Ideas will rule as battle goes on for new-media supremacy

When we launched the Marketing Management Survey with MS&L three years ago, we had to overcome concerns that the data might not be relevant to most readers.

When we launched the Marketing Management Survey with MS&L three years ago, we had to overcome concerns that the data might not be relevant to most readers.

A survey of marketing executives, after all, seemed somewhat removed from the traditional realm of corporate PR, which tended to dominate industry discussions then.

But, of course, those worries were for naught, as the increasing role that PR has played in the marketing mix has become more and more obvious. Practice areas like consumer and healthcare, driven largely by their marketing component, have become the powerhouse divisions within many PR firms.

Holding company brands across disciplines are more closely aligned to each other than ever, whether in formalized groupings or not. In-house communicators in smart companies no longer operate in PR-centric silos. These trends were all happening before we launched our survey, or course, but were still rather secondary to the corporate PR perspective.

We've now entered another phase in the marketing mix, as the proliferation of consumer-driven media channels has changed the rules, not just for companies marketing products, but for agencies providing the strategy and support. Surely within holding companies, as more companies start to look at podcasts alongside print ads, there must be a turf war of sorts about who "owns" the new-media strategy play.

In the early blog frenzy days, it seemed clear that PR's roots in media relations, and its editorial sensibility, would give it a natural advantage across this new media spectrum. But as the channels have multiplied, and the role of intermediary has been seen as often superfluous, that is less obvious.

In addition, we're beginning to see signs that advertising agencies are seeking out expertise across disciplines to augment their offerings, typically within their own holding companies. That's basically a good thing, but it does strike a worrying note if PR firms are left holding just the execution bag down the line.

John Seifert, chairman of Ogilvy's global brand community, says that this conversation is taking place more and more with clients. "Almost everyone, all the disciplines have a role to play in it," he says.

Though his background is firmly rooted in advertising, Seifert sees that PR has a unique perspective. "PR people are often best informed as to the lack of control one has in this environment," he says. "Advertising people don't always know how to think about that. PR people have always known about that lack of control." The fact that "structure hasn't caught up with the new reality," he adds, causes confusion about who does what, and who gets the credit.

In this environment, PR firms in particular must not get distracted by politics, and focus instead on delivering cutting-edge strategy that includes an understanding of how each piece of the marketing puzzle fits. Knowing PR is no longer enough.

"It's messy," says Seifert, "The people who think in the context of ideas, and [those] who have a broader perspective of the way communications works, no matter what discipline...those are the people who will win."

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