Relationships are tricky things and even the best of them – those full of promise, passion and apparent compatibility – require effort and understanding. Make no mistake, that includes the ostensibly perfect match of PR and marketing.
These two functions are at their best when combining in harmony to maximize value and impact, gears meshing sweetly together as part of a well-oiled machine. If only that were always the case. All too often there are tensions and difficulties where the two functions meet; the gears grind terribly or on occasion seize up. At worst, rather than pulling in the same direction, marketing and communications can diverge, to the detriment of efficiency, cost effectiveness and consistent messaging.
According to my colleagues across Hotwire, this is a recurring pain point. And worryingly, it seems to be on the rise.
Why does this happen? And what can we do prevent this unwanted state of affairs?
Before I get on to answering those two important questions, let me fill you in on what, in my humble opinion, qualifies me to have strong views on these matters. First off, in my time running PR/communications businesses for the past 30 years, I have worked with hundreds of CMOs. Quite possibly, the number may exceed a thousand.
Before specializing in PR I worked client side in marketing roles at two Silicon Valley firms, the first a startup, the second a large healthtech enterprise. Then, when I entered the agency world, my first role was running the advertising side of a PR & ad agency. So, while it goes without saying that I’m a staunch proponent of what comms can do, I’m also a champion of marketing and a firm believer in all it can achieve. In fact, it’s because I’m such a fan of marketing that I’m constantly pushing for the best possible relationship between marketing and comms. A win-win that ignites excellence.
Understanding the functions
To get to grips with how they can better collaborate, it’s helpful to define and differentiate the two functions. PR, as one traditional description goes, is the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company, other organization, or famous person. Whereas marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.
In other words, marketing is about who to target and how to deliver value that will attract customers, and PR concerns where to reach these people, with what messages and when to target them. You could say the main difference is that marketing is focused on promoting and selling product whereas PR centers on maintaining a positive reputation for a company.
Yet the traditional view that marketing supports sales and handles advertising while PR is confined to more complex brand reputation issues and managing press relations is outdated because each function does so much more. The emergence of social media in the marketing mix has driven a major overlap. Where the dividing line should be is a moot point. You can’t market without doing some PR and you can’t do PR without marketing. Selling products and persuading people to love your brand are now completely entwined.
On the whole, that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, lack of clarity as to where the inter-function borderline sits can precipitate a tug of war, a power struggle for a bigger piece of the pie and greater control. This tends to be less of an issue for smaller organizations, but medium and large entities which have both a CMO and CCO are typically far more siloed in nature.
Drawbacks of a silo mentality
The upshot of this can be a silo mentality which manifests in an unwillingness to share information between employees or across different departments within a company. It usually begins with competition among senior managers and can have a poisonous effect, lowering morale, hampering workflows and ultimately having an adverse impact on customer experience.
Politicking or lack of clarity lead to duplication and disconnection which cost time and money. Sometimes serious money. In contrast, successful firms encourage and facilitate a free flow of information.
Dismantling silos is far from easy, though, given that it entails tackling vested interests and entrenched processes. Yet it can be done and the advantages are indisputably worthwhile. A while back I read an insightful salesforce.com piece which argued that doing away with silos required three C’s: cooperation, communication and collaboration.
In terms of specific steps, that means developing a unified vision and sharing it across departments to foster collaboration; bringing teams from different departments together, for example in training events so that people get to know and respect each other; and using software to track company goals, making sure that everyone gets to see the results. Some go-ahead businesses hot on obliterating silo mentality have even tweaked their employee compensation policies to reward progress on company-wide goals. For sure, that’s food for thought.
What we should be striving for is a shared vision, shared processes, shared resources and shared metrics. Unity of this kind makes it much easier to understand the contribution of others outside your immediate team and the value they bring. At the same time, it helps pinpoint undesirable duplication, allowing resource to be redirected to where it can have greater impact.
Why not subsume PR within marketing?
Of course, one way to remove the ‘two silos’ situation is for PR to be absorbed into marketing. I see this as a flawed approach for a number of reasons. Communications thinking and priorities differ from those of marketing and it’s common for CMOs not to be very skilled in PR or communications. Moreover, making PR subordinate in this fashion means it is more difficult to clearly articulate its value to the business, resulting in diminished visibility in the C-Suite.
The kind of unity we must strive for sits between the two extremes of silo mentality and subordination. Comms playing second fiddle weakens its potency, but so does sitting in splendid isolation. What’s called for is an integrated mindset in which information sharing is ingrained.
That’s vital because when marketing fails to share important information with comms it leads to lost opportunities. I won’t name names, but I’ve seen several unfortunate examples of this – for instance, when a business launches a big marketing campaign without thinking to brief comms. The result? Inconsistent messaging that weakens campaign impact and causes confusion in the marketplace.
To prevent a damaging disconnect between functions, companies need to align on the audience (instead of putting too much of the emphasis on product) in a manner that is mutually beneficial. What I mean by this is that while marketing ensures value propositions are customer benefit led and different to others, communications develops work designed to convert people through the funnel. Here, both groups need each other to be successful. One without the other will result in a proposition that doesn’t attract buyers or communications that don’t drive outcomes.
No one disputes that brand is becoming increasingly important. Indeed, brand is now the main indicator of a company’s future value, whereas 30 years ago it was largely ignored as an asset. As Edgar Baum, CEO of customer data specialist Avasta puts it, “A strong and valuable brand is now the cost of entry to become a member of the S&P 500. If you don’t have a strong brand, you will never become valuable enough to qualify.”
What a great ‘union’ looks like
Building and protecting strong brands calls for a great ‘union’ between marketing and comms. But what shape should this take?
Here’s what I believe makes a world of difference:
- Equal seats at the table for CCO/CMO with shared KPIs
- Transparency and democratic access to information
- Joint operational resources like shared calendars, joint meetings, shared resources like research
- Lead with brand first and share audience identification/persona work as well as stakeholder research
- Integrated plans for campaigns, events and communities
Finally, it should be pointed out that executive comms-led organisations tend to perform well because of the clear vision from the top. It’s a smart move, then, for marketing and comms to coordinate in this area, tying umbrella messaging to product marketing and ensuring sufficient consistency and brand relevance to news announcements, events, thought leadership and other significant content development.
This isn’t about marketing and comms gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. It’s about working together to spread the love about the brand.