Showing posts with label Bill Sledzik. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bill Sledzik. Show all posts

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.

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