PR versus marketing: The final battle over social media

ShareLast week Vocus, a provider of on-demand PR management software, announced the results of a survey which found that the turf battle between PR and marketing rages on, especially over ownership of social media initiatives.

Key survey findings include the following:

  • Lines between PR and marketing continue to blur.  78 percent report to the same boss.
  • Turf battles still evident.  34% cite organizational structures, functional silos or turf battles as the single largest barrier to integrated communications.
  • Ownership of social media and blogging up in the air. 43% of PR professionals say they should own it, while 34% make the same claim.
  • The two groups come together on the need for measurement. 56% of both marketing and PR professionals agree that an integrated communications increases overall effectiveness of their programs and 48% cite sales and ROI as the most important metrics.

Honestly I’m weary of this discussion over ownership. It doesn’t matter who “owns” the actual social web communication activities as long as it is clearly and precisely supporting the marketing strategy.  On most big strategy questions, I usually think the answer is “it depends.”  But this is one of the few cases where the answer seems beyond doubt: Marketing should ultimately own the integrated communications strategy. Here’s the logic:

1) A company exists to attract and retain customers, thereby creating shareholder value.  Peter Drucker famously said that the “purpose of a company is marketing and innovation. Everything else is overhead.”

2) While there are many useful PR-related social media applications, directly or indirectly these activities are enabling a civic, political, labor, and business climate to make it easier to manufacture and sell products to customers. If they are not supporting this central goal, the activities should end.

3) Everything a company says or doesn’t say — on the social web or otherwise — affects the brand image, which must be singularly controlled with laser focus by marketing, without question.

I cannot fathom a situation where a communication channel like a corporate blog is not ultimately considered a marketing function … even if the PR department is writing it, which is perfectly fine.

For my PR friends who are feeling testy at this point, I would like to proudly proclaim that I started my career in your worthy field, so I do not have an anti-PR bias. I have an anti-ridiculous-strategy-bias.  And to claim that PR should lead customer-facing activities is ridiculous.   Support, complement, even help devise … yes.  But lead, no.

Further, while this “battle” rages on supposedly, I have not seen one coherent explanation as to why PR should not defer to marketing on overall strategy issues.

Please, can we end this debate?

All posts

  • I think PR and marketing go hand in hand. We do both and appreciate the benefits of the relationship!

  • Personally, I’m still amazed that PR sits outside of Marketing in so many organizations in the first place, rather than inside as a core component of the overall Marketing function. As to ownership of social media, though, I think there is great risk with either Marketing or PR (if they are separate) owning it since the potential value of “going social” goes across the entire organization. Instead, cross-company leadership is more appropriate to help make sure that all functions are represented in developing a broader strategy. Social media is really about changing the way companies work inside and out, not just the way they communicate with customers and other stakeholders.

  • Mark

    @Rob I have a simplistic view of the ownership of any initiative. There can only be one boss. At the end of the day, somebody has to be accountable.

    I agree with you that deputizing employees throughout the organization may be ideal in many cases, but you still need a policy to define the guidelines and it should be tied to a specific idea about what the company represents.

    For example, let’s say you work for Disney, a company with a very well-defined image. I would think that every communication from that company — no matter the department — reflects that brand personality, which was crafted through extraordinary marketing efforts.

    Thanks so very much for contributing your insights!

    @Amy — Thanks for the PR for PR : )

  • IMHO, anyone / department who thinks they own or should own social media doesn’t understand it and therefore will soon become irrelevant.

  • I keep hearing about PR versus marketing, however in all my experience PR is part of marketing and not separate, just as advertising is part of marketing.

    One department must have responsiblity to ensure it matches up with the business objectives and strategy. That is the role of marketing, however it must involve all departments so everyone is on the same page. Whether it is social media or a product launch, many are involved but one has to take responsiblity and as you say Mark accountability.

  • Mark

    @steve In many companies, SM without leadership and guidelines would be a recipe for disaster. There needs to be accountability. Don’t you agree?

