would you prefer to use a product from an ethical company, or one that sells at a cheaper price but met several scandals? And don’t think that PR can’t sell. PR can also indirectly generate demand for a product or service by changing the public’s perception.
For example, when the world was wary about the side effects of covid-19 vaccines, PR provided educational information about vaccines and their overall safety to convince people to get vaccinated, and consequently, save millions of lives. Or such as in the infamous case of bacon and eggs. These were not common breakfast items before the 1920s. Edward Bernays, a pioneer of the PR industry, sent a survey to doctors to get them to endorse the idea that eating bacon and eggs first thing in the morning would be filling and would provide plenty of morning energy. And now, it’s one of the most famous breakfasts worldwide.
During a communications crisis, PR departments stand at the frontline to respond to malicious comments and give out corrective information. Especially during the fake news era, every company now needs to invest in their PR team to address unexpected variables that could potentially tarnish their credibility.
Why clumping PR and marketing can bring more harm than good
To optimize internal costs, many organizations often combine PR and marketing into the same department. However, as mentioned before, even though PR and marketing activities can sometimes overlap, their objectives are completely different. If marketing is a sprint, then PR is a marathon. Just as reputation cannot be established in one or two days, PR is a long-term process that aims to build credibility for an organization and its high-level executives. Clumping PR and marketing goals together would often result in short-sighted PR activities that make minimal impact on brand reputation. The “marketing melting pot” approach could make junior executives even more puzzled about the line between PR and marketing. For marketers, their ultimate objective is to generate leads and conversion, which can be achieved through short-term campaigns.
In addition, brand reputation makes a bigger impact than sales. A good reputation could boost recruitment, funding, customer retention. In fact, there are sensitive cases in which you cannot make a direct marketing effort to generate leads for your product, such as in the pharmaceutical industry.
My agency, EloQ Communications, is supporting AstraZeneca and the local government to advocate for vaccination programs at the moment. During our work, we cannot promote the impact of vaccines through a large-scale marketing campaign, which could stir up controversies and doubt. Instead, PR can educate the importance of getting vaccinated using scientific proof and build community awareness by working with local media and government. PR is subtler in delivering the message and allows space for the target audience to make their own decision, without overdoing it or creating a trespassing message. That is a unique strength and value of PR.
What awaits us in the 4.0 future of PR?
The integrated marketing communications campaign is indeed dominating the marcom landscape. When putting PR and marketing together, people often see that marketing yields immediate outcomes while PR does not. Therefore, the contribution of PR is underappreciated in the modern landscape. Furthermore, traditional PR is often associated with media relations, but when trust in mainstream media declines, outsiders began to doubt the work that PR practitioners deliver. However, if we look at the situation from another angle, then the 4.0 era is the time for PR to shine. Why?
With fast-paced technology transformation and various social movements in the picture, maintaining a reputation is now more complex than you think. The rise of fake news on social media has become a challenge for businesses and organizations when they guard their public image.
One of the biggest challenges for organizations nowadays is establishing trust and credibility for their organizations. Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2022 indicated that institutions were failing to address the existential challenges, such as responding to the pandemic or global climate change. The majority of respondents agreed that the way businesses, NGOs and governments handle social issues fails to live up to the public’s expectations.
And this is where PR (not marketing or advertising!) comes in. PR can improve public trust by communicating corporate messages to the target audience. Edelman’s report also pointed out that trust is higher in companies that provide regular updates and communicate frequently with their consumers. When used internally, PR also strengthens the emotional bond between the organization and its employees. This is another unique function that sets PR apart from marketing.
Therefore, PR is still very much needed and distinctive in the modern landscape. However, PR practitioners focus so much on promoting their clients’ reputations that they forget to promote their own image. That is why the misunderstanding about PR is still there. As a member of the PR community, EloQ Communications has taken the initiative to join international PR organizations and adopt ethical tenets in our PR and communications activities, so that our colleagues can hold their heads high and proudly claim: “I’m a public relations practitioner.” One of our goals is to help people working in other industries view PR more correctly, favorably, and respectfully. I hope that after reading this article, you’ll also be inspired to advocate for the core values that PR delivers.