Outside look shows PR's role in marketing gaining respect

The confluence of two facts - that the PR industry, as a whole, cares very much about its reputation and that PR is increasingly required to join forces with its sister disciplines in integrated work - led us to take a new tack with this year's Reputation of PR feature.

The confluence of two facts - that the PR industry, as a whole, cares very much about its reputation and that PR is increasingly required to join forces with its sister disciplines in integrated work - led us to take a new tack with this year's Reputation of PR feature.

While in previous years we had looked at the reputation of the industry through the eyes of the media and the general public, we instead polled senior executives from these sister disciplines to get their view on PR's role in the marketing mix.

The PR industry should be proud of the results. The people interviewed were not the CEOs of small ad firms with small clients, nor were they CMOs from niche brands that relied on PR to eke out meager marketing dollars. When John Osborn, president and CEO of BBDO New York, told PRWeek that PR "is a really important driver that can either bring credibility or not to everything that we do," we got a momentary glimpse into the pressures that ad agencies are under to no longer work in a creative vacuum.

As ever, there is a slightly contrarian view. Paul Woolmington, a highly creative media brain who's been in the industry for longer than most people knew that creative media brains existed, does agree that PR is an increasingly important force in the disintermediated world. But he criticizes the industry as being insular and as being slow to embrace the consumer-controlled co-creation environment.

Woolmington sits in the comparatively luxurious position of helming the US office of Naked Communications, one of an elite team of small, creative media strategy shops that have recently gained presence and attention. Many PR pros and firms would rightly dispute his second assertion, if not the first. But importantly, he adds that this "insularity" criticism is also aimed at ad agencies, as well as many other disciplines.

While it's clear that strides have been made in integrating these separate disciplines, the structure of the marketing agency world fundamentally pits one type of agency - and discipline - against another. Marketing's finest creative minds from all disciplines are working hard to define and occupy the "gray area." But in clients' eyes, there's little difference between the brawl of yesteryear - PR, ad, and promotion agencies lining up outside their doors, each saying its discipline is the most effective - and the brawl of today - PR, ad, and promotion agencies lining up outside the client's door, each saying it's the best at providing the discipline-neutral strategies that clients seek.

There is little doubt that PR is better understood and respected by marketers today. But it's important to fight the right fight. It's advertising whose relevance is being called into question, not PR. To shake off criticisms of being insular (whether or not other disciplines are subject to the same charge), the task is not to prove that PR is best. It's to prove the power that the PR industry's expertise has to bring to a holistic client solution that paves the most effective way to the consumer. That much has not changed, nor should it ever.

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