How I learned to stop worrying and love marketing as a whole

When people say "marketing," they often mean "advertising." But it's actually a whole lot more than that.

For much of my professional career, I found myself attempting to explain that when people say "marketing," they tend to mean "advertising."

My point of view was that marketing should be looked at as the top part of an umbrella (the canopy), with public relations, advertising, and other specialty areas acting as the parts of said umbrella that hold it up and out. (Incidentally, they’re called "stretchers," or so this glossary of umbrella terms taught me. Thanks, internet!) Over more than a decade, I found that it was, more often than not, people who were career public relations professionals that used "marketing" and "advertising" interchangeably, at least with me.

I started my marketing career in advertising, in-house at American Express in New York City. I learned the ins and outs of media buying, managing agencies, copywriting on deadline, and even some crisis management, as I was responsible for pulling a variety of print ads in the days after 9/11 and working out solutions for our planned campaigns, once it was appropriate to release them. At that point, I considered myself a marketer who "specialized" in advertising. I got into reading ad trades, and from there picked up a fun habit of paying way too much attention to the media industry as a whole.

Somewhere along the line, I started a media-focused blog, after having taken an in-house role as a marketing manager at Deutsche Telekom’s T-Systems U.S.A. I was spending far more time working on press releases, developing copy for sales materials, and assisting with trade shows near and far. There wasn’t a ton of advertising, but there was definitely PR, internal communications, and other related activities. I still considered myself a marketer, but one who’d diversified his skills to include a broader set that all ramped up to that ever-present marketing canopy. Oh, and I took a freelance role in which I launched and edited a now-defunct advertising-focused blog for Weblogs, Inc., which was ultimately acquired by AOL.

This is when things got interesting. In 2005, I joined MWW Group, where I was to develop a social media practice area to help clients delve into this "new"—for many businesses, at least—arena. Social media was interesting, and while public relations firms were definitely among the first to jump on that train, advertising agencies also joined the fray. Typically, those players hadn’t competed for exactly the same work in most situations, and typically not dollars, especially with the variance in advertising and PR budgets. Now they were competing for some of the same work and the same dollars—marketing dollars.

Aha! Could it be that the better way to explain the "you’re saying ‘marketing,’ but you mean ‘advertising’" argument was to break it down to its core? Namely, that our client partners needed to market something, and we provided a solution, a product, a service, a new brand name, an IPO, whatever? It most certainly could.

This was less of a conscious conversation with myself as it was a shift in thinking at a time when our collective marketing budgets were moving towards digital, or at least "nontraditional" mechanisms. As it turns out, one professor who has a fantastic impact on me to this day, Dr. Dawn Deeter-Schmelz, affected how I look at the world around me. Most specifically, that any activity done to "sell" something, down to an idea, is marketing. I’m oversimplifying hours of her teaching, and additional "office hours," which usually devolved into my appreciation for the Kansas Jayhawks and her love for the Kentucky Wildcats, but it’s true.

Whether you’re negotiating for better shelf space at the grocery store (look it up), writing a media relations strategy, or creating Snapchat filters, you’re marketing something. All those things fit neatly together, and while the premise of this column appears to be based on my pedantry about verbiage, it’s far more about making myself better at my job, and wanting to share that perspective. It’s also the reason I’ve tried to teach junior staff members to be aware of various skills that they may or may not ever employ, simply to "future-proof" them as others had done for me.

Once you realize that you should be reading PRWeek, digital ad publications, and other media that help you become a better marketer, it changes your perspective. It puts you in the very mindset that Grey Activation and Public Relations’ Claudia Strauss wrote about in this very outlet this week, that of an integrated person. I’ll oversimplify and simply call those people smart marketers.

One can exclusively do public relations for 50 years and be a so-called "smart marketer," simply by understanding the whole marketing world around them, not just the immediate dos-and-don’ts of their specific job.

Tom Biro resides in Seattle and develops marketing and communications strategies at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, Washington. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at

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