Is integration of PR and marketing now a reality?

Once upon a time, marketing and PR functions had their own, separate identities: “When I joined the PR industry over 20 years ago, the roles of all the marketing services agencies were clear. Everyone understood their roles. Fast forward to now and things could not be more different”, says Jim Donaldson, executive vice president, corporate communications, EMEA, at PR firm Weber Shandwick.

Donaldson explains how today, PR agencies are competing with advertising agencies, management consultancies, digital and branding agencies, “along with every specialist from here to Hong Kong and beyond“. However, Donaldson is not downbeat about this: “It’s good news from where I am standing. We get to play in a larger industry and to run new and interesting campaigns that are fully integrated.”

Comms and marketing functions are converging client-side too, a trend that is global says Donaldson: “We are seeing growth in the convergence of communications and marketing functions in many companies across the world. Our Rising CCO research also found a 35 per cent increase from 2012 to 2014 in the number of global CCOs who have both communications and marketing responsibilities. The days of having completely soloed marketing, PR and digital departments is no longer fit for purpose. Communications is now in ‘real time’. Which is why we are now seeing a shift towards dual roles and job titles such as chief marketing and communications officer."

The key to successfully integrating PR and comms is the ability to speak with “one voice” concludes Donaldson, whether it is with your internal customers, partners, external clients or regulators. He adds: “Audiences are interacting with brands in different ways. Personal and authentic dialogue is key. This starts with integrating the outward faces of an organisation – providing exciting new opportunities both for those of us in agencies and for in-house practitioners. The next few years will be fascinating.”

The future may look fascinating, but it is definitely looking digital. As Lisa Morton, managing director at agency, Roland Dransfield PR, points out, the convergence of PR and marketing has been greatly speeded up by today’s new media landscape: “The growth of online and inbound marketing has really been a game-changer for the PR industry, allowing us to apply our traditional skill sets in an exciting new digital format. There are few remaining agencies that don't acknowledge the need for online integration and offer some digital services to complement their offline PR.”

Like many agencies, Morton has found that work has been steadily growing in the digital sphere which has meant taking on specialist staff in order to make sure that the agency offers clients the full spectrum of services they demand: “The number one rule of PR is to be where your target audiences are and by offering the full spectrum of services, we can help clients connect with the people that matter to them, without being constrained to specific channels.”

Case study

Richard Moss, managing director at PR firm Good Relations, gives a personal account of how PR and marketing worlds have converged:

“Many years ago, during my marketing career, I looked after the Mr Kipling brand. First conceived in the early 1960’s by advertising agency JWT, it was made from the two classic marketing ingredients of the time – a little bit of consumer research and a huge amount of imagination. Like most brands Mr Kipling started out as a question ‘what do you want from a packaged cake brand?’ In its case, in a world where the local bakers’ strict opening hours stood between you and your sweet baked confectionary, the answer was simple ‘accessible, baker-made cakes’.”

“With a brief like this, it didn’t take long for some of Britain’s most creative minds to conjure up the answer. Mr Kipling, a brand built around a fictitious baker, that you’ll never see, but always know is present through the quality of his cakes and of course, his signature on every pack. Not a thought was given to what was planned behind the brand façade. But did this matter?”

“In truth, no, not until the day a call was received from The News of the World. This great institution had decided to put a reporter undercover in the bakery. It claimed it had found all types of nasty’s … but not our Mr Kipling. We gave in on the latter point, but the rest was rubbish (not literally).”

“This front-page story was a little bit of a wake-up call. Up until that time, as a classically trained FMCG marketer, I’d never really considered the inherent dangers that exist in the traditional brand engagement model, where a façade is built between the corporate and the public facing brand. Only when I moved into the public relations industry did I start to observe the power and rewards that come from authentic engagement strategies. Strategies where the purpose and beliefs of the corporate brand are used to create brand causes that activate communities. Indeed, only recently did I discover that there is a straight line correlation between how authentic you believe a brand is and how much you are willing to recommend it – a key measure of future sales growth. No wonder marketing departments are taking an increasing interest in PR and ‘PR folk’ in marketing.”

“So how are clients organising themselves for this new world? This year, more than any other, we have seen an increasing demand for new ‘brand platforms’ to be developed to bring together the ‘corporate’ and ‘brands marketing’ messaging, into a single consistent narrative. We call this a ‘true north’ process and the output is a framework that acts as a guiding light for all messaging. Importantly messaging built on the business of ‘truths’.”

“So who executes the ‘true north’? The heart of PR has always been based primarily on identifying and telling stories based on brand truths. The reality today is that to spread these stories they need to be entertaining as well as informing. They need to open hearts.”

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.

Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.

PR Masterclass: The Agency Growth Forum PRmoment Awards Winners 2023 Media Point PRCA CIPR Creative Moment ESG Awards