Between the PR and marketing functions of any organization there can be creative tension or even competition. Sometimes that’s because each team struggles for their rightful piece of the same budget pie, especially during lean times. But the conflict typically runs deeper. PR and marketing are perceived very differently, especially in a corporate environment. Marketing is a line function responsible for generating sales, business growth and profits. PR, on the other hand, with its ties to reputation and crisis management, is thought to play a more defensive role, designed to protect the corporate brand.
This isn’t really the case, of course, or at least it’s not that simple. A strategic PR campaign can build real corporate and product brand value, especially over time. A great brand marketing PR campaign can even drive leads and sales. But it’s not a contest. The smartest organizations know that both marketing and PR are essential and that the two should work in concert. And there are specific situations when it’s particularly important for PR and marketing functions to team up.
A solid marketing strategy can drive quick awareness for a new product or service. That’s because paid advertising generates reach and frequency of message to inform specific audiences. As a complement, a strategic PR campaign is also valuable, especially for a complicated or high-end product launch. PR-generated content offers a depth that helps educate customers about a complex product or a new category. Earned media stories and interviews bring credibility to the more commercial ad and marketing messages. This is particularly true for B2B categories where products or services need explanation and customers face a learning curve. It’s also the case with tech products that must continually improve and innovate to meet customer needs and take advantage of emerging technology. You basically can’t have one without the other.
Perception can lag reality, and no brand wants to be left behind when things turn. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, big brands instantly adjusted advertising to suit a more sober public mood and show empathy for customers. At the same time, they needed to make sure that their customers, employees, and communities heard from the companies behind the brands. Corporations raced to tell their publics what they were prepared to do to support them. Any crisis situation, loosely defined as a circumstance likely to negatively impact reputation, calls for an all-hands-on-deck response that integrates paid, owned and earned media to meet the moment. Even common market shifts, as when a nimble new competitor steals thunder from established players, call for a cooperative effort to communicate that a brand or a business has adapted to market changes.
A corporate celebration or brand anniversary is a time-honored example of the power of PR and marketing working in concert to tell the same story. Most such occasions are foreseeable, so there’s usually ample lead time to align the various corporate functions, from HR to PR and beyond. In reality, most corporate anniversaries don’t have deep inherent news value. Yet they can offer a great excuse to launch a celebration or frame a new positioning. Savvy marketing and PR teams will dream up tactics that take advantage of the anniversary hook to tell a story about the organization’s history and values. Or they may tie it to new announcements, success metrics, a timely rebranding, or exciting future plans. It calls for a multi-layered campaign supported not only by traditional and digital PR tactics, but with special events for employees and stakeholders, paid and earned social media campaigns, executive visibility, and new creative concepts designed to move the brand forward. The options are endless, and it’s a time to think big, which means involving the best brains.
Lots of people think market research is just for marketing, naturally. But it can be advantageous to loop in the PR team before data parameters and goals are set. For one thing, good PR campaigns are increasingly informed by data. Research into audiences and issues that impact a brand category can help us understand our publics and keep things on track. But it’s also likely that with a few tweaks, the PR group can add elements that can turn an inside-baseball component into a mediaworthy story or a way to frame a campaign. This usually involves minimal added cost. For example, a pharma brand may mount quantitative research around an emerging health condition to assess attitudes around key symptoms. With the addition of a few closed-ended questions that invite respondents to make analogies for their illness or rate their emotions around flareups, a fresh storyline around the condition may emerge based on the data.
According to a new report from marketing consultancy Ebiquity, influencer marketing often starts with the PR department, particularly when budgets are constrained. But as it matures and budgets grow, the branding team often takes over. “The longer brands work with influencers, the more confident and competent they become in running those relationships themselves, and the more comfortable they are navigating a key part of the influencer marketing challenge, managing the content and creative output.” Influencer marketing may belong in the brand group of many organizations, yet it’s most effective when it’s credible and authentic. A PR sensibility can help ensure both. From the personalities or experts involved to the content and media contact that is orchestrated, the two can and should work together on the overall plan, no matter who’s in charge of the care and feeding of influencers.
There’s nothing worse than when one corporate function’s messaging dilutes or conflicts with that of another. The PR outreach may emphasize product exclusivity and premium quality, while advertising and promotion are running a monthly discount to boost sales. Not exactly contradictory, but not the best timing. We all know we should integrate planning and ensure alignment. Yet the best intentions to map PR to a marketing calendar can be sidetracked when things are siloed and everyone is rushing to hit metrics and meet deadlines. But at least one joint planning meeting per quarter can pay off for most brands, and information-sharing should be the norm. Marketing teams have regular access to information like analytics, leads, conversions, and sales trends. PR and social media staff, for their part, are the first responders for brand reputation changes, customer complaints, or opportunities for (positive and negative) social virality. In an era where information and opinion are often intermingled, PR and marketing should share data and coordinate on a regular basis. Otherwise they are throwing away opportunities.
When Patrick Doyle took the helm at Domino’s Pizza, the brand was struggling with poor reviews of its mediocre pizza. To make things worse, a couple of rogue Domino’s employees had posted a video where they put nasty things on the pizzas before baking them, and the prank went viral. Yuck. Doyle mustered the troops and made plans for a brand transformation that turned out to be historic. It led with an unprecedented ad campaign in which Domino’s admitted its pizza simply wasn’t very good and pledged to reformulate its recipe. It changed not only the product but its website, pizza boxes, and brand. To top it off, Doyle himself became the ambassador for the new and improved Domino’s through a kind of PR apology tour of one-on-one media interviews and high-level speaking opportunities. It combined all the ingredients for a successful brand recovery.