No, this isn’t another post analyzing and rehashing the details and controversy surrounding Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke. I think we can all agree that it’s time to move on to something else – anything else. The blurred lines I’m talking about are the lines between public relations, marketing, advertising and digital media. Just googling the phrase “lines between public relations” brings up 273 million choices and just the first page alone offers a selection of articles asking the same question.
First, there is the line between public relations and advertising. PR Daily ran an op-ed suggesting that “the PR industry today looks an awful lot like advertising” because modern day PR practitioners no longer need third-party validation – they can bypass traditional media and go straight to the source.
Then there is the line between public relations and marketing. Frank Strong from Sword and the Script penned a piece suggesting that although their tactics are different, marketing is actually becoming more like PR by seeking third-party credibility in form of link-building and other SEO strategies.
Then you have social media – where the hell does that fit in? Is it a PR function, a marketing strategy, advertising or something else entirely? Look at what Oreo did during the Superbowl. PR bloggers everywhere praised Oreo for their brilliant strategy, but that moment of brilliance actually came from a digital marketing firm – not the PR department – a firm that was then named a 2013 best place to work by AdAge. Can the lines get any more blurry?
For decades, PR execs have struggled to have their voices heard and to earn a seat at the table, seats that their advertising and marketing colleagues had long since secured. And after all that, now advertising and marketing wants to act more like public relations because the advent of social media and the decline of traditional media has changed the way audiences receive messages and perceive brands.
Traditional advertising and marketing strategies were a one-way communication method where the brand’s image and message was pushed onto consumers against their will. Social media turned those channels around and allowed the audiences to give unfettered, and initially in many circles, unwelcomed feedback about those same products and services. This change made it imperative that advertising and marketing departments rethink their strategies and adopt new methods for fostering trust, strengthening relationships and building their brands. And there, waiting in the wings like always, were the public relations professionals who already understood the importance of communicating and understanding their audiences.
Now the lines are blurred more than ever before with ambiguous terms like “content marketing” and “thought leadership” and “social media marketing” – terms that could easily apply to PR, marketing or advertising. The good news is that now we are have secured our seat at the table and people are listening, but which department is really calling the shots now? Our titles are already becoming more broad as a result, titles like Data Storyteller, Mobile Marketing Jedi or Truth Engineer. It might not be long before there are no lines at all instead of the blurred lines of today.