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Bringing Together Public Relations and Marketing for Business Success

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Virgie Townsend
Virgie Townsend

Bringing Together Public Relations and Marketing for Business Success

In the communications industry, the relationship between public relations and marketing teams can be shockingly competitive, and even openly contentious at times. I’m continually surprised by the number of public relations and marketing professionals who act as if their field is the only one their organization needs to succeed.

In my view, public relations and marketing complement one another. When these two powerhouses collaborate, the results take organizations to the next level.

Over the past 15 years, I have worked in roles that were exclusively PR, others that were exclusively marketing, and a few that required both. Along the way, I’ve felt the resistance that colleagues in each field sometimes exhibit toward the other. One marketer once told me, “PR is the last thing on my priority list.” On the PR side, I’ve known business leaders who were so focused on securing positive media coverage that they neglected the companies’ marketing efforts.

Although non-marketing and communications professionals often have trouble delineating between each field’s respective goals and responsibilities, an organization needs both PR and marketing to be successful. The difference between the two is subtle, but important. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PR is more reputation-based, focusing on “creating a positive image for the company,” whereas “marketing is focused on selling products or services” and concentrated on supporting the brand by driving revenue.

Of course, the two are intertwined. It’s easier to sell products or services when the company has a positive image, and it’s easier to get media coverage and cultivate a positive company image when there’s a quality product or service behind it.

Public relations and marketing professionals share three foundational goals when it comes to their organizations. Each role works to amplify visibility, build trust, and encourage loyalty. The “sweet spot” is activated when organizations align their PR and marketing strategies, leveraging each field’s strengths.

Here are the three most common challenges I’ve experienced when navigating the relationships between PR and marketing and techniques to overcome them.

First, leverage PR and marketing together for business success.

Positive media coverage that highlights an organization’s key messages and unique differentiators brings a different level of credibility to a company than if it stuck to marketing alone. It’s one thing to hear a marketer tell you that their business is great. It’s another thing if a well-respected journalist, who has done the work to dig into the organization’s offerings and leadership team, concludes that the business is great and writes about it or features them on TV.

Positive media coverage is also impactful material for digital, social media, and email marketing. With earned media, a company can get great soundbites, video, and photos to promote itself for free.

Personally, it is gratifying as a PR professional to help an organization secure coverage and then turn around and repurpose that content into marketing materials. Oftentimes, these become some of an organization’s highest performing marketing pieces.

At the same time, marketers can help PR pros by sharing feedback, questions, and trends they’ve identified on owned marketing channels to generate new story ideas to pitch to media. Social media platforms, particularly LinkedIn, can help spark new ideas for thought leadership topics on which your business’s experts can comment.

Second, facilitate data sharing between marketing and PR.

It can be hard to measure the quantitative value of having a good reputation. As public relations professionals, we are often asked how we measure an organization’s return on investment.

With media relations specifically, sometimes the benefits of positive coverage are realized immediately. This happens when business leaders can point to a specific news clip and say, “this is when our business took off,” or when they are able to connect a new board membership or speaking opportunity to a news feature or thought leadership column they wrote.

But more often, the benefits of strategic media relations take time to accrue. For example, a future patient may see a TV feature about a healthcare company, but it will be a few months before they get sick and need the company’s services. Or, a future donor might learn about a new nonprofit in the newspaper, but wait until Giving Tuesday to make a tangible gift.

The ability to show results more easily is one thing marketers love about their field. I understand the appeal. Having been a digital marketer, I know the particular delight of tracking click-through rates, new subscribers, open rates, impressions, reactions, and cost per click.

PR efforts also help drive results, but the data may not always be as easily accessible. Meaningful metrics for PR, such as the number of website visits or clicks on unique URLs after media coverage, are usually housed with marketing teams, who may be siloed and not share the insights they hold.

Freely sharing metrics and other insights allows both PR and marketing to understand the effectiveness of their campaigns and make adjustments to ensure future projects are even more successful.

Third, integrate, but do not fully merge PR and marketing.

If some organizations inadvertently create siloes between marketing and public relations, others can go too far and consolidate the two fields without regard for the expertise each requires. I have seen far too many job listings in which applicants are expected to be all marketing and communications things to all aspects of the business: media relations, internal communications, crisis communications, executive communications, digital marketer, email marketer, content marketer, social media marketer, SEO marketer, and sometimes even fundraiser.

This is a monumental list of responsibilities that no one human being can perform. When marketing and PR services are demanded of just one or two people in a large organization, there are risks to both the individual and their employer, including burnout, staff turnover, loss of institutional knowledge, and otherwise avoidable costs to replace the team member when they leave.

Instead, PR and marketing professionals thrive through respecting each other’s unique skillsets and bringing them together to tell all their organization’s positive stories across a wide range of media. When marketers and PR professionals can do what they do best and are freely sharing content, ideas, and data, an organization gets the best of both worlds: a virtuous cycle in which a positive image drives product or service sales, and great product or service sales driving a positive image.

Thanks for listening to the Strategic Minute, brought to you by WRVO Public Media. If you want to learn more about what we do at Strategic Communications, visit stratcomllc.com