Charting the future of public relations
Can PR Firms Lead Brand-Building? These CMOs Are Unconvinced
Arun Sudhaman
Holmes Report
President/Editor-in-Chief

Can PR Firms Lead Brand-Building? These CMOs Are Unconvinced

A survey of 56 US CMOs suggests that brand newsrooms and native advertising are 'overhyped' and that PR firms should stick to their traditional strengths.

Arun Sudhaman

Can PR Firms Lead Brand-Building? These CMOs Are Unconvinced

As public relations firms grapple for a bigger share of marketing budgets, it has become increasingly important to gauge how the industry is viewed by senior marketers.

We know from various studies, notably our World PR Report, that larger marketing budgets are a vital source of growth for PR firms as communications becomes more integrated, helping to explain why some firms are outperforming the market.

But understanding exactly how CMOs are buying PR services is a little more difficult to pinpoint. Which makes a new joint research study from the PR Council and ANA  particularly interesting, even if it only polled 56 senior marketers.

PRCouncil CMO 1


The findings do not, unfortunately, present a particularly strong case for the rise of PR firms up the brand-building food chain. In the 'race for who leads what', surveyed marketers strongly believe marketing and advertising should lead brand narrative and social strategies, including content marketing and brand journalism, social media strategy and online community management.

PR, meanwhile, should lead crisis and issue management, media relations, and executive positioning, all areas for which they are traditionally best-known.

As if that isn't jarring enough for PR agencies, the study also reveals that senior marketers think their beloved brand newsrooms are "overhyped". Half (49%) ranked brand newsrooms as either the first or second most overhyped marketing approach, followed by native advertising and social media.

PR Council CMO 2


Most PR firms, you would imagine, are fully aware that the hype around realtime marketing doesn't match the day-to-day reality of these initiatives. Indeed, these findings may be more worrying for media organisations that are pinning their hopes on brand newsrooms and native advertising to reverse years of decline.

Only 4% of the polled CMOs see brand newsrooms as a number one investment priority, while none say the same of native advertising. And yet, the top priority for nearly two-thirds (63%) is integrated marketing, suggesting that these are not silo-based dinosaurs.

It is a little difficult to square away this last finding with the view that certain agencies should stick to certain areas. As PR Council and Ogilvy PR chairman Chris Graves notes, "the true test of the concept of integrated marketing is whether it interweaves thinking from all the various and disparate disciplines and areas of expertise from the very beginning, or whether one function leads and imposes a distortion filter all others must pass through."

PR Council CMO 3


And while brand newsrooms are unpopular, content marketing is the second highest priority, leading PR Council president Kathy Cripps to suggest that respondents have come to distinguish between "tactical dashes and strategic marathons."

Cripps noted that the problem for both media newsrooms and corporate brand newsrooms is "maintaining a high-volume stream of relevant content over a long time." Respondents, she thinks, differentiate between brand newsrooms and content marketing – the
latter being the more comprehensive approach and the former just a tactic within it.

Can traditional marketing still work?

The study also asked which of two world views respondents agreed with most, finding an even split between those who think traditional marketing works, by and large, the same as it has for a long time (48%) and those who believe we are major changes mean traditional marketing is no longer as effective as new forms such as content marketing and influencer marketing (52%).

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