Monday, December 10

Digging In: Marketing vs. PR

Can two people be right and wrong at the same time? Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, and Geoff Livingston, author and owner of Livingston Communications, beg the question.

Sledzik is distrusting of the integration of public relations under marketing. Livingston believes in the convergence of integrated communication under marketing.

They are neither wrong nor right, or perhaps they are both wrong and right. Take your pick. Both present compelling arguments, although both posts also have points that nearly threw me out of my chair in a twisted grimace caused by the collision of comedy and tragedy — there were several such moments, but I’ll stick with the one that made me chuckle while reaching for the Tums.

Livingston’s erred definition of public relations using an online dictionary brutally misrepresents the function of public relations. And Sledzik, pulling out the dusty classical collegiate definition of marketing as defined by the 4 Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) only reinforces what many modern marketers gave up in favor of sales and profits decades ago.

If there is a convergence crisis, it is only because communication-related industries have become so fragmented and the definitions so misshapen that respected professionals in both disciplines spend more time lobbying to be above each other than they ever do to benefit their companies or clients. And if it was bad before, expect it to get worse as social media has made the battle lines look more like WWI than WWW II.

“But wait,” some might say, scratching their heads. “I thought Richard Becker was an advocate of integrated communication.”

You bet your bippy I am. But not under the condition that marketing or public relations will take the lead. You see, Sledzik is right. They are two very different disciplines. And yet, Livingston is right. We need better communication integration. But neither is right because while marketing and public relations intersect, neither can replace nor lead the other. Arg!

A Letter From Switzerland

As a longtime accreditation examiner for the International Association of Business Communicators, I have the pleasure of grading exams submitted by some very bright people, many of whom have more than a decade of experience in some facet of communication and can be easily considered leaders in their respected fields — marketing, advertising, public relations, internal communication, investor relations, community relations, etc. et al.

Specifically, this rigorous peer review process challenges candidates to demonstrate their ability to think and plan strategically and then manage the skills required to effectively implement tactics that are essential to effective organizational communication, which includes marketing, public relations, media relations, external relations, internal communication, and crisis communication.

You can learn more about the accreditation process here and as an accreditation liaison for the local chapter in Las Vegas (accreditation chair), I’ll be writing more in weeks ahead.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll simply touch on that this is a globally accepted standard of knowledge and proficiency in organizational communication, enough so that some universities recognize it as the equivalent of a master’s degree and some government agencies recognize it as an expertise that precludes certain jobs from being sent out to bid (though, some human resources departments do not). It is denoted by the designation Accredited Business Communicator (ABC), which is not to be confused with the APR, as offered by the Public Relations Society of America. (The tests are different enough that several attempts to combine them since the 1980s have failed.)

I mention the ABC today because, while I cannot share specifics as I am bound by confidentiality, my experience in grading these exams may shed light on the challenges associated with integrating communication from the disciplines of marketing or public relations. Put simply, as an examiner, I can tell which school of thought with which the candidates are most comfortable and, often but not always, razor sharp focus in either leads to communication breakdown.

Observations From The Front

An overly general and probably unfair characterization reveals accreditation candidates with a heavy marketing background tend to lack empathy and seldom consider various publics beyond their target audience, treating the transaction as more important than any long-term relationship and dismissing qualitative research with the wave of a hand. Whereas candidates with a heavy public relations background do not always link their objectives to any sort of measurable outcome, leaving one to wonder if they understand the difference between public relations and publicity (the latter is tied to promotion, folks) or realize that all the positive media in the world won’t change anyone’s mind.

Neither discipline really considers the long-term consequences that communication may have on multiple publics or how to craft a single message that will appeal to publics that have varied and even conflicted opinions about the same subject. Most do not even know how to craft communication about downsizing that will make shareholders cheer without disenfranchising and demoralizing internal stakeholders. And sometimes, in the push to redefine communication, especially with the advent of social media, many neglect the core tenets of their own disciplines, with marketing hijacked by profit seekers and sales, and public relations prowess measured by the size of an electronic media Rolodex.

In truth, both have seemed to give up ground in the areas where they have the most influence in favor of only one P, which is very place they seem to intersect — promotion. In such a world, marketing becomes sales; and public relations becomes publicity. And neither of these two distorted views of communication will have any lasting impact or profound ability to change behavior in such a way that a brand might actually become a cultural statement.

