The PR-Marketing Convergence

As a PR professional for the last 17 years I was really excited for my last session at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit, the PR-Marketing Convergence. While I may describe what I do as PR, the reality is that my clients are almost always on the marketing side of the house and what I do is probably more accurately described as marketing communications.

So, it was with great anticipation that I waited for this particular session. It promised to speak to exactly what I was interested in. Here’s the description from the agenda…

How to navigate between advertising, marketing and public relations has been debatable for years. With increased focus on customer experience and the blurred lines of PESO (paid, earned, shared and owned media), expectations of marketing outcomes from public relations activities are higher than ever. It’s no longer enough to earn media placements, distribute releases, and manage brand social media profiles.

Companies increasingly expect PR to perform with marketing impact and marketing to perform with PR impact. Our panel from of experts, from public affairs, marketing, advertising and marketing, will provide insight from the client and agency side of this shift that has been occurring for many years even though the disciplines are for the most part still highly siloed.

Panelists for the session included:

  • Kathy Baird, Managing Director, Ogilvy DC
  • Megan Bailey Darmody, Director Press, Events and Partnerships, UrbanStems
  • Lane Kasselman, Co-founder, Greenbrier

Moderated by Michael Smith, CEO, GreenSmith Public Affairs, the panel kicked off with a discussion about each of their areas of expertise, including what sort of clients they serve. Out of the three panelists, the best example of a company facing the PR-Marketing convergence that really resonated with me was from Kathy at Ogilvy DC. She explained that Ogilvy is currently going through a company-wide restructure driven by the convergence of PR and marketing. As such, the agency has disbanded the separate factions and is positioning themselves as one, unified, converged agency. By doing so they are breaking down the silos between the teams and bringing together the best experts to solve the problems their clients are tasking them with.

From there, the discussion moved on to trying to define what exactly is convergence. At the basic level, it’s about how technology changes the game. It used to be that there was a team of social media experts who handled the social media strategy but that no longer makes sense anymore. Social media enables organizations to communicate with their customers, hire the best talent, engage in conversations, etc. It needs to be an integrated part of any media relations, marketing and/or recruitment effort.

The panel also sees convergence in paid media. While the advertising team historically owned the budget for paid media, now there is a need for paid social, advertorials, etc. The question of budget ownership is still not completely clear, but as silos break down teams are working together more.  

I also found it interesting that the panel seemed in agreement that PR and communications should be an arm of a company’s overall marketing operation rather than its own group. Lane discussed that they are already seeing this change take place in Silicon Valley, and Megan agreed that it didn’t make sense for PR to have their own KPIs but rather for them to be tied to marketing.  

While I’m not sure where I stand on that debate (should PR be a subset of marketing), it is something we see more and more with our clients. For the most part, our contacts are either marketers, holding the title of VP or director of marketing, or they are a communications manager who ultimately reports up through the marketing department to the CMO. I do agree with the panel that the two teams need to be working in parallel, and if they are not it will ultimately lead to trouble.

Let’s talk.