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July 11, 2016

This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

How to forge the ideal relationship between marketing and public relations is a debate as old as the industries themselves.

Some argue that the goal of PR, building mutually beneficial relationships, is incompatible with marketing’s focus on sales. Others (such as I) would say that fundamentally both exist in order to enhance and expand companies—through good will, through word-of-mouth, through direct sales. The tactics don’t really matter; marketing and PR should sit together at the strategy table.

Successful communications strategies rely on a thriving relationship between the two. If they work together, marketing teams will have better stories to tell prospects, and PR execs will know which messages resonate better with target audiences.

In most organizations, though, the two functions remain highly separated: PR teams are working to land their next big headline, and marketing pros work toward closing a new deal.

In today’s constantly fluctuating economy, organizations can no longer afford this division. They are losing valuable time, talent and ideas by keeping these two teams separate.

Here’s what should change:

Agencies must adapt to the marketing mindset

Despite these internal divisions, PR typically still falls under the marketing umbrella. With 73 percent of CMOs overseeing PR, speaking the marketing language is crucial for PR practitioners.

Recently, those CMOs have shown a tendency toward agency consolidation. With plenty of stories about corporations trimming their agencies and budgets, how can PR agencies safeguard against these cuts? By diversifying their services, learning to think like marketers and bringing value for both sides of the table.

As companies focus on making smart strategic investments and increasingly demand that those decisions be backed by data, agencies that fail to integrate marketing and PR will fall prey to more nimble companies with a wider array of talent and a root understanding of marketing best practices.

Yes, the argument that the value of PR goes far beyond lead generation is quite valid. Of course, PR can’t simply be bucketed as a business development tactic.

At the agency level, what does marrying PR and marketing look like?

Rethink your goals

During client planning sessions, agencies must go further than envisioning dream headlines and target publications. Even conversations around increases in website traffic and social media engagement don’t go far enough to affect sales significantly. In addition to these questions, agencies should be asking their clients the following:

  • Who are your target personas?

  • What do they read?

  • How do they consume information?

  • Whom do they trust?

  • What are your sales goals for the next quarter? For the next year?

  • Are you focused heavily on one type of prospect, one core product offering, or upselling existing clients versus bringing in new ones?

PR goals should align with marketing goals. Perhaps time is better spent creating a heavy presence at a trade show that prospect enterprises will be attending.

Marry PR and marketing reports

Ad equivalency and media impressions certainly aren’t enough to measure PR’s impact on the bottom line, but neither are website visits and social engagements. Even lead generation doesn’t really tell the whole story.

PR agencies should align their reports with marketing to detail qualified leads that come from their efforts and the lifetime value of those customers. Did that feature story result in a spike in website traffic from visitors who took a desired action (for example, signed up for a demo)?

Determine what’s most important to your clients, and close the loop in measuring PR’s results. Those aspects are crucial to proving your value and exceeding client expectations.

Diversify your skillsets

With most PR departments now reporting to the CMO, it’s time to look at PR training to ensure these two teams are on the same page.

Degrees in business administration, marketing and even economics and data science should be valued by PR agencies, as the skills learned in these courses will help marry PR, marketing and analysis.

Professional development surrounding inbound marketing and sales processes should be encouraged to help PR teams understand marketing demands, and training in analytics is crucial.

The ability to interpret, apply and communicate data is an important skill to PR teams, as a 2015 report showed that marketers more than doubled their use of data-driven marketing in 18 months, with 78 percent systematically making use of data. PR practitioners who don’t adapt to this analytical approach will have difficulty proving their long-term value.

PR practitioners should agree that we should never stop seeking ways to add value for our clients. Beginning to think more like marketers is one of the best ways that the PR industry can reinforce its relevance in today’s fast-moving economy.

Renee Spurlin is vice president of analytics and digital marketing at Alloy . She recently was president of the American Marketing Association (AMA Atlanta).

This article was previously published on PR Daily in December 2016.