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  • Writer's pictureJim Humphrey

Blurring Marketing & PR Lines

When opening a small marketing agency a year ago, if you had asked me to define marketing and Public Relations (PR), I would have stated that they are two distinct functions and thus defined like this. Marketing is clearly the function of promoting goods and services with the ultimate goal of generating revenue.  Simply put, matching product to customer. PR on the other hand is defined as a strategic and methodical sharing of information and/or news for the purpose of media exposure and building a positive brand.  As the old saying goes, marketing sells products and PR sells the company.

Fast-forward a year later after attending the school of hard knocks followed by a masters in trial-and-error, my perspective along with that of our agency is vastly different.  Three key components have forever changed how marketing is defined by us and how it is strategically utilized.  

Technology in many respects now connects the customer directly to the company in real-time and provides instant access to product, service and supporting information.  As a result, consumers are more educated on product and performance, thus making traditional marketing tactics less impactful in influencing buyer decision. A secondary effect of this direct access is more frequent consumer exposure to the company’s culture and brand.  In short, what the company stands for.  This is becoming more of a driving force in consumerism, especially with most recent generations.  What this means for “the company” is both marketing and PR must be conjoined from the beginning when developing the strategic path forward.

Four Generations of Consumers now make up the purchasing power in today’s marketplace.  A great deal of study and resource has been invested by businesses over the past decade to better understand and influence the Millennial buyers.  However, as stated by Inc. Magazine and a Barkley Report, Gen Z is where the purchasing power is today. It is estimated that these Gen Z consumers already have net earnings of $153B.  That’s a lot of buying power. As if this purchasing equation doesn’t provide enough of a challenge, businesses also must remain cognizant that each of these generations of consumers have very different purchasing habits and influenceable characteristics.  Unless your business markets a unique product targeted to a specific demographic, a great deal of strategic thought must go into both elements of marketing and PR. Case and point, it was well established that Millennials gravitate to companies who overtly emphasize and support social endeavors they are passionate about.  They are also known to be more influenced by experience than a product item.  Gen Z’ers on the other hand are greatly influenced by organization transparency, brand trust and following by others like them.  

Social Media is one of the biggest causes of blurring traditional marketing and PR.  Until recently, social media fell within the purview of a marketing department, but in reality it is more closely tied to PR today than ever. Much of the goal of social media is to create a community around a brand.  Fans or followers can interact directly with the company, engage in product discussions, research company causes, observe both employee and other customer communication and interest.  Therefore, what is marketing and what is PR now?  It’s becoming harder to distinguish, but if merged correctly can generate a great deal of synergy.

Social channels today provide a huge opportunity for companies to project themselves as a thought leader within the market.  Establishing the organization as a subject matter expert, providing product education, free content and offerings…all of which continue to blur the lines of marketing and PR.  At the end of the day, our experience has taught us that the lines will continue to blur and eventually fade completely and that’s not a bad thing!

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