Inside the Mix

To continue moving forward, PR must view marketing mix as team effort, not contest

To continue moving forward, PR must view marketing mix as team effort, not contest

One of the great things about the PRWeek/MS&L Marketing Management Survey, now in its third year, is that it doesn't just address where PR is in the marketing mix; it paints a picture of the marketing industry as a whole and charts its course from year to year.

And what this year's survey shows is that marketers truly understand that a marketing campaign that comprises a mainstream TV and print advertising effort, a direct-mail drop, and a battery of press releases is no longer enough. Of course, this has been the case for quite some time. But this year's results hammer home the fact that marketers are exploring all sorts of interesting alternatives to that age-old formula, and that the customer is giving them more information than ever.

Customers have been talking back for years, but it hasn't always been easy to harness what they're saying, unless it's part of a structured direct marketing campaign. Years ago I explored the area of "white mail" - unsolicited correspondence from consumers, most often in the form of a written letter from a customer with a story to tell, either good or bad. In talking to pet-food brand Whiskas, for example, I found out that it got a ton of letters, purportedly from pets, complete with paw prints. Many marketers didn't really know what to do with this stuff, as it wasn't a response to a particular outreach effort, and so passed it around for amusement before filing it in the "umm" drawer.

But developments in technology and customer engagement - blogs, for example - have made it possible to harness spontaneous consumer opinion and actually use it. PR is particularly well suited to this, as it's nimble, fast, and can turn around on a dime.

One unfortunate barrier that keeps many marketers from making strides away from TV campaigns is bragging rights. Most marketers would rather say, "See that Budweiser ad? I did that," than describe some intricately nuanced, cause-related PR effort. Of course, a great piece of viral or guerrilla marketing will attract similar buzz as a great ad campaign, but it's undeniably harder to get bragging rights that way.

But the marketing mix isn't a competition, and PR's rise doesn't mean that it's winning a game that advertising is losing. For years, PR has been banging its drum, and this year's survey proves that it has been successful at gaining understanding and respect. But it's time to take that a step further. If PR firms continue to announce that they are competing with other disciplines - especially advertising - for budget share, clients could be forgiven for continuing to view these disciplines as separate and distinct, and in particular, for seeing PR as an auxiliary function.

What PR firms need to do is concentrate on bringing holistic programs that involve other disciplines and agencies to the client to show their understanding of the need to reach the consumer in a stunning variety of ways simultaneously. It's been proven that this will resonate with marketers and that PR has recognition for its ability to create integrated strategies. It just needs to act on this fast before other disciplines catch on, and take over.

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