Public Relations. What’s in a name?

My period of unemployment (the novelty of which is starting to wear thin) has meant I’ve been able to pay a bit more attention to what’s happening on the professional front. And, I have to say, I’m a bit worried.

I feel like Dante at the start of Inferno, when he says:

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”

(He assumes a biblical lifespan of three score and ten – the age the (C)IPR will be in 2018. Hm.)

Last Monday, the CIPR hosted a debate with CIM at the Houses of Parliament: “Marketing has little part to play in rebuilding trust in businesses, charities or public institutions”. The motion was heavily defeated, possibly because there were many more marketeers in the room than there were PRs. You can read about the proceedings from Lisa Jones at Spottydog Communications and from Dr Jon White, one of the proposers, via Influence.

But why were we having this debate at all?

As evidenced by some of the statements reported from the debate, PR will always be viewed by marketeers as ‘promotion’ in the four Ps of the marketing mix. (Is that the same as ‘communication’ in the four Cs? Or in the 7Cs. What?) ‘Promotion’ denigrates much of the work of public relations. If public relations = promotion, what is it I do when I write reactive media statements?

Is marketing so dismissive of public relations that it hasn’t noticed we don’t live in the 1960s any more?

Marketing does indeed have little part to play in rebuilding trust. Dr Jon referred to “one speaker suggesting that only marketing could respond to people’s needs and wishes” – give the people what they want? Really? At any cost? When things go wrong, it’s not the marketing talent that swings in to action, or goes on air to salvage the organisation’s reputation. Marketing might persuade me to buy a Polo or Golf, but the marketing team wouldn’t have a clue how to respond to the emissions scandal – it’s not their job, it’s mine. Sometimes it’s called ‘corporate communications’, to distinguish it from the marketing / selling sort, but it’s still about the management of reputation. And only public relations does that.

Redefinition

I’m reminded a bit of party politics. Instead of Whigs, Tories, Liberals, Socialists, Ukippers, Communists, Labour, New Labour and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party fighting for the same voters and frequently overlapping in their political aims, we have Marketing and Public Relations broken down in to things such as direct marketing, social media, public affairs, media relations, investor relations, marcomms, advertising, branding, sales, display advertising. You could pick up all of those terms and redistribute them to form any communications grouping you like, depending on where you work and what you’re doing at the time.

Perhaps we’re going about this the wrong way.

What is ‘communication’? And, having read the definition, whose work does it sound most like: advertising? Marketing? Public Relations?

I argued in my Chartership paper that public relations isn’t limited to B2B or B2C activities – everything we do as organisations or individuals affects our reputation and standing. Assuming we want a good reputation and high standing, we engage in public relations all the time. Not marketing, public relations.

I engage in public relations and the management of my reputation every time I post something on this site. Some of those posts are marketing – I’d like a job, I’d have liked a few more votes in the election – but they are clearly a subset of my posts as a whole. And in writing, I am communicating.

So: is the act of communicating really the act of engaging in public relations activity?

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