Asked to imagine what the world of comms will look like in five years, Iwona Sarachman, PR director at AmRest SP. zo.o., had a blunt warning: "PR should reinvent itself; we are still rooted in conventional ways of thinking. If we don’t do it, we will die out like dinosaurs."
She was one of a host of senior PR and marketing professionals who gathered in the Hilton London Bankside to debate the changing relationship between marketing and PR.
Broadly speaking, the attendees agreed that PR teams within their organisations report to marketers, instead of being on an equal footing – though things are slowly changing. Lorna O’Neill, head of UK public relations at Trainline, noted: "I report into the chief commercial officer; he’s responsible for marketing and sales partnership."
Flavia Ribeiro, global senior PR adviser at Shell, said: "My role used to be reporting to marketing until a year ago; now I report to external relations. My boss sits in the PR space, but I have a dotted line into marketing."
Measure for measure
Ribeiro also noted that a key challenge for PR is measurement and the need to find valid metrics for outcomes: "Some companies are very data driven, very sales driven; you have to prove future sales uplift. It’s hard to get a big idea approved."
Yasmin Diamond, senior vice-president, global corporate affairs at IHG, agreed, but stressed that PR should avoid the "dogmatic" approach to measurement often practised by marketing. "We need to be really confident with measurement," she said. "It’s hard to understand and measure some of the reputational things we do but people notice when you don’t," she said.
Will Spiers, global PR director at GE Healthcare, agreed. "It’s about value creation; it’sunderstanding what your management team wants. Often I find measurement very hard in thought-leadership. There are clear wins where you can prove value – getting key opinion leaders to endorse what you’re doing and opening doors for your CEO."
Giles Peddy, group managing director UK at LEWIS, said that it all comes down to one simple question from clients: "What are you doing for my business? It’s the value and business impact; it’s not about PR outputs, it’s the business outcome."
With more and more content being produced, defining who owns what among comms functions is a challenge. "I can see a lot of budget being shifted to digital," said Sarachman.
"Marketing is part of it but it’s a different structure. I don’t see myself competing with marketing; I see myself in relation to digital. When we have an event with vloggers, who’s going to run it – is it mine or digital?"
John Bird, director of international comms strategy at Manhattan Associates, noted that the explosion in content must drive greater collaboration between comms and marketing.
"We all have a collective responsibility to produce great content that resonates, no matter which channel we place that content through. We’ve got to turn to those people within the marketing team – which includes us, the PR folk – and utilise those skills that best deliver the content for that asset."
Vicky Taylor, head of comms at Future Cities Catapult, agreed: "It’s not one person’s territory; we’re all having to learn to work together. We might be trying to get different outcomes but we have to share the website – we’ll look after Twitter, you look after LinkedIn."
Diamond pointed out: "Digital is a channel; who owns the content? In our place, corporate affairs owns it. I don’t give a monkey’s what channel they put it on, as long as they don’t put crap out there."
The key difference between marketing and PR roles is the PR department’s situational fluency, said Peddy: "PR people understand that news and reputation is in the moment. We respond this morning, the ad agency can take three months to create something."
Valentina Sciolino, PR manager at Bristows, argued that while PR people need to know how marketing works in detail, the reverse isn’t true of the marketing department: "Marketing is busy enough and has different goals; they see PR as something that stays on the side. They don’t need to know how to talk to a journo or manage a crisis, they need to know the person or agency to go to."
Bryony Partridge, senior international PR manager at Ancestry.com, noted that while marketing departments like the idea of integration, "in practice it doesn’t play out. In terms of content development, they’ve taken it on themselves and it’s not integrated".
The delegates agreed that the master/servant relationship between PR and marketing is shifting. Diamond noted that the relationship between commercial and marketing used to be adversarial. "It has changed 360-degrees; we’re peers. We bring a different view and a complementary skill set."
At GE, Spiers agreed that comms and marketing are peers.: "I report to our chief of strategy/comms, he reports into the CEO. The marketing team owns the direct-to-customer comms, we own the thought-leadership."
In the future, said Jacquelyn Drozdoff, corporate comms director for Asia Pacific at The Wall Street Journal, comms workers should aim to move to broader management roles: "I’d like to see us collectively as an industry not be so focused on being the top comms person in our sector, but be very mindful how we broaden the value and contribution we bring to companies."
In conclusion, Andy Oliver, global client engagement officer at LEWIS, commented that roles are reversing, with marketing departments more reliant on the PR and comms departments:
"We have benefited from the rise of social and digital, and the increasing number of channels that we have to communicate with; the demand for content is insatiable and it’s growing all the time. The type of content that our audiences need will be generated by comms and PR teams, rather than marketing teams."