PR, Marketing and MarCom, Oh My!

I recently received my Master’s Degree in Communication (not PR or Marketing Communications, Communication) from Purdue University, and I’m still confused about the whole PR vs. Marketing vs. MarCom thing.

Remember Skeeball?

I’ve never been particularly good at carnival games, but pretend the ball represents you – a communicator. The various valued and different-sized holes are the plethora of communication-related titles you’d find in today’s modern workplace. As a communication professional, you aim the ball towards the hole that matches your title within your organization. However, when aiming for PR (100 points), you end up in sub-genre of marketing (5 points). And this keeps happening until you’ve garnered 25 points from various sub-genres of marketing or PR. Consequently you’re even more confused about your role within your company. You walk away defeated with 3 measly tickets and the option to buy a plastic parachute man or a broken kazoo. I digress.

Diversity is a Good Thing – Often Leading to Greater Job Security

Some people are quick to draw the line and say each role is distinctive in this way or that which in all honesty is easier to do in a marketing or PR agency setting. However, speaking from experience as a professional outside of the more structured agency environment, I’ve yet to not be marketing while being a PR professional or not be involved in PR while being a marketer. In fact, my first professional PR role had a ‘/marketing’ component. Let’s face it, marketing and PR often share a love-hate relationship, much like that couple that’s been married for over 60 years… although they grimace at the thought of 60+ long years together, they’re still holding hands on their daily walks, albeit begrudgingly.

Yes, there are differences, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, but nevertheless, they’re there. Take for example, the voice of the PR professional vs. marketing.

The consummate PR professional is said to be unbiased, concise and succinct. Get to the point and get there quickly, transparently and accurately so that your publics and stakeholders are in the know and mutual trust is established and maintained. Whereas in marketing, it’s often more important to get the attention of your prospective buyer or client, by any means necessary, in order to sell your product, while aligning with your brand, voice and message.

However, there seems to be an equal amount of overlap, ambiguity and crossover among the posted job ads, their associated responsibilities and their titles, throughout the communications industry. Not unlike the diversity and demand of the automobile industry (think hybrid, FlexFuel, etc.) and more mundanely, the continuing evolution of human genetics and culture, the once distinctive roles of a PR professional, marketing communications professional and marketing professional are crossing wires. Frankly, they’re downright blurry.

Defining the Big Three: PR, Marketing and MarCom

The American Marketing Association (AMA) Board of Directors defines marketing as ‘the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.’

In marketing you tell the story of your organization whether it be internally or to external publics and stakeholders. Like in PR, it doesn’t matter if you work for the organization directly or as a consultant or agency; being the voice of your organization innately means, you are in sales. I know, PR is typically not associated with sales, but by proxy of speaking on behalf of the organization, you are representing that organization and therefore, by way of tacking on a logo, a tagline, keywords, SEO info, etc., branding in general, you are the voice (temporary or not) of that company. In other words, Both PR and Marketing are working for a common goal: to sustain the company’s viability and to keep it profitable.

PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) states that: “[Public relations] helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other. Public Relations broadly applies to organizations as a collective group, not just a business; and publics encompass the variety of different stakeholders.”

Regardless of what news release, statement or announcement you may be making to the public on behalf of an organization, your brand is recognized. Let’s say you don’t name names and just refer to it as ‘this company’ or ‘these people’ now, you’re no longer a salesman. Add in any branding lingo and you’re automatically transported into the role of Sales.

Both PR and Marketing can be said to fall under the larger and more ambiguous umbrella of Marketing Communications (MarCom). This is where it gets really blurry… MarCom is defined by the following. “Marketing Communications (MarCom) is a fundamental and complex part of a company’s marketing efforts. Loosely defined, MarCom can be described as all the messages and media you deploy to communicate with the market.

Marketing Communications includes advertising, direct marketing, branding, packaging, your online presence, printed materials, PR activities, sales presentations, sponsorships, trade show appearances and more.”

In other words, if an employer (outside of a direct marketing or PR agency setting) decides to forego the insurmountable task of detangling and delineating the laundry list of titles, salaries and responsibilities that can define both marketing and PR positions, slapping the term Marketing Communications professional on the job ad can open the floodgates for qualified job candidates. However this can have the opposite effect and leave you weeding through resume after resume, in order to find the candidate with the right breakdown of experience in each of those marketing/PR sub-categories. In addition, if you’re looking for a PR Guru or a Marketing Magician, you want to get down to brass tacks in defining your ideal candidate. This is how you weed-out the ‘haves vs. have-nots’. If you want to narrow your focus on experience, narrow your title.

Still confused? Me too. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the Communications beast. Anyone in the services industry knows a communication professional wears many hats and is often pulled in many directions. However, professionals should still be made aware of their place within their organization in order to feel valued. The bottom line is that as communication professionals, we’re all in this together. A communication professional, represents the voice (internal and/or external) of their company, client, product or service. Whether or not they are speaking with or to our publics and stakeholders, everyone that falls under the MarCom umbrella is a key component to meeting their audience’s or client’s needs and to helping them continue along their company’s path of success.

So tell me, where do you fit in?

Camille Thompson is a Marketing Communications Specialist at Peter Basso Associates, Inc. and a PRSA Detroit blog contributor. 

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