MPR: a solution to the budget puzzle?

A new report from the CIPR suggests the concept of ‘Marketing PR’ will prove a catalyst for change in the way campaigns are run and marketing budgets allocated, says Alex Jardine

Ever since Don Schultz, author of The New Marketing Paradigm, coined the phrase 'integrated marketing' in 1993, the PR industry has striven to turn the concept to its advantage. But while the idea seemingly promotes the value of PR alongside other marketing disciplines, PROs have had only qualified success in being seen as equal partners when  marketing budgets are carved up.

However, according to new research from the CIPR – shown exclusively to PRWeek –  a missing piece of the marketing puzzle has emerged that could help the industry secure better returns: a concept that unites sales promotion, direct marketing, advertising and PR, and in which PROs can take the lead. 'Marketing PR' (MPR) is defined as 'the use of public relations strategies and techniques to achieve marketing objectives', and the CIPR is promoting the idea as a template for future best practice.

Strategic shift
The report – 'A Marketing Communications Scenario for 2010' – was written by Philip Kitchen, professor of strategic marketing at Hull University Business School, on behalf of the CIPR's Marketing Communications Group. Questioning more than 100 senior marketing directors, it concludes that PROs who adopt a marketing-oriented approach to their work will be best placed to take
advantage of their industry's growing importance in the marketing mix.

The research finds that advertising currently makes up 40 per cent of UK marketing budgets, with the remaining 60 per cent comprising below-the-line disciplines such as sales promotion, direct marketing, PR and sponsorship. Within this group, brand PR and sponsorship are the fastest-growing disciplines, having grown their revenues by 6.8 per cent since 2001, with their combined markets currently worth around £3.6bn. The PR industry is currently much smaller than direct mail or sales promotion but the gap is closing. PR spend is growing by 6.2 per cent per year, while according to figures from Thomson Intermedia and KPMG, spend on direct marketing has fallen for the past two years in succession. As a result Kitchen forecasts that by 2010, if MPR is adopted, PR will play a much greater role in marketing strategy than at present.

That is good news for PROs, but what exactly is 'PR with a marketing approach' and how can practitioners put its theories into practice? According to Kitchen, the purpose of MPR is to 'gain awareness, stimulate sales... and build relationships between consumers and brands', meaning PROs can look forward to a far wider job remit than just securing media coverage.

Some would argue that they are already 'practising' MPR, in that their work is integrated with marketing campaigns, but Kitchen asserts that many claims to integration amount to just hot air. 'Today PROs need to think about the extent to which they practise MPR, as opposed to just saying they practise it,' he says.

Barbara Stopher, who chairs the CIPR's Marketing Communications Group, believes Kitchen is simply being frank about some PROs' priorities: 'Anyone who says they do what we are calling MPR has to ask themselves what they are putting first: the marketing strategy or their own self-interest.'

And she argues that many practitioners are expending too much energy in the wrong direction. 'PR agencies still try to fight their corner, instead of realising they can lead the way in saying how the [non-advertising]  60 per cent of spend can be used,' she says. 'PROs must be able to demonstrate how they can add value to the marketing strategy. They must be marketing-savvy, and talk about "deliverables" at the outset.'

Beyond traditional ideas
Currently, Stopher says, many clients regard PROs as short-term providers of specific services that have been decided beforehand by the marketing team. 'MPR is about making clients see PR as part of the overall marketing strategy and not just an "add-on". And PR "traditionalists" will have to change their sometimes narrow ideas about what their campaigns entail.'

The practical result is an extension of a PR agency's traditional role, moving into other areas – for example, events and promotions. However, if this is how MPR will develop, there are some who will see it as a threat.

Several bodies already promote themselves as the natural custodians for events and experiential PR – for example the Live Brand Experience Association (LBEA) – and they are wary of seeing more wide-ranging PR agencies encroaching into their territory.

Sharon Richey, founder of the LBEA and managing director of experiential marketing agency LoewyBe, believes there is a role for PROs in the generation of ideas. But when it comes to organising and operating live events, for example, it is better to use a specialist with 'grassroots' experience.

'Even though the lines are blurring between different marketing disciplines, agencies shouldn't confuse clients about what they do,' she adds.

But Brando, the former consumer events division of Band & Brown, is one such agency actively mixing its media. It calls itself a 'live PR agency', using 'events to make headlines'. In other words, its marketing and PR strategies inform one another. 

The firm recently worked on BT's Phone Book account, beginning with the PR brief but ending up running the entire marketing campaign. It set up a radio promotion where contestants could spend one week in a large Perspex box in a major shopping centre, armed only with a phone and The Phone Book to buy essential supplies. BT eventually used the idea as the theme for its ad campaign. 'We created something that gave us media coverage but also touched consumers face-to-face,' says Brando managing partner Paul Lucas.

James Crossland, executive vice-president of the Cossette Communication Group, which owns Brando, has described the venture as an example of 'convergence strategy in action'.

As the strands of marketing strategy become intertwined, Kitchen argues, PROs will have much closer relationships with marketing directors. And their success in influencing the board will be reliant on greater 'professionalism' in areas such as measurement of target markets, evaluation, and proving value from previous campaigns.

As PR asserts itself more, it is inevitable that there will be some friction among those vying for marketing budgets. Advertising agencies, for example, will not easily cede ground on revenues. But Kitchen believes the relationship between marketing and PR need not be adversarial. 'In the real world,' he concludes, 'they need one another.' L

What do you think of MPR? Send your views to or use the comment function here.

The ad agency view
Andrew Robertson, British CEO of ad agency BBDO's North American operation 'Marketing PR: it's an interesting notion. I've always believed that professional communicators have to be focused on the knock-on effect of their work. All content essentially comes down to words or pictures, but adding the word "marketing" should give PROs a more commercial focus.

'However, I would hate to think that just because PROs strive to
follow a more marketing-focused approach, they think it automatically qualifies them for a seat around any negotiating table.
'I have come across great communicators over the years. Some have been designers, direct marketers, and some have been PROs. But what has united them all is their work, and this is what speaks for them.

Be more creative
'If I was a PRO and died tomorrow, I'd rather my gravestone said "creator of..." rather than "I sat around the marketers' table". That said, the disciplines are merging and we all need to approach problems in the same manner.

'My advice to PROs is to think of work not as a PR problem, or a marketing problem, but as a business problem. The communications business depends on the quality of execution. Wasting too much time on a concept of working could undermine this.

'Don't worry if an idea doesn't perfectly fit your discipline. If the execution is correct, it will work somehow. Far better to do well in a world that isn't designed around you than to do nothing well at all.'

MPR: the future in figures
According to the CIPR's research, marcoms is playing an increasingly central role in the work of PROs, and many believe it will profoundly affect the future of the industry.

60%of respondents agreed with a definition of what marcoms
should be: 'Communication via a mix of promotional techniques ranging from PR and ads to direct marketing, so as to create awareness and propensity to purchase.'

70% per cent agreed there are functions of marketing that can only be carried out by PR (including reputation, image, credibility, and targeting specific audiences)

70% of respondents agreed that marcoms and MPR will become more important within the next three years.

34% said MPR will become the most important function of PR within the next three years.

10%said marketing communications is already the most important function of PR.

43% said that budgets for marketing communications had increased within the past three years.

* Virgin and Orange were the brands most admired for their comms skills. Other highly placed brands included Tesco and Vodafone.

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