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Somewhere along the line, a strange distinction grew up between PR and marketing. Each side tends to hold its own set of not-very-realistic stereotypes about the other. (I won’t make enemies by describing them here.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard PR pros say "That’s just marketing," and marketers say "That’s just PR."
Anyone who’s read this blog for a bit can probably guess where I stand. The label isn’t very important–what matters are communication and relationships. The old message, market and medium have been replaced by conversation, community and connection. And for that new work, the title on your business card can be pretty arbitrary.
Today Chris Brogan asks if social media is better suited to PR or to marketing. PR would seem to have the advantage here–it’s public relations after all. And PR is all about fast reaction times–being able to think on your feet, communicate clearly (especially in a crisis) and keep your message from getting muddied in an environment you don’t control.
As Dr. Seuss said, "Except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t."
Where PR gets it wrong
Here are the mistakes I see a lot of PR pros make again and again with social media:
- They pitch without knowing who they’re pitching to.
- They write like corporate robots.
- Their messages are so spun you could knit socks out of them.
- They’re stuck thinking in terms of media relations, instead of genuinely public relations.
- They’re still pissed off when bloggers tell them traditional media is dead.
I’ll get the last one out of the way. Traditional media is not dead, and it just makes bloggers and social media types look dumb when we say it is. Traditional media is going through a radical and painful metamorphosis, and when it’s done it will probably look a lot more like social media. But to pretend that most people don’t want established authorities to digest their information for them is to grossly overestimate the majority of the population. Most people don’t want to be their own citizen journalists–they just want someone to tell them what the hell is going on.
So are PR professionals incapable of learning new habits? That would be a stupid thing to say or to believe, and I don’t. But PR shops are going to need a lot of guts and a lot of agility to shake off the habits and practices that define much of their industry. The ones who do are going to make some exciting stuff happen. In the land of the clueless, the one-clued man is king.
Where marketing gets it wrong
So if PR pros face some hurdles, where do the marketers go wrong?
There’s one (really big) bullet for this one: Trying to keep control of the brand.
There’s a reason marketing projects are called campaigns–the organization and cohesion are nothing short of military. 400 pages of brand standards. Approved colors and fonts and design elements predefined. The definition and redefinition of the target.
Millions of dollars’ worth of advertising materials are thrown away every year because the color of a brochure background is a little off. Marketers are used to being able to completely control their message within the confines of the medium they choose, whether it’s a 30-second TV spot, a billboard or a magazine ad.
In other words, a good marketer tends to be a colossal control freak. They’re not used to (as any decent PR pro is) creating something that’s designed to be picked up and used in all kinds of contexts without losing the message.
Social media sucks for control freaks. People take your stuff and mash it up in all kinds of ways you can’t predict. They get tattoos of your logo on rude parts of their body. They post videos that show your product being destroyed in interesting and innovative ways. They do what they want with your message, and you can’t do anything about it.
Great advertising and marketing minds have always known that customers don’t give a rat’s ass about us, the consumer only cares about himself. That’s one thing when you’re making an ad targeted to that customer, and another when you’re watching your brand get soaked in gasoline and lit on fire on YouTube.
On the other hand, marketing as a discipline has a big advantage with social media. Marketing includes lots of creative people who can make cool stuff, and cool stuff gets talked about. Companies like Apple and Volkswagon are very smart about making ads that are worth passing around. And the "creatives," in agency jargon, are themselves good coolhunters–when encouraged to do what they find interesting, they have a good instinct for what will appeal to the social media crowd.
What’s actually new
Traditional PR and marketing relied on one-way conversations. PR pros shaped media coverage that was delivered to readers or viewers. Marketing pros created advertising that was delivered to consumers. The messages were broadcast out and the results were measured, but no one expected to hear much from the other side of the conversation.
Today the conversation isn’t one-way or even two-way, it’s billion-to-billion-way. There are an infinite number of permutations, and no way to control the message no matter how big you are.
Good PR pros and marketers have a lot of transferable skills to new social media. They know how to come up with a message that’s worth repeating. They know the difference between a good story and a boring one. They have a high tolerance for shit hitting the fan and usually have good skills to deflect/handle it when it does.
For the increasing number of PR/marketing folks who get it, it doesn’t matter if you call it new marketing or PR 2.0: it’s the same work and there’s going to be a lot of it to go around.
The new social media pro will combine what’s smart about PR with what’s smart about marketing. So what do we call this person? Director of Hanging Around Engaging in Conversations? Remarkable Communicationalist? Tortipotamus? Drop me a comment with your own brilliant suggestion.