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Marketing and Public Relations: Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter?

June 19, 2017 Damon Maida

If you work in public relations, at some point in your career, someone outside the industry has asked you, “So, are you in marketing?” “Well, no,” you say as you begin to answer. Maybe you explain that PR is about getting earned media placements for your clients, while marketing is about paid exposure. Perhaps you highlight reputation management or thought leadership as the hallmark of a PR campaign, while marketing endeavors to “sell” or promote a company and/or its services and products using advertising and other activations. Whatever you say, it’s possible you’ll still see a look of confusion wash over the listener’s face.

Marketing and public relations

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But, what if that look of confusion comes from a marketing professional? That’s when your skills as a communications specialist will truly be tested. Remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials (an example of excellent marketing, by the way) – “two great tastes that taste great together?”  Well, think about marketing as chocolate and public relations as peanut butter. As with Reese’s, there will always be people who think the two are better on their own. Here are three ways to help change minds and show PR pros and marketers alike how public relations can work together, not only to support but also enhance each other:

Set expectations

They may “taste great together,” but marketing and public relations are not the same. They do not move at the same pace, the results look different and, while the timing for results in marketing is generally scheduled, the timing for public relations results can be unpredictable. A marketer may schedule an event, create materials for distribution and place an ad knowing how and when each element of the plan will unfold. With public relations, there are more variables. Reporters may be unresponsive or unavailable. Articles and bylines may not publish when expected. There are numerous elements that come into play that can change the game at any time. PR pros know this and must be nimble, pivoting and adjusting strategy as events unfold. Working in PR or marketing, the more you understand about how the other discipline works, the better.

In the same way, we should take the time to think about what our marketing counterparts value most – a way to demonstrate how public relations directly affects the business’ bottom line.

Identify marketing activations that partner well with PR and vice versa

Not every marketing effort will be enhanced by public relations, nor does every PR campaign require a marketing effort to make it work. For example, placing an advertisement in a local paper for your new product grabs the attention of readers who see the ad and gives a call to action to purchase the product. Beyond a profile of the company in the same issue or a press conference announcing the product to coincide with the timing of the ad, there aren’t many ways public relations would be involved with that advertising effort. In the same way, a PR plan to place bylined articles in target publications does not require a concurrent marketing plan with those publications. However, if marketing is hosting an event where executives – and maybe even a celebrity – will be present, there’s great opportunity for PR and marketing to work together, with the PR team engaging with broadcast and print media to attend the event, fielding media requests and making sure that the event is covered widely in the press. Identify the ways that public relations can support marketing efforts, and the results for both will improve exponentially.

Take time to think like a marketer

In public relations, we’re constantly trying to get into the heads of our clients and the reporters who cover them to anticipate what they might need and what the “next” story is, in order to stay ahead of the curve. In the same way, we should take the time to think about what our marketing counterparts value most – a way to demonstrate how public relations directly affects the business’ bottom line. Some agencies provide circulation or website visitor numbers along with media placements to give an indication of how many people might have read a particular article. Others show “ad value,” by measuring the space an article takes up in print or online and determining what it would have cost to buy that space in the same publication. And, sometimes, things are clearer. For example, recently a client told me that the company had received two separate inquiries from new customers who called only after reading a bylined article that our agency had placed for the client in a top trade journal. Those are the moments that public relations professionals dream about – an instance where our work can be traced back to gaining new customers and growing the company’s reputation. PR measurement is not an exact science, but marketers are more likely to understand the value of PR when it can be quantified.

So, if you find yourself at odds with a marketer who might be saying, “Your peanut butter is on my chocolate!” don’t just say, “Well your chocolate is on my peanut butter!” Reassure your counterpart that you can work together, explain what you do and how you can help, and great things can happen for you both.

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