I spent the last year as an editor with one of PRWeek's sister titles, Direct Marketing News, which covers all direct-to-consumer marketing from SMS (short message service) campaigns to catalogs to loyalty programs. In that year, I learned to talk about the customer - a lot. Instead of reputation, my interviews with brand and marketing managers, CMOs, and agency executives centered on customer retention and acquisition, activation and incentives, shopping carts, and apps. They counted clicks, sales, open rates, and redemptions. Sentiment analysis was not on the table. Tone? Perception? Reputation? All answered with one metric: are the customers buying?
I'm excited to return to PRWeek and once again cover such a dynamic industry. The PR function at its very best offers strategic counsel to organizations that can steer a company through crisis, as well as more benign times. In fact, 60% of the most senior PR executives within organizations report into the CEO, chairman, or president, according to the annual PRWeek/Hill & Knowlton Corporate Survey, which will appear in our October issue. PR is the storyteller of the corporate entity and the relationship builder. It has significant reach into diverse industries and has been able to grow its share of the marketing budget by adding new services and capabilities, particularly in the digital realm.
What it does not yet have is a firm grasp on the customer. PR would rather discuss stakeholders than customers, and reputation over sales. These attributes allow PR to have that proverbial seat at the table where it counsels business leaders, but it does not yet resonate as well as I imagine it would like to within the CMO's field of vision. Rather than creating campaigns, PR is too often left to strictly handle "distribution," as one former PR agency CEO recently told me.
Some in PR will note the growth in its stature within the marketing family clan, as well as in-house, and say PR is stronger than ever. I agree. There are terrific examples of this on our pages each month. Yet, if PR wants to continue to increase how the not-yet-convinced CMO views the discipline, it must talk more about the customer.
Many PR pros continue to make a distinction between consumer and customer. There isn't one. True, if you are a CPG brand your "customer" may be a retailer, and yes, sometimes your stakeholder group is a membership base or board. But today, there is nearly zero chance of messaging one thing to one group and keeping it separate from your other "stakeholders," given the advent of social media and online media in general. In the end, there is one stakeholder and that's the customer.
Rose Gordon is senior editor - special projects of PRWeek. She can be reached at email@example.com.