The Lines Are Blurring

The lines between public relations, marketing and advertising are blurring.

This likely won’t be news to anyone who has followed this space for a while, or who works in the agency business, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot recently.

A few things spurred this thinking:

1. We recently pitched a potential client with not just a public relations and social media plan, but also with a creative, branding and guerilla marketing plan. It makes sense – we have people and skills for it – but I did do a double-take during the preparation. Once I’d consciously realized the shift, it made me stop and think.

2. Mitch Joel, who I’ve always thought of as a digital marketer, wrote a post about how to pitch journalists and referred to himself as “…a PR professional since the late eighties” in the comments.

3. Listening to an episode of Marketing Over Coffee featuring Eric Schwartzman, Schwartzman listed the following three topics as a PR practitioner’s top priorities:

  • Your company’s website (which converts awareness to action)
  • Email campaigns (because email has such a high rate of adoption)
  • Search engine optimization (because people turn to search engines to find their information)

People have written about this many times before; however it’s been on my mind more than usual recently. It’s indicative of a fundamental shift that communication-related disciplines are undergoing as digital tools and a changing media landscape mould the environment in which we work. It’s something that more clients seem to be asking for.

It’s also part of the reason that I believe pure-play agencies, whether they focus on social media, public relations or any other discipline, need to adapt and evolve by incorporating other disciplines in their work in order to survive.

Have you noticed this shift? Do you find yourself pitching for – or doing – work that you might have considered outside your discipline five years ago?

20 Responses toThe Lines Are Blurring

  • Thanks for the nod. By the way, iPressroom provides an integrated technology platform that gives pure plays the infrastructure they need to offer a portfolio on online PR services without adding any staff. Our primary offering is our online newsrooms offering.

  • I’m definitely seeing a movement toward integration. As a PR practitioner, I’m seeing many of my clients’ needs diversifying, and in turn, that means I need to adapt.

    Part of me thinks this is great – I never thought having PR, marketing, customer service, etc. operating in silos was a particularly effective strategy. By building on strengths of others, great campaigns come forth.

    On the other hand, it can be intimidating. The learning curve is steep (never thought I’d need to understand SEO) – but I think it’s well worth it in the long run, both for practitioners and their clients.


  • Hi Dave,

    Great post. One of the courses for my MPC was ‘Advertising, Marketing and Publicity’ and we used a great book called ‘IMC: Integrated Marketing Communication’.

    IMC is a management tool that combines all aspects of marketing communication under the same umbrella to ‘bridge the space between the silos’ of an organization. Advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and direct marketing work together and collaborate on ideas and initiatives to create a unified brand identity.

    While I don’t think all these marketing communication departments always need be integrated or combined, I think it’s very important that they have meetings and engage in dialogue rather than ignoring each other.


  • Absolutely. In my experience, clients do not always see clear boundaries between traditional public relations, marketing and web strategy. I have been asked to run branding workshops and am increasingly working with clients on PR development, marketing, and web design strategy – often simultaneously. IMO, the integrated/blurred lines approach is here to stay.

  • Loved this post. It’s always come more naturally to me to reach out to disciplines around me–whatever the project is, the end result is usually much more creative, strategic, and effective. Multiple ways and scales of thinking and working=success.

  • The blurring of lines between PR, marketing and advertising is certainly happening, and I would add customer service to that mix, as Todd Defren pointed out on his blog earlier in the week.

    Although a lot of this is caused by the fact that tools and strategies are becoming more integrated across those disciplines, I think some of it also has to do with shrinking budgets. Companies aren’t able to spend as much on these areas as they previously did, so they’re looking to combine and integrate traditional and digital strategies to get more bang for their buck.

  • I think without a question some of what the company I work for considers core would have been considered outside of scope 5 years ago, but I do think 5 years ago is a really long scope in terms of the impact of Social Media platforms. Five years ago Facebook was a thing college kids were just adopting in very early use, myspace was just an emerging idea in action, Twitter was not even an idea yet.

    I think the biggest difference for any marketer is the ability to embrace that the game has changed and their is no longer an ad message come love us. The conversation is contiuous, the ad message is come see us, and almost immediately evolves into help us make our services better for you based on customer needs and response.

  • Without a doubt, Dave. From a Corporate Comm. standpoint, most organizations have a PR team that’s managed by the Marketing team, and this makes for definite blur. I know that in my case, I find myself doing a lot of promotional work internally that, more often than not, is deemed a “marketing effort” by senior leadership; and I’m fine with that. I’ve also considered myself a student of all three disciplines (marketing, PR and advertising, that is); after all, they all have a communications back bone.
    I think contemporary PR folks are less concerned about the divide and concentrated on how to leap creatively into new areas.

  • You should check out the work of Dr Jim Hutton, who has a great Venn diagram which shows where there is overlap between PR and marketing – and critically, where there are differences.

    We shouldn’t forget that marketing is more than marcomms and PR is more than publicity. So although it is vital that the two functions work together, merging carries dangers that the independent strengths of each could get lost.

    Advertising is simply a tool which can be used for either marketing or PR purposes – or even HR is you think of job recruitment ads.

    I suppose a really great advertising concept or idea can drive and position an organisation, but this is very rare IMHO these days.

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