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October 29th, 2008

The Web Divides PR and Advertising

Alright, I guess it’s inevitable that amidst this economic shake up, we would return to the age-old argument of Public Relations vs Advertising, and debating where your business dollars are better spent, and you know, whatever, that’s fine, it’s not without good reason.

In fact, I’ll admit, this was a hot topic at last week’s SMC meetup, and again at this week’s PRSA International conference, but here’s the thing: if we (the PR industry) are going to collectively make the business case for a shift in corporate spending, we need better leverage, and man, if there was one thing we should be leveraging to our advantage in this argument, you’d think it’d be all the benefits and potential of the social web for business, right?

Sadly, the PR industry, for being inextricably tangled with the web, continues to oddly struggle with how best to use it for communications — and therefor, articulate its value and return in this larger argument we’re all trying to make.

And yeah, to be fair, the ad industry is really struggling with this too, so in a big way, the challenge is just seeing which industry can get past its own tired modes and models of business and acclimate the fastest to new attention, usage habits and trending patterns on the web.

For what it’s worth, I think the PR industry, for better or worse, can actually win this race by doing two things:

First, by each of us assuming personal responsibility for where the industry sits today and how we’ll each move it forward. Seriously, to win this bigger argument, we have to become smarter practitioners through professional education, personal learning (through adoption?) and, well, by having a curiosity and a willingness to experiment and try on different approaches to communications on the web; and Second, by realizing that once separate or ancillary business disciplines are now a much, much bigger part of the communications charter. Things like web development, search engine marketing, media production, data analytics, etc., have all become increasingly valuable for communications purposes, and because of that, PR departments (and PR businesses) can no longer afford to draw dotted lines into these disciplines. Something I’ll be blogging about separately, soon-ish.

Net-net, I think a lot of this argument for PR comes down to how diligent and creative we as professionals and as an industry can be about rethinking and reshaping a role that’s been otherwise comfortable, and largely misunderstood the past few decades. If we make the stretch, then right on, we get to reset the terms for determining PR’s business value, hopefully its perception too.

And if we don’t, well, I guess we remain neatly (and reluctantly) relegated to a few bullets in the next business plan. Either way, it rests on us.

About the Author
Mike Manuel is the GM of Voce Connect, the social media marketing and web development arm of Voce Communications. In between managing this team and overseeing Voce's digital programs, he'll post a thought or two on mike-manuel.com and via @mmanuel on Twitter.

Filed in Career Development, Marketing, Public Relations, SEO, Social Media

Add Your Comment1 Response to “The Web Divides PR and Advertising”

Justin Kistner on October 31st, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Great post, Mike. Seems like a great post to link to the Sequoia slide deck that tells people to reduce other marketing spends except for PR. :)

It also reminds me of the quote from Zappos.com CEO:

“We don’t really think of social media as a marketing channel; that would be kind of like asking about ROI on answering phones,” said Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. “It’s really about making our connection with our customers more personal.

It really highlights a fallacy that we’ve all been perpetuating, which is the social media is some kind of marketing instrument. I think the word media throws us off. Social media is really a growing suite of communication tools, of which media is just one way to leverage them. A business that is asking themselves what is the value of talking with customers is rather silly.

It might be good to show how communication through social web tools is better than just a phone. Can a forum replace or cut down customer service calls? Can sales engage in more conversations through blog comments, Twitter, and more compared to a sales force armed only with a phone? Can product marketing be more in touch with the market through monitoring the conversations taking place online? Is it worthwhile for marketing to join the conversations online for branding and lead generation value?

The numbers one needs isn’t about ROI. We need numbers that show you can engage in higher quality and quantity conversations because of the efficiency of social media than you can without. A business that doesn’t understand the value of being a part of the discussion won’t survive the downturn. Not just because their competitors that join will have an unfair advantage with their finger on the pulse of the market while influencing it, but also because the media landscape has shifted. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Businesses have to learn conversational social skills.

And, that doesn’t even touch how improved communication is going to shift business operations…