By Christa Skiles
I’ve been working in the world of communications for more than 20 years now. And, while I know that’s really just a drop in the bucket where time is concerned (or at least — having recently celebrated another birthday — that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself), it now feels like a long enough tenure that I can speak with a shred of credibility about the changes our industry has undergone during that period.
Sure, there has been the obvious evolution in communication channels. Yes, I do remember a world in which I regularly pitched stories to not one but TWO Cincinnati daily newspapers. Where I faxed breaking news announcements or plopped releases in the mail because my beat reporter didn’t even have an email address. And where I actually had to pick up the telephone if I had questions because websites were far from ubiquitous and Facebook hadn’t even been imagined.
But, for me, one of the most interesting transformations has been in the diminishing distinction between what people see as marketing versus what they define as public relations.
According to USC Annenberg’s 2017 Global Communications Report, “Almost half of PR professionals included in the study predict that public relations will become more aligned with marketing over the next five years. In a surprising turn, only 8 percent of PR professionals believe that PR will be a distinct and separate function. When marketers were asked the same question, 57 percent were convinced that the two functions would be more aligned in the future, with 20 percent predicting PR will become a subset of marketing.”
I’ve watched these shifts happen in my own career. When I graduated from college, the delineation was much more black and white. Marketing was something you purchased, and public relations was something you earned. In the most stereotypical terms, marketing was advertising and PR was media relations (though communicators, myself included, bristle at those clichés as both have always been about much more than just those tactics.) Since that time, I’ve held public relations positions in which I was responsible for email, website content, newsletters and social media. And, I’ve been in marketing roles where I was responsible for … email, website content, newsletters and social media.
As far as I’m concerned, the blurring lines offer a number of benefits:
- Integrated Planning. It’s not as though marketers and PR pros didn’t talk before, but I think it’s safe to say that collaboration between the two has never been stronger. The integration of disciplines pushes both to think more strategically about the importance of key messaging and the development of an overall communications plan — one in which goals are jointly identified and shared by everyone.
- Holistic Thinking. As the two fields have converged, marketers have begun to think a little more like PR pros, for example, understanding how relationship-building and effective storytelling have a real impact on sales and revenue. At the same time, PR pros are embracing a love of data and measurement that once was seen as belonging to the realm of marketing.
- Customer and Content Focus. Did your company gain those new customers because they heard your ad on the radio, they read that great write-up in the paper or because they saw the testimonial videos you posted on Facebook? The short answer: Yes! Every single message collectively builds upon every single other message to tell your story. By removing the silos that used to emphasize whether that message was paid, earned, shared or owned, you can spend more time selecting the right message for the right audience at the right time and place the focus where it belongs: on the content and the customer.
This is far from a new conversation and, while I don’t pretend to be able to predict the future, I doubt it’s one that’s going away any time soon. But, as someone who’s always straddled the fence between marketing and PR, I’ll be excited to see how these changes play out over my next 20 years.