PR Vs. Marketing: It's Time to Face the Truth—Marketing Is Pulling the Strings

“It is not what marketing can do for PR. It’s what can PR do for marketing?"--Rob Gelphman

By Rob Gelphman, Chair, Marketing Work Group, The Multimedia over Coax Alliance

All functions within an organization are communications oriented. Finance communicates through numbers, balance sheets and income statements. Management communicates the policies and corporate strategies that guide the organization. Engineering communicates through algorithms and the laws of physics. Sales communicate price and availability, and the warehouse communicates where the stuff is located.

And last but not least—envelop please—marketing communicates a value proposition. Public relations may be doing the talking, but marketing is pulling the strings.

Public relations is just as critical as ever, but its role and its shape is changing. It is marketing that determines channels strategies and establishes a specific value proposition for each audience. Public relations is a communications vehicle for introductory and credibility building purposes, but its immediate audience is the media, not the end customer.

Public relations has to evolve to remain vital and to address the dynamics of an ever changing marketplace. While certain to bring about a chorus of boos and heated disagreement by practitioners, it is my opinion based on years of practice and professional evolution, that PR as a standalone entity or function is no longer productive. It has to do more. The vicissitudes and hard to predict behavior of the consumer, and the need to accommodate and position the company within the overall macro economy, demands it.

I started in PR many years ago though I only took one PR class in school. What I learned still resonates today. That PR fosters the two-way communications between an organization and its audience, and that there is no such thing as a mass market. And this was before the Internet and cell phones when audience fragmentation was less prominent and far more difficult to address.

This definition, however, is really the essence of the entire marketing function. Public relations has to grow into more of a marketing and communications outreach function. It is not the term public relations that needs fixing. It is the job description.

Marketing communicates a value proposition in many ways and forms through product, packaging and distribution and price. PR only—representing the promotional aspect of marketing—is no longer justifiable as a standalone function to cost-effective marketing. Practitioners have to grow into a total communications function.

Public relations can no longer rely on being the media interface alone. Marketing talks directly to customers and all members of the channel. PR talks with the media. Do we really need a specialist?

This article is not a eulogy for PR. PR is not dead nor is it on life support. However, it is not your father’s PR function anymore. It should be taken as counsel and advice from someone who started in PR, started taking on more marketing communications functionality and responsibility, and is now the director of marketing for a worldwide technology consortium. Things have changed and will continue to do so.

To be sure, PR is still the best vehicle for reaching an audience in the shortest amount of time when the objective is garnering awareness and building credibility for a product or service or company.  I will always take time to talk with the esteemed members of the press. Some of my best friends are editors.

However, it is not a substitute for marketing and by itself it is inadequate for helping an organization achieve its goals and objectives. Without marketing, PR is just a muscle car looking for a road safe and remote enough to exceed the speed limit without garnering the attention of the authorities.

Another way to look at this is the difference in stated objectives between marketing and PR. Marketing’s objective is to contribute to the top line—revenues. Public relations’ is to garner meetings, generating news coverage, initiating web hits, and comparing the cost to ad equivalents. PR should contribute to revenue or it is just overhead?

Public relations is too often focused on outputs, rather than outcomes. Generating news coverage is considered the primary responsibility of PR and it evaluated on that alone. But if you got the cover of a major business publication and nothing happened, is that still good PR. As director of marketing, I would say no.

Public relations is great for introductory and credibility building purposes. It serves a vital service to the organization in opening and maintaining dialog with the media. But the media is just one public and though it yields tremendous influence in buyer behavior, they themselves are not the end all or be all. PR reports to marketing, and should, as it needs to be administered and put in the context of the greater good for the organization. PR takes the lead in the promotion of a new product, for instance, but in reality it is the last function notified as product and channel development, pricing and packaging issues must be resolved long before going public.

My role at MoCA has evolved from pure public relations to corporate marketing including business development, member retention and recruitment, and liaison building with other like-minded home networking alliances. It is my job to seek out and partner with any and all members of the ecosphere and pay TV channel that can help establish MoCA as a worldwide standard for moving high definition content around the home. I am a spokesman and virtually on call 24/7 as we are living in a global economy.

Marketing is not a silo and I can’t do it alone. Great marketing is identified as much by a dedicated and efficient staff as by the results. It also requires a vibrant and forward leaning senior management and board of directors. Great marketing also requires interaction with other departments and functions is paramount. Without the input and guidance of MoCA work groups—technical, specification, certification, et al—marketing would operate in a vacuum and cease to be of value.

Most important, however, is our recognition that we are of, by and for the members. Their knowledge, experience, and acumen provide the direction and guidance that makes all of MoCA’s marketing activities that much better. They are the best market research a marketing department could ask for. After all, they are on the front lines trying to sell the stuff.

