Public relations is changing. Isn’t it?

Communications. Marketing. Public relations. If you are reading this, the chances are you either work in a job related to one of these subjects or on a regular basis you deal with someone who does.

As common as these terms are, there is often a sense that it is hard to pinpoint exactly how, if at all, they differ from each other. A sense which is only exacerbated by the feeling that the industry landscape continues to change apace.

For example, take a minute and try to define what each of those terms mean to you. Easy? Now compare that to what the answer would have been five, ten or 15 years ago. Although the principles have remained broadly the same for each, your approach should be markedly different now.
Or should it?

In the inaugural B2B PR Agencies Benchmarking Survey and report by B2B Marketing magazine a huge 96% of industry respondents agreed that Public Relations (PR) is now more mixed in with marketing than it used to be.

In reality, traditional media and public relations has been a core part of a solid integrated marketing communications strategy for many years. So has anything really changed?

As part of the survey, respondents were also asked which activities they were doing more of now compared to five years ago. The most prevalent answer was social media, which was again selected by 96%. Almost two thirds (61%) also highlighted video content, 52% chose written content followed by search engine optimisation (39%) and then graphic design (22%).

Digital marketing has also greatly increased the speed, relevancy and overall reach potential of your campaigns. Messages can be targeted with a high degree of focus to very specific group relatively cheaply. This tallies with the results of the survey; when asked how clients’ prefer to measure the success of their public relations, share of voice was the most popular selection with 35% and ‘sales leads generated’ was second with 17%.

The changes that the marketing and communications industries have experienced therefore tend to relate to the digital arena, even in B2B communications. To this end, the old boundaries between what is PR and what is marketing have been worn down and the lines even more blurred than they have ever been before.

To add confusion to injury, new buzz concepts such as ‘content marketing' have recently entered the modern professionals’ vocabulary, which further blend the two together. Or at the very least do nothing to make any distinction between the two. Crafted articles sold into various publications no longer simply sit under PR and an online campaign can no longer necessarily be categorised as marketing. And that’s before we even start thinking about where some forms of advertising and journalism fit into the traditional mix.

Negotiating this heady mix of options and message creation is a challenge for anyone, for those companies without an in-house marketing team or solid marketing advice to hand it is becoming something of a commercial minefield.

At its heart, marketing and PR actually haven’t changed at all. Ever. What remains steadfast is that creativity and identity help in building loyalty and emotion from your audience towards your brand. The best marketing, whether B2C or B2B, is designed to elicit a particular behavior response from your customers and stakeholders. Whether it’s encouraging you to buy, listen, share or click, your core marketing messages should be designed to make someone think or do something.

What has changed is understanding. With so much information about your customers, how they buy, when they buy, what they think they want, not to mention what they don’t yet know they want, available to you. Plus the almost infinite number of marketing channels now available, what a business can’t afford to do is to not understand where your product, service or brand fits into its overall market. As well as where it is positioned in the minds of your active and potential customers. If you don’t, no doubt your competitors will.

Just about anyone can have a brand name and send a press release out into the world wide ether once a month, but what does this actually achieve for you and your company? What and how do you want to measure in marketing terms? Should you be using social media? Will advertising bring you sales or will it simply be ignored? Does your brand hold the necessary gravitas for your customers to even want to buy from you in the first place? If not, why not?

In today’s world, a strategic marketing communications strategy has become a core part of any successful business plan. It has to be something that transcends traditional concepts and knits together the elements of your brand and business plan together in order to magnify your reach and impact.

Forget defining what marketing, PR or communications are. Instead, try defining what your company means to its stakeholders and customers. Ask yourself whether you are getting the right messages to the right people all of the time.

Still not sure? If only I knew a company that could help…

Fifth Ring were marked fifth in B2B Marketing's Top 20 PR B2B agencies league table