Paul Holmes 17 Feb 2011 // 9:23PM GMT
I am on my way home after a debate at the Communication on Top Forum in Davos on the subject of “The New PR vs The New Marketing.” Given that the audience consisted primarily of PR people, I figured the odds were stacked heavily in my favor, and maybe my original opponent felt the same way, since he withdrew at the last moment. As it turned out, he was replaced by Marshall Sponder, a Brooklynite, author of the upcoming book Social Media Analytics and an expert in the same subject. What transpired was probably not what the event organizers envisaged: I was there to advocate for a PR “takeover” of marketing, or at least for the merger of public relations and marketing into an all-encompassing function that I like to call public relations; Marshall was certainly not advocating the opposite. But he was convinced that the PR business is doomed in the social media age, because the majority of its practitioners do not understand analytics and are unwilling to grapple with the metrics and analytics challenges posed by social media. He made a couple of interesting predictions: that PR firms would either wither and die because of their inability to prove their relevance, or that they would end up being led by people like him, who understand and embrace analytics. Marshall and I certainly didn’t agree on anything, and I certainly don’t think we’re going to witness a wholesale takeover of the PR field (or the marketing field) by analytics folks (although you could make the case that Mark Penn at Burson-Marsteller is in the vanguard of just such an invasion). But I do think Marshall is right that PR people need to understand analytics better, and make analytics a much more robust element in both planning and evaluation. So I’ll meet him half way. Two or three years from now, every public relations firm that wants to be taken seriously in the C-suite and/or a lead marketing role with have someone like Marshall in its senior leadership ranks, a chief analytics officer responsible for ensuring that account leaders think more deeply about analytics and that the firm works with the best available outside suppliers to integrate analytics appropriately.