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PR Is Not Marketing's Stepchild

  |  March 2, 2001   |  Comments

Whereas marketers focus on the product and the customer, PR professionals have the company's image and reputation in mind. So don't confuse the two. They are separate yet equal. And should remain so.

Sometimes a bright marketing idea can lead to a public relations fiasco.

Take UPS as an example. The company recently admitted that it made a mistake when 200,000 of its customers had their browsers reprogrammed as a result of a marketing gimmick. Customers who downloaded UPS's shipping software, OnLine. WorldShip., also changed their home page default to www.ups.com and added several UPS-related Web sites to their bookmark folders.

The company spokeswoman (a.k.a., the PR person) admitted that UPS had received "quite a few complaints." The mess-up affected UPS's most loyal customers -- those who send packages almost exclusively by UPS and use the software to print labels and track packages online.

This embarrassing episode demonstrates some of the differences between marketing and PR -- and why people in these two professions sometimes don't see eye to eye.

Blurring Boundaries

In many companies the line between PR and marketing is blurred. What many people refer to as marketing often falls under the responsibility of the PR department. In other words, in some companies public relations means more than media relations.

In "Effective Public Relations," the PR bible by Scott M. Cutlip, Allen H. Center, and Glen M. Broom, marketing is defined as "the management function that identifies human needs and wants, offers products and services to satisfy those demands, and causes transactions that deliver products and services in exchange for something of value to the provider."

PR, on the other hand, is defined as "the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends."

Though this may sound like a bunch of handwringing over semantics, there's a clear distinction in these definitions. A marketer is primarily focused on the customer, whereas a PR professional has other constituents in mind, particularly those that might not contribute to the bottom line but are still essential to the company's ability to conduct business.

For example, a marketing person may not care much about what the state legislator thinks of the marketer's company, but when legislation comes up that could influence the business or industry, the PR person should already have established a relationship with local and state government leaders.

Knowledge Management, Reputation Management

So, in the UPS example, perhaps the marketing department thought about the users and how to push its information to them. But from a reputation perspective, it caused UPS damage.

The marketing department focuses its efforts in knowledge management -- who the customers are, how they behave, what the company's next product will be. Meanwhile, the PR department pays attention to reputation management -- what the word on the street is about the company, what the company is doing to influence that opinion, how the company can communicate its message.

In other words, marketing deals with product awareness, whereas PR deals with company awareness.

Over the last several years, particularly in the so-called high-tech PR arena, the PR function seems to have been turned into a factory that produces press releases about products and services. The broader functions of monitoring public opinion, consulting management about policy decisions, and strengthening relationships with the company's public have disappeared behind the veil of publicity.

This might be due to organizations' infrastructure -- PR is often a division under the marketing umbrella. In fact, while the two should work closely together, they are distinct -- different and equal.

Until the PR function is back on par with marketing in the senior executive boardroom, companies can look forward to more episodes like the UPS faux pas.

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Greg Sherwin and Emily Avila

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