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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Do you integrate PR with your marketing strategy?

Our industry is a buzz with phrases like:
  1. “Is PR dying?”
  2. “Who ‘owns’ social media - marketing or PR?”
  3. “Is PR limited to media relations?”
  4. “How does PR fit into the marketing mix?”
  5. “Is the concept of ‘integrated communications’ possible?"

While I’ve participated in dozens of these conversations online, touting that the answer to all of these questions comes back to strategy, my answers and comments always seemed to go in circles, lacking clarity and sometimes even leaving me (or those with whom I was chatting) with more questions than answers.

I hope that this post will not be one of those discussions. (And, I thank you for having enough faith, or skepticism, to keep reading.)

It became clearer to me in the past few weeks when working on a variety of proposals – some which were “marketing” proposals and others that were “public relations” proposals. When you bring social media tools into the communications strategy, the lines between “public relations” and “marketing” are increasingly blurred.

The point of distinction, however, becomes clear in the objectives. For instance:

  • Marketing Objective: Develop brand awareness and increase sales by 20%.
  • Public Relations Objective: Increase positive brand sentiment by 20%.

PR, as defined by James Grunig and Todd Hunt, is “the practice of managing the communication between an organization and its publics.” Those “publics” who once seemed reachable only through the print media they read, are now so much closer to us, thanks to social media tools.

When it comes to applying PR the social web, there are key points that differentiate PR plans from marketing plans:


Content. Marketing content and PR content is different, right? But in social media, you can’t always delineate the two. The right PR social media content strategy can help to drive sales (marketing) and spark media attention (PR).

Distribution. Just like a strategic pitch to the perfect reporter, the social media spaces in which messages are shared need to be strategically selected by researching where the key audience (brand influencers, media, content creators, end users) is hanging out, and what they are doing there.

Search. This is the new “earned media placement,” folks. All of your client’s online assets need to be optimized for traditional and social search, and carefully positioned within the client’s online communities and the media in an effort to spread information virally and organically.

Monitoring. Your client’s messages and stories will morph as they move across the social web. We can’t control the message anymore, but we must monitor and manage the reputation by: measuring conversations, establishing key performance indicators by which to measure objectives (which differ for each marketing and PR objective), conducting content analysis, and providing the best strategy for engagement – in both positive and negative situations.

And, that brings us back to strategy.

Marketing. PR. Advertising. Sales. Now, more than ever, these disciplines cannot operate in silos. “Integrated Communications*” is not only possible, it’s crucial.

Because the “public” is literally a keystroke away, “managing the communication between an organization and its publics” must guide the marketing strategy, the sales tactics, and the advertising campaigns.

A decent PR campaign, rooted in traditional media relations, can be executed on its own. A great PR campaign will work in harmony with each of these other disciplines and guide their success.

As PR practitioners, we may find that in addition to creating and executing the PR strategy, we're coming up with the marketing plan as well. The better our understanding of each of these disciplines, and the lines that blur the two, the stronger the PR industry will become.

What are your thoughts? Do you integrate PR with your marketing strategy? What are the obstacles, challenges, and benefits you’ve faced along the way? How is social media blurring the lines in your client offerings?

*For additional opportunity to engage in this discussion, join #IMCChat on Twitter with @bethharte and @abarcelos on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. CST.

Kary Delaria is Vice President of PR and CLO (chief listening officer) at Kane Consulting, a social media marketing and PR firm that specializes in research, strategy, and measurement/monitoring in addition to producing events and providing training in these areas. You can contact her via email, or on Twitter.