Why PR (not communications) is the future
Charting the future of public relations
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Why PR (not communications) is the future

Paul Holmes

A few hours after I uploaded my last post on PR vs. communications I was sitting down with the senior staff from a PR agency—one I respect—that had recently been recast as a “communications” firm, and so I pushed back, gently, asking them why they had decided to narrow their focus from PR to “just communications.” The answer was the one I expected, which is to say that while there are people like me within the industry who define public relations broadly, most clients—and particularly those clients with the biggest budgets, most of whom are to be found in marketing departments—don’t see it that way. They view public relations pretty narrowly, as “part of the marketing mix,” the part focused on earned media. Some of them are reluctant to allow PR firms to work outside that narrow box, on brand strategy—in some cases, even on digital and social media strategy. I could go off on a rant about the fact that the PR business has allowed itself to be defined so narrowly, has strayed so far from its roots, and has so utterly betrayed the principles of pioneers like Ed Bernays and Arthur Page, but really what more is there to be said about that? So instead let’s focus on the future. Because the future belongs to companies that understand and implement public relations the way Bernays and Page understood it, the way I understand it: functioning at a policy level to align the behavior of the organization with communication to build strong, mutually-beneficial relationships not only with consumers but with all stakeholders. This is one of the things that marketing guru Philip Kotler gets right in his new book. He calls it Marketing 3.0; I call it PR 101. I suspect that the trends Kotler identifies will lead to much closer integration of the disciplines that most companies currently think of as marketing and corporate communications—and perhaps a complete integration of the two. I don’t know what the resultant discipline will be called, but to my mind, it’s pretty clearly PR, in the fullest sense of the term, because it’s pretty clearly about managing the relationship between an organization and its publics. Defining public relations as a communications discipline may enable us to get a slightly larger share of the marketing budget than we have in the past. But it won’t earn anyone a seat at the policy-making table, which is where PR belongs.
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