Is it Marketing, PR, or just plain ol’ Communications?

by Ken Mueller on February 23, 2012 · 45 comments

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In this business, and probably in most businesses, we do a lot of hand wringing. As marketers or PR professionals we aren’t producing a tangible product. It’s not something you can hold or even necessarily see. So as a result, we have a difficult time boiling what we do down to one of those 30-second elevator speeches. The problem is in finding terminology that is meaningful to both those of us in the industry, as well as those outside.

For instance, there has been a lot of talk lately about how we define public relations. For many, the term conjures up images of publicity machines and schmoozing and spin. And while PRSA is trying to redefine it, my friend Gini Dietrich is calling them out, and the PRSA is responding. And other friends, like Krista Giuffi, are trying to work out what it means to them in their particular situations.

The same arguments and discussions are happening in the marketing and social media realms, and they are discussions that overlap. None of these disciplines resides in a vacuum, anymore. Actually, they never really did, but we put them there.

But the fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, we are all doing the same thing: communicating.

My website might say that I’m a social media and marketing consultant, but that really doesn’t define me. I’m a communications professional. My job is to help you communicate your message better.

Take a look at the most basic of communications models; you know, the one you learned in that Speech 101 class you took in college:

Communications Model Is it Marketing, PR, or just plain ol Communications?

Clearly, this is communications in its most basic form, and you could throw in things like “context” and “behavioral change”, but for the most part, this is what goes on when we seek to communicate each day. And of course there are the subtleties of semiotics, with things that we refer to as the “sign”, the “signifier”, and the “signified”, and you’ve got yourself an interesting discussion. Something on which you could write a paper or thesis. (Oh, wait…been there done that. Don’t tempt me into getting all geeky on you about communications theory and semiotics!)

In the end, no matter how we define ourselves, the fact is, others don’t care. The general public doesn’t care. Our customers don’t care. It’s the same with those silos we’ve constructed internally that we are now working feverishly (or should be) to tear down. When I interact with your business, I don’t really care if I have the “right” person in the “right” department. I just want satisfaction. If I have a problem, just fix it, even if it isn’t in your job description.

What our customers and clients want is clear communication. And when you look at the above model, the most important change in terms of social media is that “feedback” arrow at the bottom. Now, the feedback is more direct, more rapid, and can come from multiple places at one time. At it’s most basic level, every bit of communication has a sender and a receiver (whether it is our intended receiver, or not). There is a message, and a channel(s), or medium, through which it travels. Along the way, there is noise…clutter…that impacts how it is received on the other end. And of course there is feedback. Even a lack of feedback, i.e. silence, is a form of feedback.

Whether you are banging drums or sending up smoke signals, or using the latest in digital technology, the basics are the same. Your job, and my job, is to make sure that your intended message gets to your intended audience, with the desired result. Seems simple, eh? But the fact is, we’ve complicated the process, and there are so many factors to consider.

In the end, no one cares if you are a marketer, an advertiser, or a PR professional. What you really are is a communicator, and every one who works in your business is a communicator as well, and their ability to communicate, or not, will impact how others view you.

To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower again, from my blog post on presidential tweets:

An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows

Keep it simple. Don’t try to dazzle them with big words. They can see through that.  Whatever your role, whatever your job description, just communicate.

Clearly.

Honestly.

And remember that communication is a two-way process. Listen to the feedback. Early and often.We seem to forget that one a lot.

Do you see yourself as a communications professional? Can you forget about your marketing or PR pedigree for awhile and take it to street level? How are you trying to be a better communicator?

 Is it Marketing, PR, or just plain ol Communications?
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41 comments
kknaus
kknaus

@kmueller62 How was the Geneva speech and town visit!?

kmueller62
kmueller62

@jesslaw Thanks for the RT, Jessica. You're not too far from my old stomping grounds!

kmueller62
kmueller62

@sueyoungmedia Thanks for the RT, Sue!

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Hmm... putting this in my thinking cap as 1) we are making this too complicated and 2) I had just commented elsewhere that my one word for who I am, what I do is 'communications.' I think of PR - all the different stakeholders and audiences, the various tactics and strategies used to further not only 'marketing' goals but overall business ones - as communications. Really, my belief is that any organization cannot do jack - hire talent, sell goods, promote services, research, develop, take out the trash, manage a disaster, change a bleeping lightbulb - without communicating, effectively. FWIW.

GalaxyKannanGtp
GalaxyKannanGtp

Interesting article..........Very well said about the communication in marketing.......really vary good one..........