Organizational communication, though I prefer to call it strategic communication, is about much more than marketing or public relations, but values them both more than they value each other. And while some intuitive professionals may at times push above their marketing or public relations background to become a communicator, most will forever be encamped on either side of the “No Man’s Land” they created, machine guns blazing from the trenches.

And that is why Sledzik and Livingston (two people I hold in high regard in case you don’t know that), peering out of their respective foxholes, are both right and wrong. We need to integrate communication, but it will take much more than public relations or marketing to do it. See you in Versailles.


Bill Sledzik on 12/10/07, 2:00 PM said...

Hey Rich,

It's gratifying to see the discussion along with the firestorm that my post has created in some circles. What the heck, I can use the links!

As I said in the intro, this subject has been gnawing at me for some 15 years. I knew it might be incendiary, but I've seen 3-4 bloggers write about it as you have -- thoughtfully and without a hint of rant. This is the "conversation" I was seeking when I started the blog.

My beef: I still run into far too many marketing types who seem ready to do "whatever it takes" to drive sales. But that is their mission, so why should it surprise me? If PR folks are doing their job, they need to step up to defend the "relationship" with the customer or the influencer. If customers trust the company and the brand, persuading them to buy isn't all that tough. But there's a lot more to it than simply a business transaction.

As you point out, there is no absolute right or wrong here. You know, Geoff Livingston and I actually agree on as much as we disagree. But I am having trouble picturing the dude in a foxhole!

Rich on 12/10/07, 4:01 PM said...

Hey Bill,

Great to hear. I agree that it is a worthwhile discussion and you put it out there admirably. And without making it a rant, as you said.

Absolutely, the battle lines aren't as hard and fast as I have proposed. But you know, it sure was fun.

I see that Geoff and yourself are much closer than the confines of these two posts, but that's not so for much of the world. There are many, many companies where the biggest complaint is often tied to who holds the ear of the CEO.

"We're aren't valued enough!" They yell. And then they spend more time trying to prove the other department wrong rather than demonstrating what they can do right together.

So truth be told, there really are some folks out there right now who want to make PR the fifth P under marketing (or simply tie it all together under promotion). Knowing that, your timing couldn't be more perfect. (BTW, I thought the fifth P was supposed to be People, but times change).

You are right that too many marketing types seem ready to do "whatever it takes" to drive sales — they are often the ones who resort to distress advertising at the first signs of weakness. Just as I see many PR people forego any thought of various publics and pretend publicity and column inches are all there is to life. It works like voodoo, they say. No measurements are needed; and even if we could measure, we could not afford it anyway.

So you nail it there ... if the PR people are doing their jobs, and some really do it well, then customers can be influenced by the brand, just as you say.

Likewise, if marketing is doing its job, they too are influenced by the customer as well as the market environment, making sure they don't have to defend whether or not their product looks ugly (Kindle, for example), leaving PR folks to spin the story (if they do that sort of thing).

Meanwhile, the advertising folks are having the most fun because all we have to do is look cool.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was introduced to the concepts of strategic communication much earlier than my introduction to IABC. It came from working in-house at two different major utilities (long before Enron, ha!). In both cases, I was tasked with communicating a new strategic plan to various departments (and employees) so everyone might understand it and adopt it.

While utilities represent some of the most conservative business models out there, it was a great lesson in considering everyone's point of view — from legal and human resources to white collar and blue collar workers to the shareholders and customers. When everyone works together, it can produce some amazing results.

But maybe that is best left for another post, another time. If you want help seeing foxholes, think of department heads hunkered down in the dirt waiting for the other department head to poke his/her head out with a fresh idea that may get the support of the executive team.

When they do, 'rat tat tat' with every reason it won't work, especially if it might mean shifting resources from one department to the other. We're seeing it a bit more with the question ... where does social media belong?

So, again, while you two are not necessarily squared off as polar opposites of each other, the analogy between marketing and public relations as a stalemate seems to fit the current climate.

All my best,

Geoff_Livingston on 12/10/07, 7:52 PM said...


I think you misread my post. In it I clearly state that I agree with Bill's division of church and state with the exception of social media, where I see a convergence of disciplines. The convergence of disciplines was the central point of the post.

