PR, marketing must blend together

So often PR pros are asked about the difference between marketing and PR. We all know the lines between these disciplines have blurred for years. Today, though, what was once a clear distinction is now more of a hazy smudge, largely because of social media's impact on who is telling the brand's story and how.

So often PR pros are asked about the difference between marketing and PR. We all know the lines between these disciplines have blurred for years. Today, though, what was once a clear distinction is now more of a hazy smudge, largely because of social media's impact on who is telling the brand's story and how.

In traditional marketing, you speak directly to the customer. In traditional PR, you speak to the customer through the media. But today, the customer is the media.

Now, the customer is online, reporting on his or her experiences with different brands. Perhaps this person is writing a blog about a new laptop. Maybe, he or she is tweeting about a PDA on Twitter or posting a video on YouTube documenting the purchase of a first car.

Look at viral campaigns. Viral marketing works because consumers report on it. Time and again, reporters follow the lead of consumers engaged in these campaigns. When Batman fans posted photos from The Dark Knight's scavenger hunt on Flickr, the media quickly picked up the story. The fans weren't talking about the movie's plot; they were talking about their experience with the brand. In many cases, they're talking about marketing behind the brand, so that the campaign itself becomes the story.

Because of this, it has never been more important for marketers and PR pros to let their strategies converge and allow one tactic to feed the other, to blend into each other. This helps to create news that stands on its own - news that spawns more news as the campaign grows.

There is also a great opportunity for PR pros to identify these brand evangelists online and develop campaigns around them. A fan of Legos, Mike Stimpson, recently re-created some of the most famous photos in pop culture history using nothing but the colorful building bricks and characters. While the images appeared on blogs and news aggregate sites like Digg.com, I couldn't help but wonder if the Lego Group's PR team would promote his work. I can envision a spot for this quirky Lego-fanatic on Ellen or Letterman. There is a great story there. What inspired him to do this? Why did he choose certain photos? Why did he choose Legos? (The most important question of all).

But, like so many brands, the company seems to be missing a great opportunity to publicize its customer telling the brand's story. The fact is, those photos depict the fun of Legos. That is the message this guy is getting out there and the Lego Group should jump in and grow the story.

PR is changing; we have more opportunities for storytelling than ever before. We just need the opportunistic thinking to go along with it. We need to embrace this convergence of social and traditional media and speak to the customer the way we would a reporter - give them a story to tell. And, we need to identify those who are already telling our brands' stories and give them a bigger microphone to tell it.

Jennifer Jones is VP of PR and social media strategy at Fletcher Martin.

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