EDITORIAL: The PR industry has to pounce on its current opportunity to move up the marketing ladder

The road to the C-suite is not paved solely with corporate communications, major announcements, or crisis work. Increasingly, as companies seek better ways to compete and for innovative programs to help consumers make decisions, even CEOs are taking a closer look at PR in the marketing mix.

The road to the C-suite is not paved solely with corporate communications, major announcements, or crisis work. Increasingly, as companies seek better ways to compete and for innovative programs to help consumers make decisions, even CEOs are taking a closer look at PR in the marketing mix.

Ray Kotcher, CEO of Ketchum, says he is seeing new C-suite-level interest in how PR can be better leveraged as a serious part of the marketing mosaic that includes advertising, direct response, interactive, sales force communications, and more. "The attention being paid to PR is at the highest levels of our client companies," he affirms. "The C-suite has traditionally seen PR as a corporate tool, but has never really considered it a major part of the marketing mix. We're seeing more interest in hearing about that at the CEO level." This creates an opportunity for some firms, those with strong marketing practices, and those with the means to prove ROI. But greater attention from CEOs and CMOs will also foster greater competition, as management consultants and other marketing disciplines seek to answer this need. The PR industry often suffers for its lack of clarity in defining the substance of its contribution to the business objectives of companies - both in-house departments and agencies. Others won't hesitate to move in where a potentially lucrative vacuum exists. Jeff Davidoff, Whirlpool's marketing director, told PRWeek that communications professionals need to speak the marketing language in order to prove their credibility. Because you can be sure that the rest of the marketing mix is certainly learning about PR. Who do you think is reading the Ries' The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR? We have witnessed a surge in interest in PR from senior marketing executives who have attended PRWeek conferences and participated in our first marketing management survey (PRWeek, June 2, 2003). Within the PR community, there are significant pockets of momentum, including a group named The Marketing Group of North America, started by Hill & Knowlton's US CEO MaryLee Sachs, and modeled after a similar group in the UK. But there is still a tendency for many to lament PR's low spot in the marketing pecking order, without the impetus to better the situation. The real danger is that the chance now presenting itself will be missed by too many who aren't prepared. As we head into 2004, and (one hopes) better economic times, I hope the rhetoric shifts to how PR works in the marketing mix, not if. PRWeek plans to look at 'values' more closely Corporations and agencies don't always see the world the same way, as I was reminded by some of our regional forum discussions. Procurement, measurement, and staffing are all issues that provoked differing, if not consistently differing, perspectives (sometimes more candidly expressed off-the-record). The role of agencies in formulating strategy is frequently a point of disagreement. Firms and their clients need not speak with one voice, but when their values differ fundamentally, it is apparent. "Values" is not a word that PRWeek has necessarily focused on in terms of the PR business, but it is one that several of our corporate readers are encouraging us to pursue.

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