Further, this statement, "
Livingston’s erred definition of public relations using an online dictionary brutally misrepresents the function of public relations" is your opinion. I definitely do not see eye to eye with you on this. We are all entitled to opinion so I'll leave it at that.

Rich on 12/10/07, 9:14 PM said...

Hey Geoff,

I'm not sure its possible or prudent to divide and converge at the same time for one medium. However, I thought your definition of public relations clearly places under the promotional portion of marketing.

But again, my apologies if I was not clear, only part of the post applies to your discussions. I also didn't know we disagreed on defining public relations. The definition I apply most often is as follows:

“Public Relations is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest.” — First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations and First World Forum of Public Relations, 1978

The most important part of the post is that I hold you in high regard and your ability to raise important questions. For anyone who don't know, Geoff and I have some disagreements in theory and practice, but agree more often than not.


Geoff_Livingston on 12/11/07, 4:56 AM said...

I understand, but the definition I gave does not clearly put it under marketing, you interpreted it as such. Let's examine that definition versus the PRSA's.

Here is the PRSA's: Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.

Since you took umbrage at this definition because it was online, Websters, 1996 Collegiate edition (pre-social media): Relations with the general public as through publicity; specif those functions of a corporation, organization, etc. concerned with attempting create favorable public opinion for itself.

The definition is less commercial and broader in scope than Webster's and I think more positive and certainly better intended (goodwill) than the PRSA's (Adapt? WTF?) and implies the result should be positive realtionships, not transactions.

As for the World Congress from 1978, that just tells me PR people research, analyze to forecast what they mean, and implement communications programs. It does no tell me what PR people do other than "benefit the company and the public interest."

The definition of goodwill from Websters, "A friendly or kindly attitude."

I see the original comments as the way you read my post, but based on these four definitions, I think the "brutally misrepresents the function of public relations" statement is an inaccurate view of my post.

Rich on 12/11/07, 7:13 AM said...


The programs implemented do not necessarily have to be communication programs. In the definition I cite, those programs nurture the very relationships we often talk about.

For example, one public relations firm we work with on occasion hosts round table industry-specific discussions including various clients and members of the media once every couple months. It's not a pitchfest, but an open discussion on industry trends, which provides the editors and/or journalists who attend an inside view of the industry as specific to this market. It's smart stuff.

But going back to the definitions, I agree with you that PRSA's definition lacks as a paired down definition of the one I cite, and with the wrong action verb as you rightfully suggest.

Still, the various dictionary definitions fall short as well, imo. Websters for reasons you already include as well as its heavy reliance on publicity.

And, while better, because it might move away from a reliance on publicity, the action verb still leaves us as "promoting goodwill between itself and the public" as opposed to developing programs that foster goodwill.

You are very right in that my sentence structure unduly and unfairly places the burden on you, where this post would have been better served to say's definition brutally misrepresents the function of public relations, which is what I meant with no intent to malign you in any way. I think and hope you know that.


Sweet Tea on 12/11/07, 10:38 AM said...

""promoting goodwill between itself and the public" as opposed to developing programs that foster goodwill."

Rich, do you think some companies believe themselves to be fostering goodwill when, in truth, they have no idea what their consumers want?

Rich on 12/11/07, 11:03 AM said...


I think some companies like to promote the goodwill they think they are extending various publics as opposed to developing programs that foster goodwill. There is a fine line.

Some companies know how to serve those publics. Some companies do not. If we're talking about goodwill, I suspect the strongest aspect of that would be engagement as the example I provided above. The public relations firm identified the need, and then developed the roundtables. It serves both the public (media in that case) and the organizations they represent.


Geoff_Livingston on 12/11/07, 12:03 PM said...

So what you've pointed out is that even primary PR industry body does not have a clear definition of PR or the dictionaries. There is no clear definition of PR. Thus, I'm still have a really hard time understanding how you can justify saying yours is the right definition. Sorry, I'm not buying it. :P

Rich on 12/11/07, 12:21 PM said...


Hey, watch where you stick those tongues mister. Ha.

I was thinking the same thing about the definitions. If the industry doesn't always agree on the definition, then no wonder there is a struggle to define it within companies.

