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 visitwww.mocalliance.org.