strategic communications

Rise of Marketing PR

Forget the old distinctions between marketing and PR and focus on how they are alike — relying on solid research and engaging audiences with informative, relevant and entertaining content.The digital age has profoundly affected the media and, consequently, marketing and public relations. Today there really is no distinction between marketing and PR. 

Some have questioned whether PR has veered into the space of advertising by relying on social media, websites and online newsrooms and bypassing old-fashioned story pitching to gain earned media coverage.

PR professionals, including the new breed of marketing PR professionals, still pitch stories to reporters and editors, but they don’t stop there. Sometimes they don't start there. 

Targeting Your Audience Via Social Media

While social media has become increasingly popular with almost every demographic, there is still a lot of room for zeroing in on the audience you want to reach.

Pinterest has roared into the galaxy of social media superstars as a female favorite. Its online metaphor of boards and pins creates an organized visual bouquet of everything from recipes to architectural designs.

Brands are flocking to Pinterest because of its high degree of audience interaction. People can track boards that interest them without being friends. It's about content as much as relationships.

If you have a product aimed at a female audience, Pinterest is a smart place to be.

Matt Wilson, writing for Ragan.com, describes the success of Major League Baseball's Fan Cave, which has emerged as much more than an inviting New York location to watch baseball games.

On the third day the Fan Cave opened, it held an online contest to see who could pitch a perfect game in MLB 2011. It attracted tons of tweets, Wilson says. Now there is a full-time video crew at the Fan Cave to record celebrity and player drop-ins, which are posted on the Fan Cave website. A contest was held to name cave dwellers that drew 22,000 applicants and whittled down to 50 "finalists" who were asked to campaign for themselves in their respective hometowns.

"It was like having 50 PR firms out there promoting your initiative," a MLB official tells Wilson.

The goal was to interest a younger audience in baseball, and it has worked. MLB says its Fan Cave audience is 17 to 18 years younger than the average fan that goes to games. Just as important, 35 percent of the Fan Cave audience "likes" or shares content, reflecting a high level of engagement compared to other sports leagues.

Smartphone usage is skyrocketing, especially among African-American and Hispanic users. Several research studies indicate minority groups have embraced online shopping through mobile devices at nearly double the rate of the Caucasian population in the United States, offering a clear opportunity for marketers trying to reach those audiences.

Marissa Ellis, writing on the Madame Noire blog, reports "21 percent of African-Americans utilize their phone to engage in online shopping, reading product reviews and maintaining a shopping list, compared to only 13 of white shoppers."

"Don't think the industry hasn't taken notice," Ellis adds.

Delivering Bad News

Stuff happens, and it may fall on your shoulders to let employees or customers know. You need to prepare to deliver the bad news simply, honestly and in a timely way.

Writing for Ragan.com, Christina Miranda says your audience isn't going to like hearing about a price increase, a canceled staff bonus, service cuts or layoffs. "That's why it's called bad news," Miranda says.

A marketing PR professional, Miranda offers five tips for delivering bad news, which we've distilled to three:

1. Say it simply.  Bumbling, pussyfooting or stalling won't work. Prepare to spit out your bad news as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Avoid jargon, legalese and fluff. Don't try to sugar-coat the bad news with "good news." Miranda notes, this will raise your audience's B.S. radar, heighten negative emotions and "trivialize serious news by not treating it with the respect it deserves."

2. Be honest.  Attempts at spin will be transparent to your already bummed out audience. They will respect — and expect — the truth, the whole truth. Your job is to give them the truth, with appropriate detail and context. Allow questions and provide direct answers. Your emotions also need to be honest. An employee who dies on the job or a layoff requires a different emotional response than announcing a price hike or service cuts.

3. Be timely.  The phrase "there is never a good time for bad news" is false. The time to deliver bad news is when it happens. Communication may not always be instantaneous, but it needs to be urgent. The grapevine spreads news, good or bad, quickly, so you can't procrastinate if you want to let your audience in on the bad news before it hears from other sources. Timely communication allows you to tell your side of the story, which is critical to retaining goodwill and loyalty.