What PR and Marketing Disciplines Can Learn From Each Other

October 3, 2019

Fifteen years ago, I worked for a company as their VP of Marketing. My background was largely PR, but I’d done a good deal of marketing work for the brand and they tapped me for the role. Then, while we were working on a new logo, a PR opportunity came from out of nowhere: CNBC wanted to feature the brand in a quick interview. At the time the company was a small family run business that was beginning to grow through franchising. The head of the company was a brilliant businessman, but he was no fan of CNBC and didn’t see the value. It took all my persuasion (and that of our talented COO) to convince him to fly to Atlanta for the interview.

In less than 12 months after that story aired, it became the focal point of our marketing campaign to potential franchisees. And it was incredibly effective – franchise pace doubled, and the company raced to keep up.

If there hadn’t been someone at the company with a strong PR background, someone willing to go to the mat for the opportunity, I have no question that the interview would have passed us by. Reporters are busy and they have deadlines to meet. There is no shortage of individual companies pitching for some attention. Some other young franchise business would have had their moment in the sun­–and the benefits that go with it. 

It got me thinking, now more than a decade later, about the benefits of the synergy of both disciplines. IMHO, during this time of tremendous disruption in both marketing and communications, there’s a great deal PR people can learn from Marketers – and a great deal Marketers can learn from PR people.

Let’s start with the ever-popular buzz phrase “storytelling.” Both disciplines have their own interpretation of it, but only by merging the strengths of each do we have an opportunity to realize the full potential.

Some times you need a marketer’s focus on the deal-making; other times you need a PR person’s focus on the spin of a great story.

With owned channels, times have changed. PR people can do more than pitch – they can pitch, hit, and run the bases. PR people can control elements of a brand’s message in a way that used to only exist in advertising. Owned channel audience size for some brands can readily swamp that of earned media. This means that PR people have to step further into the story and not stop at a well-crafted pitch. We have a unique opportunity to TELL these stories ourselves through a myriad of owned channels like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. But there is a huge caveat. We shouldn’t tell these stories as a marketer – or even as a journalist-turned-PR-pro would.

Which brings me to marketers. Marketing people can learn from PR people how to deliver genuine (or to use another buzz phrase, authentic) stories that used to be only in earned media and that hop on current trends. Let’s take one channel where the differences are readily spotted: social.

In my experience, you can tell pretty quickly when a brand’s social presence is run by the marketing team and when it’s run by the PR team and that’s not good. Marketing posts focus on the deal or the latest offering for sale. Visually they have the feel of the idealized ad world, selling pristine elements of the brand with a loud and proud CTA. All the pictures are perfect, all the people are pretty, all the skies are blue, they echo the tag of the last paid ad, and the push to buy is front and center.

It’s only when both disciplines are working together … do you get the best of both worlds: believable content worth stopping your scroll and a useful invitation to engage a little further…

PR posts, on the other hand, have a real feel to them. They focus on people, embrace a trend, or nostalgia, but even with all that authenticity, they often miss the point. In pursuit of strong journalistic storytelling, the posts often lack (or bury) the crucial next step for the fan to take, making it much too difficult for a reader to buy. 

It’s only when both disciplines are blended together – when you have a true multi-discipline approach to your social content strategy – do you get the best of both worlds: believable content worth stopping your scroll and a useful invitation to engage a little further, if you’re up for it.

There’s no question that some times you need a marketer’s focus on the deal-making, and other times you need a PR person’s focus on the spin of a great story. But most of the time, you’ll succeed much more often if you have both.

Winter D. Prosapio heads up PR and Communications for The Atkins Group, has 30 years of experience in marketing and communications, and is an award-winning travel, business, and humor writer.