Revolutionary Measures

6 differences between PR and marketing

After one of my previous posts on what public relations can (and can’t do), Ann Hawkins of Drive suggested exploring what the differences are between PR and marketing, leading to this article. To begin with, it is important to stress that PR is a marketing discipline, alongside the likes of advertising, direct mail, brochures and digital. So there is inevitably overlap.

As Ann rightly points out this overlap has increased over the last few years, as marketing disciplines have coalesced, but there are still differences between PR and other areas.

laptop with marketing display

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Here are what I think the six main ones are:

1.PR is less guaranteed
Any marketing campaign can fail, with even the biggest of advertising campaigns coming a cropper. This could be down to poor planning, inadequate targeting or simply not having a strong enough creative idea. However, even the most unsuccessful marketing campaign will have a very visible outputs, whether that is a website, a piece of direct mail, or an enormously expensive TV ad. The outputs of PR appear much less substantial – a press release, a conversation with a journalist or influencer, or an email to a stakeholder. So if the campaign fails there is much less to show for it. You don’t have the 10 foot advertising poster to impress the CEO with. PR is much more of an iceberg – there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes to get a campaign up and running, and much less guarantee that it will succeed. PR is not just media relations, but I’ve been in the position of having a journalist write a piece which was dropped from a national newspaper as the news agenda changed and there simply wasn’t space.

2. PR is (or used to be) less measurable
Historically, one major difference between PR and marketing was that most marketing campaigns could easily be measured, whether in terms of leads, sales or other outcomes, unlike PR. This is one area where PR has changed dramatically over the last few years. When I started in PR 25 years ago, measurement was calculated on the physical coverage you received, using Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). Full page article? Find out how much buying the same ad space would cost, multiply it by three (as PR is much more credible than an ad), and you have an impressive figure that shows ROI.

Thankfully, things have moved on, with much greater professionalism. Digital technology enables specific tracking of where people go to after reading an online article for example, and it is now much easier to measure outcomes, not just outputs.

3. PR often involves a gatekeeper
Marketing campaigns normally directly target the audience they are trying to influence. For example, you want people to watch an ad and buy your washing powder or click to sign up to join a service online. In contrast PR is more likely to reach the audience indirectly, through a gatekeeper. This could be journalists/publications in the case of media relations, or other stakeholders such as analysts, consultants or other influencers. So, you need to create a message that not only resonates with the final audience, but also convinces the gatekeeper as well.

4. Marketing is trying to drive direct revenue
According to a post on a PR company’s website, marketing is always linked to revenue goals, while PR is about reputation. To be honest, I’d only partially agree. Some PR is about boosting your reputation, but it has always been about driving leads as well. For example, if you launch a new product press coverage is a crucial part of not just creating awareness but getting people into the sales funnel. However, it is true to say that marketing campaigns tend to be more linked to sales goals, whereas PR can be much wider in its results and targets.

5. PR is more credible
To me, this remains the most important difference between marketing and PR. Even (or especially) in an age of fake news and widespread disinformation, the outputs of PR, such as media coverage are seen as more credible than an advert. This is because it has passed through a gatekeeper meaning it has been verified by a hopefully independent third party before reaching its audience. Yes, there have been plenty of examples of PR being used to support dubious causes or campaigns (take the work of Bell Pottinger in South Africa), but those that clearly cross an ethical line or have no basis in fact are normally discovered and called out. In the case of Bell Pottinger, the resulting scandal brought the whole company down.

6. PR isn’t always visible
One of the key aims of public relations is managing reputation. While this can be a relatively straightforward job of aiming to build a positive profile with key audiences, it also covers crisis management, mitigating (or even avoiding altogether) negative stories. I appreciate that this sounds dubious, and I’m not advocating PR being used to keep bad stuff out of the media. However, we live in a more and more complex world, where it is more common for things to go wrong in some way. Having a crisis management PR strategy is therefore crucial if brands are to react to minimise any reputational damage. That’s something that you can’t really do with other marketing disciplines, although the likes of VW and Facebook have tried, taking out full page adverts explaining how sorry they are for various corporate misdemeanours.

I’m conscious that while I set out to outline clear differences between PR and marketing I’ve ended up with a fair few caveats that show that different disciplines are getting closer in many areas. That’s actually a positive for PR, as it shows how its reach is spreading, not just in marketing but other areas (such as internal communications) and demonstrates its business value. No marketing campaign (or company) can afford to neglect PR, whatever its overall objectives.

