Marketing PR Revolution: How Will Professionals Navigate the New Landscape?

Article excerpt

Marketing public relations, as we've known it, is history--new technologies and methodologies, coupled with a strict marketing imperative that demands a return on investment, are forcing marketing investment decision makers to think in new ways. Add to this mix the increasingly fractionated media universe and the business predicate that requires these media to turn a profit, and the result is an irrevocably changed marketing profession that gives rise to marketing public relations (MPR).

This new environment holds both opportunity and risk: the upside is that MPR can begin to supplant "paid media" because it offers so much of what advertisers envy--involvement, credibility and value. The downside is obsolescence.

With so much at stake, how does a public relations professional navigate the new landscape? Some companies and brands respond by welcoming the change and doing what it takes to exploit it. Through new applications of public relations research and advanced statistical analyses, they have been able to clearly demonstrate PR's ability to drive sales and deliver a strong ROI (in terms of lowering overall marketing costs while delivering meaningful business outcomes like "sales"). They've also been able to accelerate other forms of marketing by making them even more effective.

NEW ENVIRONMENT PROPELS PR FORWARD

The media environment is changing: audiences are becoming more tightly clustered and more highly targetable. Media companies respond by creating more tailored vehicles to cater to these niche audiences (e.g., where we once had six television channels, new cable packages now offer more than 800). Traditional advertising-based television brands are now challenged by the advent of TiVo, a technology that allows TV viewers to simply skip commercials. At the same time, these new media companies have to make money, and the pressure to do so is enormous.

With their heavy dependence on mass media, conventional mass marketing advertising practices are at risk of becoming obsolete. Other forms of marketing are similarly challenged: promotions programs often lose money without building brand loyalty; the national "do-not-call" list in the U.S. has clamped a lid on outbound telemarketing, and so it goes. Yet companies and brands must continue to generate new and repeat sales.

Some observers opine that public relations has the most to gain in this new environment. But to achieve some higher level of primacy, PR departments have to change the way they work. Success will be contingent on PR's willingness to 1) work in a more integrated fashion with other marketing agents, and 2) use proven research techniques to clearly demonstrate a positive and meaningful ROI. In this setting, marketing decisions will be based on what drives results rather than on outmoded ideas of "what we've always done," and public relations strategies based on empty goals such as "generate significant buzz" will go by the wayside.

Beginning with the first contingency, the problem of "integration" within the marketing mix isn't confined to PR. Traditional marcom relationships don't allow for easy marketing optimization either. Mass-market advertising, specialty advertising and direct marketing, for example, aren't traditionally aligned with marketing public relations, event sponsorships and tradeshows. Even though each group has elements that may be better aligned, there is little or no integration or alignment across groups. Even at the brand level, where brand managers oversee advertising, promotions and PR, traditional views of each marketing agent often disallow the type of integration that would deliver meaningful leveraging and scale. The key to better integration lies in the second contingency, which speaks to the need for proven research techniques to better manage programs and to prove ROI.

Companies whose names you'd recognize in categories as diverse as retail, automotive, telecom, consumer packaged goods, financial services and motion pictures are feeding advanced news content analysis into sophisticated marketing mix models to make the PR-to sales connection. …