Wednesday, July 9

Separate Advertising And Pubic Relations At Your Own Peril

Advertising Or Public Relations? by Rich Becker
Every time someone attempts to divide advertising and public relations into two distant camps, it makes my skin crawl. They always make it sound like both fields have to be at odds with each other, with cliché conversation starters like advertising is paid and public relations is pray.

There doesn't have to be such a stark division. No one has to choose one over the other. After all, while it might be true that advertising and public relations have distinct world views, they essentially aim to fulfill a bigger organizational need — to meet organizational objectives through communication while reinforcing a brand that has (ideally) already proven its market differentiation.

It doesn't even matter what that product or service differentiation might be. It could be based on any number of tangible and intangible attributes — quality, price, availability, prestige, functional specifications, design aesthetics, corporate citizenship, and whatever else someone can think up or any combination of them provided there aren't too many to remember. One to three points is enough.

People don't see public relations or advertising. They see brands.

When people see an advertisement or article about Porsche, they don't categorize the communication into categories or departments. They only see stories that reinforce and expand on a single idea.

"In the beginning, I looked around and could not find the car I'd been dreaming of: a small, lightweight sports car that uses energy efficiently. So I decided to build one myself." — Ferry Porsche

To hear Porsche tell it, they have always strived to translate performance and speed — and success — in the most intelligent way possible. It was never about horsepower alone, but intelligent horsepower.

The medium doesn't matter. You will read the same story in every article or advertisement equally. This car is about a dream. And as each dream is realized, Porsche pushes the envelope even further.

PorscheIn being exposed to either the advertisement or the article, consumers don't score the credibility of one or the other because credibility is not created by the communication. Credibility is created by delivering on a brand promise. Advertising and public relations merely reinforce what is there.

And for Porsche, the principle they abide by isn't confined to ads and articles. They apply it everywhere — to customers who believe there is no substitute and to motor sports spectators who may never own a Porsche but are more than happy to share the dream conjured up in every piece of communication. It not only extends to their cars, but also to their corporate offices, environmental policy, employee responsibility, and long-term sustainability as well. You don't even have to like them to respect them.

More importantly, you have to appreciate that this kind of outcome doesn't come from advertising or public relations or word of mouth. It comes from a unified communication strategy, one that transcends the tactics chosen to deliver it.

So no, advertising or public relations isn't a valid conversation. What communication strategists need to ask is what is the organizational strategy and how do we best communicate it to those people to whom it will matter most with whatever budget is available. The answer to that question is as varied as the products, services, and markets served. Every communication budget mix is different.

Some professionals think it's all about persuasion. Stick with the truth.

The fundamental reason that no one questions a Porsche advertisement is that the brand has banked credibility. It is known for taking care of its customers. And in doing so, its relatively small customer base has worked with the company to create a public perception that extends beyond that base.

Sure, some people will mistakenly believe this is a phenomenon exclusive to luxury brands, but it really isn't. Walmart, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble (various products) and Colgate (various products) all employ the same fundamental premise. Small marketers do too. The Abbey Inn in Cedar City, Utah, is one example. It's a 2-1/2 star hotel that consistently ranks as the number one place to stay in town.

There isn't big budget marketing behind it. It employs targeted advertising with some public relations support, with most media and social media exposure earned by exceeding expectations (including mine) rather than feeding journalist story pitches.

Abby Inn in Cedar City, Utah
Not all of the advertising is great, but it still succeeds in establishing a brand promise from a 2-1/2 star hotel (one that it can easily exceed with friendly service). In doing so, it achieves what other hotels — even big brands — cannot do. They has achieved and continues to have a market advantage along with repeat visitors and a strong referral base. And in some cases, it is this groundswell that earns it inclusion in other stories about the area — everything from the Utah Shakespeare Festival  to national parks like Zion and Bryce.

When considered as part of a comprehensive communication strategy — marketing, advertising, social media, public relations, customer service — organizations that can deliver the right concept with the right market differentiation across all of it win and those that can't struggle. And the only reason that more organizations don't employ such an approach is because most talk to one specialist or the other, with each attempting to maximize their budget rather than considering the overall mix.

It's something to think about. When was the last time your organization put the strategy ahead of the tactics? Considering what most professionals are measuring these days, I'd say not very many.
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