  • Mark

    @Susan — You’re my hero.

  • Lol!!! I thought *I* was your hero!! Kidding! Mark~all your followers=so smart! If you are judged by the company you keep ~ you are in rockstar status ;))))

  • Mark

    @Amy. Changed my mind after that quote. Yes, Amy. You are my hero! Flattery will get you everywhere. : )

  • I think the boundaries between PR, Marketing AND customer service are increasingly blurred by social media.

    Perhaps what we’re really seeing is a battle ground with people too attached to the old way of seeing things. Web 2.0 was a paradigm shift that, through the emergence of social media sites, is spreading ripples even today through the business community.

  • I agree with what has already been commented here and add one more thing (coming from a PR agency business leader)…

    If PR professionals don’t soon grasp that marketing and PR go hand-in-hand even more now and if they don’t soon grasp that, through social media, they have to measure everything they do to the bottom line, they will soon ceases to exist.

  • Mark

    @Jon Well said. Thanks for your wisdom, as always.

    @Gini — Thanks for your voice of experience, Gini. Hard to believe this is still a debate. Why can’t we all just get along?

  • I spoke at SES about a month ago and one of the questions we got at the end of the discussion was, “I’m in marketing, but the PR people want to own measurement. I don’t want them to own measurement.” I said, “Why can’t you both own it?”

    I agree…why can’t we just get along?

  • @ Mark. I totally agree that there needs to be measurement and accountability but social media is very cross functional. Marketing and PR are not the only corporate departments who use and benefit from Social Media. This question is like asking “Who owns the customer”. It is a corporate responsibility and all departments need to “get along” as SM provides distinct value to each.

  • Mark

    @Gini — Geez, of course they all need to own it. Sounds like some deeper problems there.

  • Mark

    @steve — The answer to who owns the customer is sales. When I was an account manager, I protected and nurtured my customers like a mother hen and everybody respected that accountability!

    Having employees active on the social web on behalf of the company is not to be taken lightly. I completely disagree with the “free love” approach! A company would be asking for trouble. I think you and I agree that a company needs guidelines — a social media policy. Who owns and enforces that strategy? That’s who “owns” the SM responsibility in a company. I don’t think we really are disagreeing on this.

    Would like to hear what others think as well.

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  • EJ Ellis

    An area often overlooked in these discussions is the impact of social media communications in intellectual property battles.

    Profits from a seemingly well-executed social media strategy can be annihilated by a related multi-million dollar intellectual property or patent judgement against that company. One only has to look at such industries as pharma & biotech to see the potential dangers, and for now at least, to respect the need for more regimented controls.

    Shareholders only care about the bottom line results, and public companies can ill afford to forget that one of their primary purposes is to make money for shareholders.

    I enjoyed your post! Thanks to @HowellMarketing for tweeting it.

  • Mark – for the most part, you hit the nail on the head with this post. However I disagree with the point that it should be run by a marketing department. The reason being is that many people will get easily blinded by the quick buck with cheap ROI and may cut corners to get things out there, thus adversely effecting your brand. It happens all the time with emails and while there is a place for marketing in the SM space, I would see it more as a conversational marketing tool over the hard sell that many marketers that I have talked to can’t comprehend. So there needs to be a balancing act. And like Amy said at the end of the day PR is in most marketing departments so it is a tag teamed effort.

  • Mark

    @EJ — Superb point. I actually have a post coming up on this topic. This is why the social media “love-in strategy is not right for most companies. There simply has to be guidelines. The stakes are too high.

    @Jeff — Perhaps you’re suggesting it should not be run by a department — marketing or otherwise — that does not know what it is doing! Thanks for the thoughtful dissent, Jeff.

  • Mark that is exactly what I am saying. At the end of the day the silos need to be broken as everyone is on the same team.

