Don't sacrifice comms on the altar of marketing

PRWeek has written extensively about the rise in importance of marketing in the communications mix and the fact that PR is increasingly accessing the bigger budgets available from this source.

PRWeek has written extensively about the rise in importance of marketing in the communications mix and the fact that PR is increasingly accessing the bigger budgets available from this source.

The balance of the mix of paid, earned, shared, and owned media has shifted fundamentally in the past 18 months and the received wisdom is that communications is playing a more fundamental role in this equation as advertising isn't necessarily the default lead option for the big idea and marketing spend.

Content is playing a bigger part in the mix, fueled by social media that facilitate the sharing of said content. Brands are becoming media owners, and in-house communications pros and their agencies are tapping into budgets once reserved for other marketing disciplines.

This has led to a trend for companies to reorganize their communications function under marketing, with high-profile examples such as Procter & Gamble, Target, Nissan, IBM, and Cisco leading the way. In the latter three cases it was the communications executive who took on the top role: Simon Sproule, Jon Iwata, and Blair Christie respectively. At P&G, global external relations officer Chris Hassall retired last May and his role was subsumed under Marc Pritchard. At Target, ad veteran Jeff Jones was drafted in to lead the retailer's comms and marketing strategy.

Recently the trend appears to have picked up pace. In February, Allstate's Joan Walker retired and her position was subsumed under marketing head Sanjay Gupta, who took on the new title of EVP for marketing, innovation, and corporate relations, reporting to the insurance company's chairman, president, and CEO Thomas Wilson.

PRWeek Power Lister Bill Margaritis took a buyout offer and stepped down from FedEx in December, with his position being subsumed under marketer Patrick Fitzgerald, who became SVP of integrated marketing and communications as FedEx merged the two functions.

Most recently, Visa restructured its function under marketing as well, expanding CMO Antonio Lucio's remit to include communications, with the company's global head of corporate relations Doug Michelman exiting not to be replaced. Lucio is apparently following the example of Pritchard at P&G, by naming himself global brand building officer, presumably in an attempt to signify the greater responsibilities of the role over not just marketing but also communications.

I guess you could call this “progress.” All these trends were highlighted in PRWeek's special Marketing Issue in February and our coverage of developments has been consistent for some time. But I just hope companies are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the pursuit of convergence, integrated social media strategy, and, frankly, cost cutting.

In the PR industry we instinctively get excited by these newly combined structures when it is the communications executive who lands the top job overseeing marketing as well as comms, as is the case with Iwata, Sproule, and Christie. But when it's the marketing folks who take over and the most senior comms exec is eased out? Not so much. Senior executives who once reported directly to the CEO are not going to be happy when the lines of the organization chart suddenly weave through the CMO's office instead, hence some of the departures.

I can't help feeling that counseling the C-suite on intricate crisis, corporate reputation, ethical and legal, internal, and government relations issues is not exactly in the sweet spot of the typical marketer who doesn't come from a communications background. In fact, they would rather run a mile than get their hands dirty with the complicated machinations involved therein.

PR should be taking center stage in marketing, not be marginalized to the fringes. And senior communications executives must retain the ear of the CEO if they are to remain effective and influence C-suite strategy.

In the zeal to embrace the brave new world of integration and convergence, communications cannot be sacrificed on the altar of marketing.

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