I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with a partner at an integrated marketing agency here in Portland. I had commented that in my search for a new opportunity, I’d noticed that while I had spent the vast majority of my career in sales, marketing and PR, the interest I’d received was almost exclusively for PR positions. I received almost no interest at all when inquiring about marketing positions.
He smiled at me and said quite bluntly, “You’ve spent the past 16 years in PR. Marketing people don’t really understand PR.”
He shared with me that his company has found far more success hiring people with a PR background for account executive-level positions than they have when hiring people with traditional advertising or marketing experience. His explanation: “PR people understand marketing better than marketing people understand PR.” And his company has found that those with a PR background are quicker to grasp the other areas of marketing than those with traditional advertising/marketing experience are able to “get” public relations.
I’ll admit that it is something I’ve thought about myself. I have met some exceptional marketing professionals during my stint as a PR executive, but there has often been a disconnect for them in understanding PR beyond what a press release is. This is not meant as a criticism, but rather an observation. But it does beg the question: Why would that be?
I have a theory: It was never in their course curriculum.
When I created and managed the marketing department for a publishing company, the people I hired routinely had a business school/advertising background. This worked well, because we were focused on developing advertising and sales collateral and didn’t really do any PR.
But as I ‘ve learned when hiring PR people over the past 16 years, public relations is rarely taught in business schools. It is almost always taught in the journalism or communications school.
And that makes sense; public relations and communications strategies revolve around understanding the media, how it works, and how as advocates for our companies or clients we can use the media to our advantage. But media is rarely a topic of discussion in marketing – unless it’s to understand how to place paid advertising.
So therein lies the disconnect: Traditional marketers know PR exists. They may even understand that it can be one of the most valuable and cost-effective components in their marketing arsenal. But because it was not part of their curriculum, their limited understanding of its nuances causes many marketers to think of it as add-on service, rather than a core – maybe THE core – component of any marketing program.
Al Ries, the iconic author of advertising and marketing books and a pioneer in brand positioning, wrote in the early 1990’s how the marketing landscape had changed. PR, he said, not advertising had become the dominant force in creating a brand’s image, while advertising is best used to support that image.
Not surprisingly, PR firms have flourished over the past 25 - 30 years as more people witness PR’s impact. But those trained in traditional marketing programs still seem to have a limited understanding.
And it seems a little odd that the schools that teach these interconnected practices haven’t created a bridge for this disconnect.