Overcoming natural rivalry of PR and marketing teams

Richard E. Rotman is a Toronto-based public relations professional.The relationship between brand and product managers, and public relations personnel is something like the ties between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the actors who play the two cops in the Lethal Weapon...

Richard E. Rotman is a Toronto-based public relations professional.

The relationship between brand and product managers, and public relations personnel is something like the ties between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the actors who play the two cops in the Lethal Weapon films.

They are thrown together, they have basic affection for each other, but, deep down, each hopes he will be done with the other – fast.

And, yet, both marketing and public relations executives would profit from spending more time with each other, learning about the other’s perspective, and how each one approaches marketing problems.

Part of the equation

Both groups clearly are part of the marketing equation, but, often start from different vantage points.

To public relations people, the relationship with the brand or product manager client is often frustrating – here today, gone tomorrow.

Public relations services are engaged for a major event – a product launch, or major promotion, and then disappear from the marketing mix.

Most pr people say, however, that they crave more input into the entire marketing process, believing their training offers consumer motivation tools that would enhance the cost-driven brand manager’s ability to communicate.

Jerome Shore, the Toronto-based ‘marketing coach,’ says that when he was an advertising agency president, he was often little aware of the packaged goods client’s public relations counsel – and that to even pretend that public relations existed might mean there could be a cheaper or different way to market than advertising.

‘We worked on commission,’ Shore says. ‘And pr worked on fees. There was a natural rivalry, even though both were after the same goal: building ‘trust through fame.’ ‘

It is how public relations accomplishes its goal that seems untidy to brand managers – a $1-million advertising buy is just that, and it is even worth more with good creative.

But, how can good creative in pr be judged when it is filtered through the editorial medium?’

Steve Skidd, professor of public relations at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, argues that ‘more than directly selling a product, public relations creates an environment in which products can be sold.’

How it builds relationships

Skidd says public relations should be judged on a standard of how well it builds relationships, not how quickly it moves products (although it is clear that good pr does move products.)

‘Both are essential parts of the marketing mix, and have to be understood as working together, not as equal substitutes for each other,’ he says.

Russel H. Read, director of external affairs at Burroughs Wellcome, the Kirkland, Que.-based pharmaceutical giant, is one of the few individuals who has made the transition from brand management to public relations.

Markedly different

Read says the two professional groups’ starting points are markedly different.

‘At the end of the day, the brand manager has a number to make – and achieving that number by the fastest and most efficient means possible is what counts most,’ he says.

But, now that Read is in a corporate-wide function, he says he must protect the entire corporation’s image, which includes the brand.

‘This often involves long-term thinking about what the environment will be like in the future – it is a different perspective from interpreting sales figures and adjusting strategy based on the numbers,’ he says.

At a recent seminar at one of the world’s leading ad agencies in Toronto, the brand side’s lack of public relations awareness was especially apparent in a particular training exercise.

The leader presented case studies involving public issues, all of which had short-term end points. The result: serious befuddlement.

Advertising strategies could not be applied to these problems. The solutions all involved public relations.

Public relations people often believe that when it comes to marketing and advertising knowledge, they are like the Canada-u.s. relationship. Canadians know a great deal about the u.s., but Americans (marketing people) are usually quite ignorant about Canada.

Public relations people also often complain bitterly that brand managers often confuse public relations with its most obvious function: media relations.

Third-party endorsement

But, the importance and credibility of that third-party endorsement, or the implied backing of the publication or broadcast outlet cannot be stated enough.

When it comes to product information, do people say, ‘I heard about it in an ad,’ or, ‘I read about it in the newspaper?’

To improve and profit from this potentially Lethal Weapon, public relations practitioners would offer this advice about improving the marketing team’s lines of communication:

- Think outside the box: tap the public relations team’s advice on subjects other than media relations

- Ask for public relations advice on brand promotion and marketing strategies – some ideas from left field do turn into home runs.

- Budget for big bursts of attention and maintain public relations activity between major events to keep up credibility.

- Lastly, think of public relations with its emphasis on relations, trusting it to build bridges between the many other groups, organizations and associations that influence consumers to respond to conventional marketing tactics.