 

Bensie Dorien

prcompanionpr@gmail.com

www.prcompanion.com

 

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

Interesting post, Ken. Certainly food for thought. I do think there are very distinct differences in how marketing people or PR people tackle a problem -- neither is right or wrong -- we just need to play well with each other (in order to solve that customer's problem as you aptly put it).

Perhaps even, we might learn a few skills that have been traditionally outside our circle of comfort.

That aside, I'm certain there's no doubt I believe a definition of PR is incredibly important because it is impossible to present a consistent and cohesive value proposition around a function that we cannot define.

PS: Hat tip to Eisenhower -- best comment on a research paper ever? "Avoid sesquipedalism."

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I think the most important thing for any business or professional offering a service be able to show what they can do for potential clients. Forget jargon or lingo or jingo or largon.

As @ginidietrich would say 'Hand over the baby and step away from the cliff' or something like that.

I always make fun of the term Social Media because it is just Media nothing social about the media. There is social enabling technologies which also includes email, sms text etc. Same when people say Social Media Marketing. No it is marketing. And Social Commerce? Just commerce.

As the great God Nike once said 'Show me what you can do for me and if I need you to do it. Just Do It! but prefer net 60 vs net 30 ok?'

@Quartz164
@Quartz164

I'm really shocked at the amount of attention given to the definition of PR. I don't let associations, political parties, industry leaders or some bad practicioners define who I am or what I do. I'm responsible for my own reputation and work. I learned a long time ago to focus on my own work and not what others are doing.

If we come up with a perfect definition the majority of people agree upon, will it change anything? Will people judge me differently because some organization has defined my profession? I don't think so. People with negative perception of sales, technology, public relations, advertising or any other industry aren't going to change their minds because of a definition.

Define yourself. Be yourself. Communicate and prosper.

dannystarr
dannystarr

Great post. I don't really care anymore about being just a marketing person because I think to define what I do as a communicator as only marketing doesn't really describe it.

You're right - customers don't really care about the difference and to reach customers do you need to have an understanding of marketing, PR and communications to reach customers. Plus, in the era of shrunk budgets and constrained resources, most companies can't really afford to have their budget spread across each silo, it has to be here's X dollars, make it happen.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

The more we all tussle about this, the more we who care will not. We're going to go on our merry way and ignore those at the "top" who think they're doing a service to the profession with three measly definitions that do nothing to clarify the confusion. Not saying we did any better on my blog; not saying it's even possible to make people happy since the profession has changed forever.

What I hate the most is the negative credibility we get from business owners who think they've been burned by PR. It all comes with education, good work, respect, accountability, partnership, and professionalism. I don't have the answers; does anyone, Ken? Thank you for the link love; really appreciate it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

It's always bothered me that some professionals try to define PR as publicity and their jobs as communications. The reason is bothers me is you're right - we're all communicators. Some of us are tactical specialists while others are more strategic. I also agree a bunch of words don't define us - our work does. But if the industry can't pull itself together with ONE message and communicate that one message, we're doomed.

Krista
Krista

Thanks for the link, Ken! I agree with your sentiment-- the underlying connection between all of this is that we're all communicators (a term I am trying to use more to describe myself) with varied but similar goals. It seems we're getting caught up in definitions that the we want seem to see the forest through the trees!

kmueller62
kmueller62

@kknaus it went really well, thanks. Great seeing you guys, if only for a minute. We'll have to chat more some time

jesslaw
jesslaw

@kmueller62 Oh yeah? Where are you from?!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Frank_Strong It amazes me how poorly some departments are at "playing well" with others. I see this all the time. And Ike rocks.

TMuellerFFM
TMuellerFFM

@kmueller62 You're welcome. Have a good weekend!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@@Quartz164 Exactly. It scares me how much we think alike. Let's take over the world, shall we?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@dannystarr Thanks, Danny, and thanks for stopping by. If we focus on our customers, we won't have to worry about all of the semantics.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Krista And especially now that many of us are playing a variety of roles, communications seems to sum it up well.

kmueller62
kmueller62

@jesslaw born in Abington, went to Upper Dublin HS. My parents grew up just across the border in NE Philly

kmueller62
kmueller62

@jesslaw sure does. i have so many great stories about thaty

jesslaw
jesslaw

@kmueller62 Very nice...social media always seems to make the world a bit smaller!

kmueller62
kmueller62

@jesslaw yes way! i guess we're sworn enemies now. I lived in Jenkintown until I was 7 or so, then Maple Glen

jesslaw
jesslaw

@kmueller62 No way! Very nice. I went to Cheltenham HS and still live in the area :)

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