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Resolving the marketing v. PR divide

Ed Shiller

Ed's Blog

An engrossing discussion has been unfolding on LinkedIn ( on the question: “Should PR be underneath the marketing umbrella in a company - or on its own to give it greater flexibility?”

There have been dozens of comments and a significant divergence of views. Here are my thoughts on this provocative question:

Why just those two alternatives? Truly effective communications will only come about when all communications functions of the organization fall within a single management structure, with the most senior communicator being a full and equal member of the organization's top-level decision-making, policy-making and strategic-planning bodies. Under this paradigm, marketing falls within (it is neither above nor separate from) the communications (PR) management structure.

There is no doubt that marketing is an essential function - it’s obvious that a company that doesn’t expertly convert product into paid sales will not survive.

But neither will a company that can’t recruit top-level financiers, research scientists, production managers and human resource experts; that doesn’t procure the necessary government permits to conduct its business; that lags behind the leading edge of technology development; that is constantly at odds with its labour force; that loses touch with the sensitivities and needs of the communities in which it operates; that can’t raise the necessary capital to finance research and production facilities, or that remains oblivious to the dynamics of political and social developments that may engulf it.

Marketing communications, therefore, is only one of the essentials of a thriving and prosperous business, trade association, charitable organization or government agency.

The role of organizational communications is to participate in the formulation of organization-wide goals and objectives, identify and analyze the gamut of internal and external key publics upon whom the attainment of those goals and objectives depends, and then to develop and implement the communications strategies, programs and initiatives that will induce the key publics to act in ways that will advance the attainment of organizational goals and objectives.

Marketing communications is clearly a subset of this broader communications arena. The question is whether it should be segregated into its own management structure or be integrated within the management structure that oversees other communications activities. The same question may be asked about investor relations, community relations, government relations, media relations, and so forth.

The answer derives not from theory, but from practice. Experience has taught me that whenever an organization splinters communications functions into separate departments, the resulting communications output is uncoordinated, costly, inefficient and less effective. The organization speaks differently to different publics, often to the point that brand identity becomes eroded and publics become confused, indifferent or even hostile.


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