Blogs  / July 9, 2014

PR’s real name: Relationship & Communications Marketing

by Rebekah Iliff

For all the time, effort, money, resources, brainpower (shall I also mention frustration and coffee?) put into defining PR, I have come to believe it boils down to one thing.

Well, technically two: relationships and communication.

More specifically, the PR model may be best understood in the context of “relationship marketing” and (as Richard Edelman recently alluded to) “communications marketing.”

[If you are having a “No shit” moment, I apologize. Please do redirect yourself here immediately for a better use of your time.]

This first aspect, relationship marketing, deals with the more traditional aspects of PR including the ability to cultivate and maintain relationships with media and influencers; and perhaps even open doors to potential partners and large-scale customers. This is not a learned skill, like writing a press release or creating a media list. It’s the application of emotional intelligence to solving a problem: where the solution begs a fundamental, if not fully developed, understanding of what makes relationships tick. Furthermore, once the relationship is established, it requires insight into how to go about serving the need of the end receiver.

Let me be more unambiguous…

Lindsey is a relationship marketing professional working at a PR firm. Rebecca is a journalist working for a major publication. Lindsey has an established relationship with Rebecca based on years of feeding her good information, ideating story ideas that her audience will enjoy, and let’s not forget that VIP invite to a Google Glass event. Rebecca (the receiver) trusts Lindsey (the giver) because, well frankly, she just “gets it.”

This is what separates true PR from PR running around in a tactics drag.

The relationship is fundamental. Not just that you HAVE the relationship (tactical); but that you understand the needs required to maintain the relationship, and to serve the relationship best in order it remain in good standing.

How-to-think-of-PRImagine a romantic relationship in which you only talk about scheduling dinner, what movie you want to watch, and the best route to get to work. You never once cultivate a deeper understanding of likes and dislikes and what makes that person happy. Or perhaps you do cultivate that understanding but you never do anything to support the need. Because PR is fundamentally about relationships, the same framework can be applied. You have to observe, listen, discuss, strategize, execute, assess, rinse and repeat.

Secondly, after reading this muy brilliante post on Contently, I am convinced that PR is also best understood from a perspective of “communications marketing.”

This concept, introduced by Mr. Edelman, is intriguing for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that, according to him:

“It’s always been marketing first and communications as a servant. I see the emergence of a new paradigm which is ‘communications marketing’ instead of ‘marketing communications.’”

The article goes on to say…

“The difference, he [Edelman] says, has to do with priorities. In a media environment where control over who sees content is actually up to readers—not editors or advertisers—companies who wish to build relationships with potential customers must now do so on readers’ terms. That means communicating meaningfully before selling to them. It means sharing useful and entertaining information as a primary objective, with the understanding that relationships and sales will eventually flow if done appropriately.”

As we continue along this evolutionary PR path, I think it’s important to think of alternative frameworks for understanding where the real value of PR lies. Furthermore, when we re-position PR in terms of marketing it seemingly increases credibility.

I am not suggesting that PR as a term is not good enough. It’s more about the thinking of what it actually entails. Relationship and communication prowess are what give weight to PR.

Tactics and execution (and even strategy) are vehicles to generate value. But without the former, tactics and execution are meaningless. Why do we even call that PR?

It’s not.

Relationships. Communication.