In conclusion, and to paraphrase a former president, “It is not what marketing can do for PR. It’s what can PR do for marketing?”

Rob Gelphman is the chair of the Marketing Work Group at The Multimedia over Coax Alliance, an international industry standard consortium. MoCA technology is the worldwide standard for home entertainment networking. Please



  1. Bob Batchelor on February 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Rob, this is a thought-provoking piece, but based on a rather narrow view of public relations. PR isn’t solely media relations. This is a dated view of PR’s value, certainly ignoring the work PR does in other vital “communications” areas, such as internal communications, social media, executive communications, etc.

    I would argue that the majority of a PR professional’s work in today’s environment is not directed at the media, but rather the countless other stakeholders critical to an organization.

    As such, I don’t think professionals would argue your point, except to say “hey, we’re already doing what you prescribe and have been for decades.” Marketing may be the umbrella term that organizations use to describe nearly all their communications, but its PR and PR’s ability to reach all audiences that show it is already grown, as you wish, “into a total communications function.”

    “Marketing” has won the nomenclature battle because execs trained in business schools are more comfortable with that title (particularly given pop culture’s role in pushing PR as a female profession). However, your list of job responsibilities above reads like the kind of things PR practitioners are doing everyday.

    The real goal is for all communications-related disciplines to be working toward the organization’s goals and aspirations in unison. It doesn’t matter what the job is called, just that it is integrated. The only way “PR” professionals aren’t already doing all the things you describe about outreach, member retention, etc., is if you limit the definition of PR to media relations.

    Bob Batchelor
    Kent State University

  2. Steve Lingle on February 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Good stuff, Rob. This transformation you’re describing is the essence of integrated marketing communications – PR is another tactic within the marketing mix; advertising, PR, digital media, internal communications, etc. One is not necessarily any more vital than the next, but instead, they must all work together to effectively communicate your message. A company investing millions into advertising is wasting their money, if it’s not accompanied by an integrated approach across all channels of the marketing mix, PR included.

  3. Lucy Siegel on February 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    This article is riddled with fallacies, so it’s no wonder that the hypothesis, that marketing is pulling the strings for PR, isn’t accurate.

    One fallacy is that PR = media relations. Media relations is only one component of the PR toolbox, albeit an important one. However, a second fallacy is that PR’s purpose is not to communicate with consumers themselves but only with the media. Untrue. Social media now another big component of the PR toolbox, and the end target is indeed the consumer.

    Another fallacy is that the objective of PR is to garner meetings, generate news coverage, initiate web hits, and compare the cost to ad equivalents. PR is used for a number of different objectives. The author of this article is confusing tactics with objectives. Objectives differ from program to program, but, for marketing PR, the end objective is usually to increase revenues. Granted, it is not as easy to measure the results as it is with direct marketing or advertising, but it can be done. Only the most backward PR people just point to media output – especially ad equivalency – as the measurement of success.

    PR should not report to marketing. One of the key uses of PR within companies is building and managing corporate reputation. This is not a subset of marketing. In many companies, PR (or its larger umbrella, corporate communications) reports to the CEO. When PR is only used for marketing communications -just one of its purposes – then it makes sense for it to be part of the marketing structure.

  4. RuthAnn Becker on February 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Mr. Gelphman is thinking about the origins of PR, when it was called press agentry. It would help him understand the full purpose of PR by considering in-depth the name – Public Relations. His article completes skips over the very real and important areas of government relations, issue/reputation management and crisis communications, none of which involve marketing; all of which address audiences outside the media arena; all of require media management, although certainly not media promotion; and all of which can adversely affect marketing if not led by an excellent public relations strategy. He’s right about one point – he cannot do it alone.

  5. Craig Pearce on February 8, 2011 at 3:07 am

    Rob misses the point, and I think it is just alluded to rather than stated in perceptive comments by Lucy amongst others, that PR is concerned about the entire organisation-stakeholders relationships. It is concerned with organisational culture and operations as a whole.

    Marketing is not. It is limited to making money through the sales of products and services.

    As such, because public relations – and this is PR beyond media placement and beyond conversations themselves – has the bigger organisational picture at its core, including an organisation’s place in society, it is clearly a more fundamentally important discipline than marketing and should certainly never reoprt to marketing.

    Though, of course, the business realties as we speak do not reflect this!!

  6. Karen Arthur on February 8, 2011 at 5:19 am

    I totally agree with Lucy. I just finished teaching a course in PR stating exactly that PR is NOT media relations. There are a myriad of publics, stakeholders to consider. Lucy is also right about confusing tactics and objectives. If one is being truly strategic, an integrated approach PR, Marketing, Digital, Internal communications etc is essential.