Diversified mix means greater emphasis on PR

Maureen McCandlessDirector, Client ServiceThe Martland Group, TorontoQ. What do you believe is the role of public relations within the marketing mix?A. I see public relations playing an increasingly strong role in the marketing mix.I see the mix becoming more diversified in...

Maureen McCandless

Director, Client Service

The Martland Group, Toronto

Q. What do you believe is the role of public relations within the marketing mix?

A. I see public relations playing an increasingly strong role in the marketing mix.

I see the mix becoming more diversified in terms of the tools and techniques that are being employed to reach the consumer.

And I also see pr being used at the base level to assist the marketing disciplines to develop their messaging and their media strategies.

Helping them to determine how aggressive they can be, particularly around products where there may be some sensitivity.

Conducting stakeholder research, which feeds into marketing planning, thinking and strategizing.

Laying a groundwork on the issues management side. Bringing the public opinion sensitivity to the development of marketing strategies.

Q. How has that role changed over the past couple of years?

A. I think the expertise of public relations practitioners is being used less on the pure product publicity side and more to help direct strategic planning and thinking.

Traditionally, on the issues management side of the business, which is where we are focussed, public relations continues to play a strong role in helping marketing departments and companies with brand reputation management, and consumer relations.

I also see pr working more closely with some of the other disciplines, to bring thinking to the task, such as event and sponsorship marketing and database marketing.

The kind of analysis and strategic planning support that public relations is bringing to the marketing mix has become more sophisticated and longer term, as opposed to the ‘let’s-do-a-media-launch-for-a-new-product’ focus.

Q. We keep hearing from clients that they are paying a lot more attention to integrating activities such as database marketing and corporate sponsorship into their activities. Why is it we hear hardly anything about the integration of pr?

A. When you talk about sponsorship and event marketing, you are in a bit of a terminology gray zone.

Those are tools and techniques that are often employed as part of a public relations strategy. So, it becomes a question in your agency of where is your specialty or emphasis.

When a client comes to me with a corporate image assignment, we look at the full range of tools and techniques, including paid advertising, sponsorship, event marketing and database marketing, to come up with the best mix of activities against the agreed upon positioning, to meet their objectives.

I think public relations agencies increasingly are in the best position to provide clients zero-based planning. By that I mean, pr agencies don’t come at the marketing mix with a bias towards any particular communications vehicle, be it advertising, direct marketing, media relations, etc.

We are talking about pr agencies who are in a position to think and plan intelligently against all of those disciplines.

Q. Public relations practitioners have been called everything from ‘flacks’ to ‘spindoctors.’ Why is it that an industry in the business of generating good press for its clients often gets bad press itself?

A. I’m surprised that you would say that. If you go back to the infancy of public relations and advertising and modern communications techniques, there is an ancient stereotype, that surfaces from time to time, and no profession, no activity, ever escapes its early stereotyping.

I think public relations practitioners today are extremely sophisticated, highly educated, for the most part.

We have schools of public relations now, professional associations, and ongoing professional development programs now, and public relations people, by the very nature of the work they do, bring an extremely broad awareness of what is happening in their society, what the trends are.

They have to be in tune with the political environment, the regulatory environment, the public opinion environment.

You have to be smart to be in our business.

Q. What is it going to take for the public relations industry to get good press?

A. I don’t feel that I am inundated with bad press on our industry.

We know that there have been some occasions for bad press over the past few years, but, as a generality, I don’t believe that’s the case.

I think the profession stands on the quality of its advice and its work for its clients.

And the more sound that advice is, and the more accurately it resonates with the public, the more credible our clients are. And the more credible our clients are, the more credible we are.