March 15, 2011

PR By Another Name: Public Relations and the “New” Competition

The chemistry was great, our experience perfect, and they loved the proposal. But, in a twist, the account went to a “digital brand management” shop whose website touts its ability to drive visibility and engagement.

PR by another name? The “creative destruction of PR“? It’s true that social media has changed the game for our business, and mostly in a good way. The blurring of the PR/marketing line is a gift for firms who understand the social Web.

But there’s a flipside. Just as we’re hungry for more of the social marketing pie, digital marketing firms, branding agencies, social media consultants, and others are eyeing it, too. Last year, a prospect told me he was placing funds earmarked for PR into SEO. He needs a quick fix, and he doesn’t think PR can provide it. And he’s right.

So, how can we benefit from the blurry line? Expansion is one way. Late last year Edelman announced Ruth, an in-house integrated marketing unit offering a laundry list of marketing services, from branding to mobile marketing. In my view, it’s tough for a company whose core business is PR to attract top talent in all non-core areas. But, a mega-firm needs to tap all budgets, and it’s probably a defensive move, too.

But short of being all things to all clients, we should look at how the need is articulated…or how we can frame it. As a marketing PR person for so many years, I fall squarely into that camp in the debate over where PR belongs. But for marketing issues, PR is rarely the sole answer, and our strategy has to fit into the larger picture. The typical PR program isn’t designed for quick (and often, temporary) demand generation.

But where reputation is an issue, we tend to come out on top. Last month, we won an online assignment as the sole PR contender in a field of digital marketing firms. One reason was in how we sized up the issue together. Not as a purely online threat subject to SEO “dark arts” or social media magic. We discussed it as a critical and long-term reputation issue, best addressed through “education” (read: PR.) The client agreed.

So, maybe it’s a wash. But, I’m convinced that PR remains the most flexible, credible, and powerful tool for most communications issues, so I’m keeping tabs on the one that got away.



  1. Evan B

    Agreed. The company I worked for, a B2B company, got sucked into spending a lot of $$$ on improving our website visibility (SEO) and then dropped the program after 3 months, as we realized that the results just weren’t there. We’ve gone back to a long term image build strategy.

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