by Erna George. It’s obvious that marketing and PR must work in tandem as both are working towards one central goal of building brands and their reputations. The question, however, is not should they but do they? It seems that this is a more-complex scenario with many divergent views.

At first, my view was one-dimensional and simplistic but then I read multiple stories and chatted to several brand people. While I may not provide any clear point of guidance or solution to the complexity in this column, there should be some food for thought.

Area of specialisation

First, let me be clear that I see PR as an area of specialisation. It is about relationships with the right stakeholders across multiple areas, connecting with the right influencers across markets, government, investors, communities, employees and more, with the most-relevant, most-newsworthy angle in a cluttered world of information overload. A talent indeed! So why the lack of clarity on my part?

Every person and their shadow (including brand managers, editors etc), plus corporates and brands, have a Twitter account and Facebook page. Companies have internal PR teams, as well as CSR and sustainability managers, who speak to government and other stakeholders. In addition, the line between corporate brand, masterbrand and sub-brands is blurring as although consumers know which corporate makes Brand X, there could be several brand custodians across these.

Conversations and relationships are happening at multiple levels and everyone needs to be more cognisant of what builds or breaks their personal and professional brand credibility and image (eg editors may be less inclined to speak too exclusively or glowingly about a particular brand without strong facts or reason). Who owns which conversation or who does which part of the communication job?

Silos are a trap

In the ‘old days’, one would brief a specialist PR agency to put out the fires (damage control) or build hype and awareness — launching a new brand and establishing a profile. Or, if one worked in a ‘sin-industry’, PR agencies were and are part of the core team working on the brand daily. One thing I am sure of is that these silos are a trap. Defining marketing activities and channels into neat square boxes creates more-fragmented brand communication and experiences. Managing and maximising the brand reputation are vital to successful brands and an ad hoc approach to PR agency these days could result in losing precious time in responding to potentially explosive situations.

What I have observed is that marketers do think with a part-PR hat on when considering opportunities for amplification of activation, implications around government legislation, CSR impact or even consumer safety in selecting prizes for competitions. Added to this is that a brand’s social-media community manager is managing conversations with consumers, and alerting and responding to leads or trends in areas of complaint or concern etc. Then there are above-the-line agencies that are offering evermore integrated solutions from digital to TV to PR.

PR is a core element within daily marketing but it is (in many cases) being managed by ‘everyone’ and, potentially, in some cases by no-one — and therefore marketing and PR are possibly not as aligned as they could be.

A mixed bag

There certainly are some brands which sign on a dedicated PR agency, given their size or the challenges of the category (think alcohol). Then there are others that add PR to the mix based upon the activity or brand objective. It is a mixed bag but, given the multiple-channel direct communications, the scrutiny of brands and their social and environmental impact, as well as the blurring of roles of corporate and their consumer brands (where a negative story in one area immediately impacts another), having real PR capability integrated into communication is more important now.

Some may say “so just hire a PR agency”. This quick and simple answer hides the complexity of the reality of adding an additional agency into the brand team. Already, when putting together a quick in-store activation, some people question whether the lead agency must be involved vs a quick brief to the activations agency. The model of lead agency, with traditionally an above-the-line agency leading all brand aspects, does not always work; at times, it may lead to agency bickering due to activity duplication or rendering brand managers less-effective in their role as brand custodians (a story for another day). Also, signing on multiple agency partners adds a further retainer or fee to the brand, which may not be financially feasible for every brand.

Could the opportunity be that PR should be a skill built and assimilated into other communication agencies to ensure more 360-degree or fully integrated communication plans? For businesses with an internal PR team, is there an opportunity in having a dedicated PR partner who has been brought up to speed on all corporate AND brand propositions, roles or key issues? While said agency could primarily manage the corporate brand, given its affiliation to the company and broad brand offer understanding, can it be briefed and quickly respond on brand projects, in addition to assisting in managing both brand and corporate aspects? Does PR and its approach to market need to be reinvented or reskinned?

Massive opportunity

I don’t have the answer as to how to do this, and I’m not saying it’s all broken. From my discussions with various marketers, the sense I have is that PR is a massive opportunity that is not always fully used or understood. I also have the impression that current working structures or PR agency offers do not answer a holistic need in a multifaceted, instantaneous communication environment. Therefore, as with the onset of digital and the confusion this has brought to roles and, effectively, integrating into broader communication plans, the role of PR needs more stature, clarity and integration into marketing planning without the fear of stepping on toes or crossover of responsibilities resulting in fee or role duplication.

As Al Ries said, PR lights the fire and marketing fans the flames (source: Heidi Cohen Marketing versus PR: What’s the difference). While I don’t know how, I do believe that currently there are a number of areas where PR and marketing efforts are not working optimally in tandem and this means:

  • All implications around reputation and brand image are not being considered, which could lead to reacting, rather than proactive dealing with issues
  • Brands may not creating best synergies across all efforts
  • Some brands and corporates have a gaping hole in their dialogue and relationship in the world

Onward and upwards

Here’s to developing even better integrated communication approaches for our brands to go onward and upwards.


Erna GeorgeErna George is the marketing executive of Pioneer Foods’ Cereals & Other division. She has worked on both client and agency sides with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column, concerning business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland, to MarkLives.

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