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The Marketing Mix: Should PR Be Soup Or Salad?

Carol Levine 13 May 2013

For more than 40 years I’ve described myself as a public relations professional – not a marketing consultant, communications expert or mar/com guru. I know what PR does and how it differs from other marketing or communications disciplines.

But I’ve also spent more than 40 years trying to carve out a place in the clients’ mindset for public relations, and to have it understood and embraced with its own identity. Increasingly, I worry that our industry may be losing its way.

In my view it’s time to do a gut check, and soon, as to who we really are.

As I see it, PR has been stuck in the shadows of other marketing disciplines for so long and has been slow -- or perhaps ineffective -- in impressing its value to business. While this may be a generalization, take this simple quiz to find out how vulnerable PR really is.

1. When was the last time you heard your client talk about their Agency and you knew it wasn’t about you? (You knew they were referring to their advertising agency because to many marketers, marketing is about advertising.)

2. When was the last time you pitched a piece of “PR business” and most of the firms
presenting were not PR agencies?

3. When was the last time you got a call from an ad agency or digital firm asking for help to execute the “PR portion” of the mandate? (No strategy, just tactics.)

My beef isn’t fueled by paranoia or competition. Nor am I dissing the advertising folks. The niggling reality, as I see it, is that some clients are honestly confused about where to go for what and who does what. If their reflex or perception is that marketing is advertising – well, you get my point.

From time to time when I get on my soapbox to let off steam about why PR doesn’t get its share of business voice, I am reminded about the quotation I heard many years ago at my first Counselors Academy Spring Conference.

It came from PR veteran Judith Rich, former chief creative officer at Ketchum. Judith referred to marketing as a salad. “Everything goes well together,” she said. “But you can still tell the lettuce from the tomatoes”.

I’ve used this analogy to reinforce the notion that public relations is an integral part of the salad or marketing mix, but it has its own texture, taste and colour. When the proportions of the ingredients are balanced, the results can be amazing. Seamless integration is desirable when every element of what’s being integrated can pass the test of excellence.

As an industry we need to be clear in our communications that we are a part of a salad, not blended indistinguishably into a marketing soup.

The  investment made by Dentsu, the world’s largest advertising agency,  to create a global public relations network and FleishmanHillard’s recent rebrand  where this global PR entity  describes itself as “channel agnostic” are developments we should follow with interest. 

Is the future of the business of public relations to be as specialized as the next phone call? Will the dominant forces in marketing dictate the role of public relations or...will we be able to take everything that truly sets PR apart and develop the content that explains what we do where it counts - in the c-suite?  

Carol Levine is managing partner/co-founder of energi PR, based in Canada.

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