THANKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA, PR IS PLAYING AN INCREASINGLY
IMPORTANT ROLE IN MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS NEW INFLUENCE
BY MATTHEW SCHWARTZ
As social media moves toward center stage in mar- keters’ efforts to get their messages out, senior management is broadening its mandate among public relations
executives to include more strategic thinking in marketing communications.
It’s a major shift from just a few years ago when some marketers looked on PR as purely tactical: Announce a new
product or service, knock out a press release, work the wire
services and follow up with media reps in the hope of landing some coverage.
Such tactics are still integral to any marketing campaign, of
course. But in a Web 2.0 world, cultivating relationships with
consumers now requires an organic approach, which is built
into the DNA of PR. Indeed, the core strengths of public relations—the ability to tell a story and spark conversation—
play into the nature of such social media as blogs, Facebook,
Twitter, You Tube and forums.
With the Web’s relatively low cost of entry, marketers are
giving PR pros more leeway to experiment with new models
of communication to unlock the value of social media.
“In PR, you certainly do not control a reporter or analyst;
but you must know how to gain trust, build relationships and
shape views and opinions with credibility,” says Jon Iwata, senior VP-marketing & communications at IBM. “The world of
social media operates by similar rules and norms.”
A 25-year IBM veteran who cut his teeth on traditional
public relations, Mr. Iwata took on his current role in July
2008 when IBM integrated its marketing, communications
and corporate social responsibility functions into one global
unit. The unit encompasses marketing strategy, market insight, demand generation for IBM products and services,
communications, corporate affairs, work force enablement
and brand stewardship.
“Web 2.0, globalization and the changing expectations of
stakeholders are compelling us to develop new capabilities
and methods,” Mr. Iwata says. “I really do believe a new profession—one that draws upon core expertise in both marketing and PR but which doesn’t exist in either one
Call it a blending of public relations and marketing. Top
brands are following suit by putting public relations and
communications executives on an equal footing with their
advertising and marketing colleagues when it comes to creating campaigns and measuring their returns.
“No marketing discipline can operate in a vacuum any-
more,” says Gary Stockman, CEO of public relations agency
Porter Novelli, whose clients include megabrands Hewlett-Packard and Procter & Gamble. “PR, in many respects,
takes the most holistic approach to the brand and reputation management.”
He adds that marketers are looking for the best strategies.
“Companies are insisting that marketing communications
partners integrate to find solutions that work,” Mr. Stockman
says. “There’s a requirement to adopt a multifaceted approach
to brand management.”
nications and PR are ‘cohabitating’ with creative, our Web sites
and in-store merchandising. Plans are much more aligned,
and ideas are more innovative as we work together.”
For example, public relations played a key role in the marketing campaign for Sony’s VAIO P-series notebook, which
debuted during New York’s Fashion Week last winter. To highlight the sleek, 1.4-pound PC, Sony stopped traffic in New
York’s Grand Central Terminal. Ten “live mannequins” stood
frozen, armed with the VAIO P, as commuters stopped to see
the mannequins and check out their new notebooks.
PR supported the campaign with a separate blog, You Tube
channel (featuring 12 videos) and a Flickr page that captured
more than 38,000 views. The campaign also got exposure on
CBS’ “Early Show,” NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good
Morning America.” Sony’s “Grand Central Station” You Tube video got more
than 22,000 views. Overall, the campaign garnered more than 30 million
impressions on blogs, Web sites, magazines, newspapers and broadcast-news channels.
“The majority of what was involved
in the campaign was taking what PR
had been doing in isolation in the past
and now having all of those tools work
holistically in executing the campaign
from start to finish,” Mr. Redsun says.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a
good marketer who hasn’t combined
PR and marketing communications all
in one. Since the end user only sees one
brand, we need to be consistent at all
The newfound appreciation among
marketers for public relations reflects
larger trends in communications
spending, as traditional media vehicles
lose their luster.
PR and word-of-mouth marketing
spending are expected to increase 4.9
percent this year, to $5.45 billion, but grow at a 9. 2 percent
compound annual growth rate from 2008 through 2013, according to the Communications Industry Forecast released
in August by private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson.
Traditional public relations spending will increase 2. 6 per-
BLURRINESS CAN BE GOOD
Phil Juliano, VP-global brand management and corporate
communications at Novell, agrees. “Blurriness [between PR
and marketing] is a good thing,” Mr.
Juliano says. “It’s when you have silos
that you run into problems. When you
have more overlap between PR and
other marketing disciplines, it’s easier
to promote the same message.”
Mr. Juliano says Novell has made
“excellent strides” in the last few years
in better aligning public relations with
the company’s other marketing channels. Novell’s public relations execs
now work closely with corporate advertising and marketing as well as IT
solutions, he says. While Novell’s PR
budget has remained relatively flat in
the last year, the company is taking
pains to make its PR dollars work
more effectively—particularly with regard to social media.
For instance, Mr. Juliano said Novell’s public relations team in just the
last year has substantially increased the
amount of time it devotes to tracking
the blogosphere. “They’re engaging
consumers with conversation,” he says.
“It’s better integration between external and internal, and that’s where the value of PR is.”
Consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. is also turning
more to public relations. “We’re using PR much differently,
where the work starts from the very beginning,” says Stuart
Redsun, senior VP-marketing for Sony. “Folks from commu-
Stuart Redsun, Sony
Anne McCarthy, Western Union