The Next Big Merger – Public Relations and Marketing

Posted by on September 7, 2018

by Marcia Simon, APR

You could call it a collision course – or a logical evolution of the Public Relations (PR) trade, which has always been misunderstood to varying degrees.

At the core of any PR practice is great writing and compelling storytelling that has the ability to touch the heart and influence thought. The old perception is that public relations is synonymous with media relations, but that’s only part of the package.

With the advent of social media and inbound marketing (driving traffic to a website), public relations professionals have become adept at SEO-focused writing, but who owns message development?

In the case of owned media (broadly defined as website, blogs and email marketing for which the client can totally control the message), PR professionals jumped the boundaries. Social media, which begins as owned media, requires a new level of strategic thinking, too, because you also need to own the conversation through community monitoring and engagement for important customer relationships.

To clarify:

Earned Media – news coverage and editorial placement that does not have a price tag; the old-school, limited perceived PR function of press release/news story; plus creative promotion and ideas that spark editorial and community interest and coverage

Owned Media – communication platforms over which the company has complete control, such as website, blog, email and, to a large extent, social media. Content, Content, Content.

Paid Media – any placement that requires a fee, such as TV, radio or print ads, paid bloggers and influencers with large followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other digital communities.

While Public Relations used to work solely in the Earned Media category, this is no longer true. Whether writing branded content or working with influencers, today’s PR professional operates fluently in the social media landscape. One gray area where PR and Marketing play a perpetual tug-of-war is with budgets for paid influencers.

The top-tier “traditional journalists” are very influential and will never charge a fee due to ethical considerations. On the other hand, social media influencers often build their social followings to tap advertisers for paid placement. This begs the question, “Will public relations professionals take on the role of media buyer as the shift continues toward influencer marketing and away from hard advertising and earned media?

More than ever before, the lines between Advertising, Marketing and PR are gray and blurry, and the labels that define these functions are fading.

Public Relations futurists

As companies rely less on earned media and more on owned media as a communication strategy, Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School of the University of Southern California, in a recent presentation for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), identified the top three trending roles of PR as:

  1. Digital Storytelling
  2. Social listening
  3. Social purpose

Cook says that companies now hire PR professionals not so much for media relations, but for strategic and creative insight in terms of new ideas and real communication strategies. He says the most valuable services PR professionals now provide are:

  1. Strategic planning
  2. Writing
  3. Multimedia content development
  4. Media relations

Where are we going with this?

Branded content and influencer marketing are becoming a larger part of the Public Relations portfolio of services. Choosing a PR professional who understands the evolution of this profession – and has the capabilities to effectively develop and implement this type of strategy – is vital to success.

While that gray area between Paid, Earned and Owned media dissipates and PR and Marketing begin to merge their specialties, the most important aspect continues to be Truth. Advertisers have developed a reputation to exaggerate at times, but those of us in the public relations profession pride ourselves on always communicating with accuracy and truth. Integrity stands at the highest pillar of trust with an audience (whether a journalist, consumer or B2B partner.)

Trust is built over time and can be lost in a heartbeat.

Trust is perhaps the greatest reason, amid today’s digital landscape, to keep a Public Relations professional – who has always been focused on relationship building – as a key member of a company’s communication team.

Marcia Simon, APR, a 20+ year veteran of the Public Relations profession, is principal of MSE Public Relations. Contact Marcia at, Twitter @marciasimon, or email