Guest post: PR should be the boss of marketing

In this provocative guest posting, Craig Pearce argues that PR should lead marketing, rather than the other way round.

Public relations is a superior business discipline to marketing and it makes sense for the latter discipline to report to the former within organisations.  

 The main reason for this is that public relations is dedicated to the entire, holistic relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders. It is sensitive to all the factors that impact on the nature of that relationship. These could include:

  • the qualities/characteristics of products or services
  • regulatory and legal issues
  • the ‘eco-balance’ of relationships between a diversity of stakeholders.

Marketing, on the other hand, is focused on developing and selling products and services to make a profit for organisations. Its remit is much narrower and is less concerned with the bigger reputational picture.

A stronger focus on marketing than public relations/reputation management puts organisations at a huge risk. The lure of the fast buck is the Holy Grail. In the longer term, this can lead to compromised relationships with any number of stakeholders.

Public relations is just as driven by business imperatives as marketing. Inherently, however, it is playing a bigger game. Without good stakeholder relationships an organisation will not only fail to achieve its profit objectives, it will have trouble simply existing. A case in point is the Australian Wheat Board, which failed to listen to good public relations advice whilst prioritising profit.

Ethics plays a much more important role in public relations than it does in marketing, too. Look at fast food and alcopops. Marketers invented these products and have been reported any number of times for promoting them unethically. Two contexts are junk food advertising aimed at children and encouraging minors to drink alcohol.

Social responsibility is not one of marketers’ highest priorities…

Another important strategic difference between public relations and marketing is the way both ‘communicate’ with organisational stakeholders. 

On the one hand, marketers talk with stakeholders/customers-potential customers to help them develop products and services that will sell. It is a one-dimensional communication relationship.

Public relations, on the other hand, listens to stakeholders to hear what they have to say about the organisation as a whole. The purpose of gaining this information is to advise the organisation how it can not only communicate more effectively with the stakeholders, but how it may evolve itself so it more closely meets its stakeholder needs.

The public relations version of communication, then, is more rounded and more profound. It is about exchanging information for a more balanced, mutually beneficial relationship.

Without good public relations, no matter what the potency of its marketing, an organisation will struggle to meet its organisational objectives.

Craig Pearce is a freelance public relations professional. You can see his blog at www.craigpearce.info.


Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes adds: We welcome guest postings from all directions, and I’m happy to post thought-provoking pieces regardless of whether I agree with them, so long as they are interestingly argued. This is an example of that.

My view is that (although there are plenty of exceptions), PR and marketing are both a means to an end – to help companies profitably sell stuff to punters. Marketing is closer to that end than PR.


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