As for the one I cite, it is simply the best I've come across, which is a global definition. It was also accepted by Doug Newsom, Texas Christina University, and Bob Carrell, University of Oklahoma. I'd be open to a better definition, but the points they raise about this broad definition make it more than useful.


Anonymous said...

Would love to have been part of this conversation, but time didn't permit. You see, I've been grading final projects and papers all day, making sure that MY students know EXACTLY what public relations is and how it works. The debate isn't as wild and crazy as this thread makes it seem.

I will say that my worldview on how we define PR falls much closer to Rich's than Geoff's. But it wouldn't be Wednesday if Geoff and I didn't disagree on something.

After posting this note, I'll head over to Buzz Bin and expound on things. A friend told me Geoff wrote on this topic today and tagged me. Sorry I missed it, Geoff, but you spelled my name wrong.

See you in a few.

And Rich, sorry for the name change on this comment. Yesterday your site let me sign on with my name, today it's only accepting my blog name. Maybe I just don't get Blogger.

Rich on 12/12/07, 8:43 PM said...

Great addition Bill. You are right.

Public relations is not having a crisis as much as this thread might lead some to believe.

The crisis is usually in the hands of the people practicing it, which might be why public relations plays a major role in most failed communication situations during a crisis.

As for Blogger. You know, I can't say I "get" the new comments either.

All my best,

Andrew Arnold on 12/13/07, 6:13 AM said...

Late to the party...

Can I just add that there seems to be a'continental European' trend to this PR vs Marketing issue.

In Denmark, and as far as I can gather in other European nations (apart from the UK and possibly Germany) PR is a new study and often ends tucked into marketing checklists under 'Send press release'. Not good.
However, in Denmark particularly, where I am based there is a far broader approach to Communications as a study that includes both internal comms and external comms and students learn both disciplines and apply them according to the required situation. The focus seems to be more on situational tactics for a given strategy and wished for result rather than name tags.
Mind you this approach is more common because PR as seen in the US and UK is underdeveloped here - perhaps because the foucs is on communications in general.
Perhaps that's the answer - put PR and Marketing under the Communications Director, in the same way HR and IT sit under the CFO in many companies. That way we can upset eveybody.

Rich on 12/13/07, 7:16 AM said...


You may be late, but you are a person after my own thinking. Exactly that.


Your PR Guy on 12/13/07, 7:48 AM said...

Geoff, Rich --

This is a very intersting sparring match you guys have here. I have a certification in PR -- not to be confused with an accredation.

While I'm new to the profession, having been a journalist for two Indiana newspapers beforehand, I find that marketing, PR and advertising should be converging on every level.

If I'm the CEO of a company, and we sell dandy wigets, I want my marketing, PR and advertising teams to be working together and sharing information (research, etc). I say this because whether a marketer is marketing, a PR counselor is making relationships, or an advertiser is advertising -- they are all communicating.

We can help the convergence along, however but loosing the titles that frame the different niche's of communication. While each may have different skill sets, working together, those skill sets make for powerful communication.

By the way, Geoff, your book is the next on my list of reading. But I have a final exam to push of my desk at home first.

Rich on 12/13/07, 9:43 AM said...

Well said Rodger.

I think so too. Communication management or organizational communication has often seen amazing results by bringing together various communication-related departments to work toward common objectives.

Each may have different skill sets, but the objectives are often the same if not similar with the primary differences tucked away in tactics. I've seen some great communication management proponents come from marketing, public relations, internal communication, etc. And they all tend to have great leadership skills.

As for the smaller debate, who acquires social media or new media ... I think the answer is probably related to the function of the tool and not necessarily the professional designation.

Good luck with your final.Always a pleasure to see your name here.


Rich on 1/11/08, 5:20 PM said...


It was brought to my attention today that some fine folks who wish to remain anonymous did not appreciate my statement that accreditation is recognized "enough so that some universities recognize it as the equivalent of a master’s degree," mistaking my meaning as to infer that is was a replacement for a master's degree.

That is not so. What some universities recognize is the skill sets required to pass the exam can be considered equivalent of a master’s degree. If anyone would like some specific examples of how it helped some individuals, please let me know.

They also pointed out that human resources did not recognize it as an equivalent of a master's degree. In looking back over the piece, that is what I said.


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