  • Soheil

    I think social media and PR go hand-in-hand. Social media gives us more flexibility in the content we provide where a press release only gives us news and talks about it at the surface. It is great when a social media element follows a PR activity and gives more details.

  • EJ Ellis

    Thanks Mark. Look forward to reading your post on the subject.

  • Hey, Mark. Found you via @GiniDietrich. My context is the G1000 B2Bs. I think this tussle still exists because the MarCom/Branding folks exhibit Diva-ish behavior to Sales, PR, CS and the many others. To me, it doesn’t matter where the BUs or orgs fall on an org chart (everyone works for the same company, right?). We’re all on the same team.

    If there was mutual respect exhibited throughout an organization, the Who Owns It becomes far less important.

    I still believe the biggest B2B mindset shift needs to happen in MarCom. They need to let go of the ego and the tools of the 80s and 90s. Hands down, the most important lead gen tools are (1) Relationship Skills for Sales and (2) GREAT PR – of which SM is a huge component.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Mark, like you my experience is in both PR and marketing. But I lean strongly toward Jeff’s comment. It’s one thing to “own” a department or function and quite another to “own” and execute best practices for something like social media. Ideally, PR does report in to Marketing … but if managed well, they are held responsible for results not dictated to re: tactics and practices. If that model works, why should social be any different? I may be showing my tech bias but in my experience most CMOs and Marketing VPs come from the product management side, not marcom. These are not your strongest social media practices people. To the extent “owning” social media means having the most qualified people (based on skills) handle it, I don’t think anyone can deny it’s the PR people. If they report to Marketing, where’s the conflict?

  • Thank you Mark for asking me to clarify my Twitter statement. It really shows you are ready to challenge your own reasoning at the public stage!

    This was something that caught my eye:

    “I cannot fathom a situation where a communication channel like a corporate blog is not ultimately considered a marketing function … even if the PR department is writing it, which is perfectly fine.”

    As I see the social media presence of companies, it’s also about building legitimacy and trust. The ultimate goal is of course getting revenue through increased sales, but the character of social media is often against taking a straightforward approach.

    If we simplify (and we always do, yes?), marketing is about increasing sales – at least more directly than PR. A corporate blog should not be a direct attempt to sell more. Pitching and goodwill should not be mixed in the same text, and a blog should be about the latter.

    Still, I don’t think we disagree that much here, maybe the roles of these functions are seen a bit differently here in Scandinavia. Of course a good marketing dept understands the charachteristics of a blog and knows how to use it effectively, but as Steve points out, this is a more comfortable area for the PR professionals – beyond just writing the texts.

  • Mark

    @Tuuka Thank you so much for clarifying your point. You’re right. We’re not that far apart in our views. Although I am emphatic that a marketing initiative should be under the marketing department, I am making an assumption that these are professionals who know how to use this communication channel in the right way.

    In a recent webinar, I discussed at length appropriate ways to “sell” on blogs. You might enjoy this presentation. Thanks again for contributing to the discussion!

  • Let me start by saying that I agree with everyone here.
    I think in recent years we have come to a point where the argument between marketing and PR boils down to a game of semantics (especially with the emergence of social media). To clarify, I am NOT saying that they play the same role within an organization, I am simply saying we get stuck behind labels and words and all say the same things while disagreeing.
    Both marketing and PR are rooted in the idea of relaying messages and ideas to our audiences, and while the tactics and audiences may differ, we’re all in the business of communication and it breaks down from there.
    There’s a lot of ego in both the PR and marketing worlds (I come from both, so I can say that) and each side wants to say “I’m more important and I don’t work for them,” while we all need to focus on who we all really do work for: our customers.
    I am a big fan of integrating the marketing and PR functions to create collaborated messages that can be broadcast over a variety of media to bring forth the biggest gain, and since every department has to answer to someone, maybe there should be a new title that we can all agree on; something like Social Communications Dept. or Dept. Awesome.

  • Mark

    @Joey — Hilarious. Thanks for the fantastic comment!

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