Public Relations and Advertising Integration: Get on Board with the Inevitable


Karen Russell, my friend at the University of Georgia and one of the field’s leading thinkers and bloggers, recently reported on a conference at UGA for undergrad public relations and advertising students.

The takeaways from her overview for me where that the professionals on the panel spoke about increased integration between PR and advertising and the importance of content — which naturally by its very definition necessitates integration. As one panelist suggested, “we’re in the content business.”

My colleague Bill Sledzik wrote eloquently about content marketing in a recent blog post after attending the Content Marketing World conference, then followed it with the notion of how many journalism schools could be rejiggered as “storytelling schools” to better explain what “media” means in this technology/innovation age.

The fact that really smart people like Karen and Bill are thinking about content, storytelling, and integration supports (in my mind) my belief that public relations is going to become even more important in the future for organizational success (of course, that isn’t news to those of us who have worked in the profession or taught). At the same time, though, my gut tells me that the field must morph or meld with its brethren in ad, marketing, and other fields to become something fresh and new without the baggage of the “public relations” nomenclature.

As Bill outlines, this is going to take some really innovative and open thinking on the part of educators who will be forced to overhaul undergraduate and graduate curricula. Truthfully, though, I am not convinced that the entrenched power structures at most universities will support such dramatic change. Most journalism schools are run by the traditional powers that have run them from the beginning — journalists or media leaders. And, despite public relations’ growth worldwide as a major or sequence, there is still the view among many of these leaders that the field is an weak, derivative offshoot.

While some may see the previous sentence as harsh, it does not even speak to the way business leaders and/or educators think about “PR.” That’s why “Marketing” is a major in business schools and not “Public Relations,” even though most marketers are doing communications and/or PR-based work. As Bill has written, “Marketing” is a “guy major” versus “PR” as the opposite (and this was back in 2008!). Here’s my take on the chasm between business an PR from an educational perspective.

The secondary challenge I see in this further integration is that scholars probably won’t be too eager to jump into the fray — tenure and hiring decisions are also too entrenched in old ways of doing things — even though some scholars are making the connection. When I talk about the idea of integration among graduate students, they pick up on it right away, so perhaps as the next generation of scholars picks up where we leave off, they will be attracted to researching integration, since it seems like their natural mode of thinking.

The “inevitability” I reference in the title of this think-piece seems rather apparent to me, so I would enjoy reading conflicting or alternative views on the subject.



(photo courtesy of: flikr/Alex Osterwalder)

3 Responses to “Public Relations and Advertising Integration: Get on Board with the Inevitable”

  1. Bill Sledzik says:

    Your post captures my thoughts precisely, Bob. But I suspect the gnashing of teeth will continue among the PR purists. It’s time to let it go and to unite under one banner. I’m still not crazy about the “marketing” title, but it would appear that’s who gets naming rights here.

    This new model also raises questions about where, within the academy, to place this new strategic communication discipline. I haven’t solved that one yet.

    As you know, I was a longtime opponent of integrated marketing until a few years ago. The explosion of the social web — combined with data mining and precision message targeting — makes this more than inevitable. It’s fait accompli.

  2. Blair Boone says:

    No surprise I don’t have a problem with integration, since I’m a career-long ad guy. As a career-long writer, I also agree completely we’re in the content business. I’ll demur on the title “marketing,” as it’s not the most popular moniker among advertising folks, especially creatives.

    I’ll suggest only one thing: when we talk about being in the content business, we need to make clear we are content creators, not content managers. Sure, we manage content as well, but first it has to be created. Messages have to be developed and presented clearly, concisely, accurately and effectively.

    The ability to create the right message for the right situation is what sets us apart from everyone else.

    The way to make sure everyone understands and values that unique contribution is to train ourselves and everyone in our business to create those effective messages.

  3. Maripat Blankenheim says:

    As Bill knows, I’ve also been slow to approve the public relations and advertising merger, primarily because I’m not yet convinced this marriage is inevitable. Dating, yes. A little heavy petting in the backseat, maybe. But not marriage. I think it’s still important to maintain the character and reputation of public relations as a critical component of the mix, which also includes marketing and advertising. Losing sight of those distinctions becomes a slippery slope that may eventually degrade the profession and its activities. Denying it’s importance in search of greater acceptance is part of that degradation.

    I bristled at “the baggage of the public relations nomenclature” reference. Let’s not become our own worst enemy is this menage a trois with marketing and advertising by losing our professional identity. That’s how feminisim got to be a four-letter word.

    Nonetheless, great discussion of the issues that matter.

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