The Communication Machine: PR, Marketing and the Media Today

Getting eyes on “the story” is what the media, PR and marketing have in common; they each centre on communication and the distribution of information. It’s also true that all three of these are businesses, like any other, and with that, are trying to sell a product. What has always differentiated these disciplines from one another is their purpose, and the methods they employ to achieve this. Here, industry experts speak about their fields and how they’re becoming increasingly convergent, calling for more collaboration. 

Adrian Aphraim, the managing editor of Independent Online, points out, “As the media we would like to think we are providing a public service.” The nature of this service will vary across media outlets – hard hitting news platforms seek to uncover corruption and hold public officials to account, while other platforms have entirely different aims. Furthermore, precisely what “the media” refers to is becoming harder to define – these days we’re all publishers of content to some extent. Still, Adrian’s insight provides an important distinguishing factor: the media operates with the reader or viewer in mind, while PR and marketing companies exist for the client (even if their output is directed at the consumer, and is often channeled through the media).

On understanding the specifics of PR, Total Exposure CEO Jeremy Briar says, “In a simple way the media need access to people, products and places, and PR is often that facilitator. While PR and the media both want the story, they might differ on the content, and it’s often a battle of whose agenda it is. In order to function optimally this relationship must be built on trust and a mutual understanding. “You have to know very clearly what you are doing and you must understand what the media want, how they want it and when they want it. It’s about being informed, honest, professional and knowledgeable on your subject and theirs,” Briar explains. From a marketing perspective, PR sits in the promotional mix and it becomes a battle of share of voice between the other players in this realm – advertising, digital, below the line, and so on.

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Many things fall underneath the blanket term of “marketing”; strategy is one of them. This is Lara Cassel of The Strategy Department’s area of expertise. “A truly great strategist is one who can sit for hours analyzing research, trawling websites, studying business documents and getting a deep understanding of the market,” she says. After this, “the magic needs to happen” – insights are drawn, gaps in the market are found, and a brand strategy is developed to stand the test of time.

So while a timeless strategy that takes a client’s brand to the next level is one benchmark for success in marketing, the media and PR have other targets. In digital media it’s all about clicks. Aphraim says, “For online it’s a bit easier than for print. We can more or less tell how many people read the story online based by the number of clicks we get. But newspaper sales don’t necessarily reveal that information.” As for PR, it’s about setting clear objectives and deliverables beforehand and evaluating them after a campaign has wrapped up. But, as Briar points out, “Measurement is a complicated process because there are so many variables – is it quantity, is it impact, is it behavior change – and like all of the communication disciplines it’s difficult to really say which discipline made what impact.” Local awards like the IAB SA’s Bookmarks Awards are another important yardstick for practitioners in marketing, PR and media, as these also function as a way to set and maintain industry standards.

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While traditionally these fields do have variant purposes and means, the lines of separation between media companies, PR firms and marketing agencies are rarely as clear cut as they used to be. Josephine Buys, CEO of the IAB SA notes that “In the past, the disciplines have been quite separate, but with the uptake of digital, by virtue of the consumer’s expectations and the needs of the market, have become far more connected. By and large, these worlds are starting to merge.” She also points out that the migration of journalists into PR is a strong indicator of how the field is evolving to stay relevant in today’s communications landscape.

Similarly, Briar has noticed a rise in cross-disciplinary collaboration, saying, “What has changed dramatically in the last few years is clients putting all of their promotional and strategic partners into one pot and getting them to work around producing the best ideas that each channel can champion.” Cassel too is a big believer in this “single voice offering” and for her, strategy is a vital part of realizing this. She explains, “Strategy is done to ensure it is media agnostic, providing a platform upon which all of the channels can operate. It guides how to communicate, what type of media to purchase, and where to target your messaging.”

What does this increasingly merged way of working mean for the future of the PR, media and marketing industries? And, is it for their collective benefit, as well as ours as consumers? Buys gives some insight, “Many global speakers are highlighting the importance of having all teams around the table from the very first brief to ensure that communications are seamless.” What this means is better integrated campaigns and messaging that is more consistent, and more authentic. That’s a win in all directions.

Follow this Glenfiddich series for more articles and interviews with 7 forward thinkers in art and culture to discuss their careers and what they predict for the future of their industries.

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