April 3, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Talk Talk – how to turn a crisis into a PR disaster

Last week’s announcement from Talk Talk that its website had been hacked and customer details (including bank account information) had potentially been stolen has turned into a disaster for the company. The stock price slumped by over 10% and MPs have called for an inquiry into whether the firm’s failure to encrypt data put customer information at risk.TalkTalk

Could things have been handled differently – and would they have changed the reaction of both the public and the media?

Firstly, it is worth re-stating that Talk Talk has been the victim of a crime. Initial fanciful rumours that the perpetrators were Russian Jihadis now look wide of the mark, with the police instead arresting a 15 year old boy from Northern Ireland, but the fact remains that its site was hacked. Additionally some of the press coverage has been incredibly sensationalist, with lurid stories of customers having their bank accounts cleared out by fraudsters, even though they were not necessarily linked to the hack itself.

However there are two questions that any business involved in crisis management needs to answer – did it meet the expected standards before the incident, and did it then deal with the situation in a way that reassured customers and other stakeholders?

I’d say that the response to both of these is a No. For a start, failure to encrypt customer details (at a time when people like Apple encrypt everything) is a glaring security hole that should have been filled. But as a PR person I’d point out five ways they’ve not managed the crisis well:

1          Telling press before customers
The first thing most customers knew about the hack was when they turned on the news or listened to the radio. The reason given by chief executive Dido Harding for making contact through the media, as opposed to directly speaking to customers, was that the sheer number of subscribers made this impossible. Talk Talk should have done both – customers wanted a direct response rather than just hearing about it on Radio 4.

2          Incomplete information
You can’t blame Talk Talk for initially overstating the scale of the attack – it obviously needed to get the announcement of the hack out as quickly as possible, rather than laboriously go through all its account details to see what had been compromised. And the story about the afore-mentioned Russian Jihadis came from other sources. However it didn’t provide a full picture to its customers early enough. I’m an ex-Talk Talk customer, and left six months ago – yet nowhere on its FAQ did it say anything about whether my details were at risk. Much later on Talk Talk admitted that ex-customer information could also have been hacked, but it demonstrates that the entire response was not well thought through.

3          Failure to stay on top of the story
After its initial apology, the story seemed to be going Talk Talk’s way, with pundits talking about the growing threat of cyber crime, and the company’s clear advice to change passwords being repeated across all media. But then the story changed, with the initial hack being downplayed and the press focusing on the failure to encrypt data. As Jacques de Cock of the London School of Marketing pointed out, it seemed to share its customers’ panic, rather than taking decisive action. The agenda shifted against Talk Talk, positioning it as culpable in its own downfall and not having a handle on what was going on.

4          Poor reputation
As I mentioned, I’m an ex-Talk Talk customer, and I found it a frustrating and unhelpful organisation to deal with. I kept getting regular sales calls, with agents trying to upsell me from my basic package and when I moved home it made me honour a month’s notice period on my contract – even though it said it couldn’t provide service at my new address. The impression I got was of an organisation that didn’t care about its customers, except for the money it could make from them, and that cut corners where it could to save a pound or two. Indeed I remember hearing Dido Harding on the Media Show on Radio 4, likening the firm to a clapped-out car being driven over the speed limit down the motorway, hanging onto the competition. Very few telecoms firms deliver good customer service, but I’m convinced Talk Talk’s poor reputation meant that commentators and customers automatically assumed the worst had happened.

5          Lack of empathy
Compounding customer annoyance, Talk Talk yesterday said that it would charge a termination fee to any customers looking to leave, unless they could prove that money had been stolen from their accounts due to the hack. Now, Talk Talk is obviously a business, and releasing all its customers from their contractual obligations could cause a huge dent in revenues – particularly given how badly the crisis has been handled. But the way the message has been delivered smacks of weakness and arrogance – it is almost as if it believes that customers would seize any excuse to leave, yet are stupid enough to forget the whole hack happened when it comes to contract renewal time. The company should have worked out some sort of half way house, allowing customers to shorten contracts or pay a reduced termination fee as a goodwill gesture. It may have cost it more in the short term, but would have been a valuable first step in rebuilding the company’s reputation – and any good publicity would be welcome at this stage in the process.

Handling a crisis in today’s real-time world is difficult. The combination of continuous news, social media and a desire for instant scapegoats means it is impossible to control the story in the same way as in the past. However Talk Talk should have done better – and is now facing the prospect of real damage to its reputation and bottom line by failing to take decisive action or appearing to care about its customers. Every company should take note and update crisis management plans so that they don’t fall into the same trap.

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments