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How Public Relations Is Earning Its Place in Today's Environment

PR Has Gone Relatively Unrecognized, Too Often An Afterthought In Marketing. But Not In Today's Environment.


Public relations has always played its part in the marketing mix, even if it was added to plans late and rarely recognized like other disciplines. But the emergence of skippable, blockable, opt-out-able advertising, not to mention ever-more integrated campaigns, means PR can suddenly demand more than a supporting role—and maybe even take center stage.

H&R Block Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Collins said advertising may still be dominant, but PR is rising. "We are now spending more on PR, especially around our cause-marketing program on improving teen financial literacy, Dollars & Sense," she said. "We're also doing more PR around our partnership with the NBA and social media, for example."

Edelman, the largest independent PR agency, is "getting not just a seat at the table, we're getting half the table," said Jackie Cooper, global chair-creative strategy at the firm.

Where PR used to be tacked onto a campaign after the creative was finished, Edelman is now working with brands and advertising agencies from the very beginning. The agency has been working hand-in-hand with Adobe's creative teams, for example, from the start of the creative process to build digital activations for the software company's creative products. Edelman won the Gold PR Lion in 2015 at Cannes for its work on the Adobe Photoshop "Murder Mystery" campaign.

Rising fortunes for PR, however, don't always mean agencies in other disciplines understand how to work with their PR partners.

Edelman neither wants to replicate an ad agency nor go back to being the PR agency it was in the past. It is building a new marketing communications agency that is "earned-centric and social by design," according to Ms. Cooper. The agency is also focused on figuring out new ways to measure the return on investment from its campaigns.
Even though many agencies are adding new capabilities to try to create one-stop shops, Mr. Diamond said the smart firms will primarily focus on what they know best.
"I don't see a world where marketing gets so blurred that everyone will be experts in in-store, out-of-home, TV, radio, print and PR," he said. "I see a world of specialists who can build on each other and exploit an idea by bringing those skills together and having inherent knowledge of each space."

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