Tension and Competition between Marketing and Communications

From time to time practioners in the field of Marketing and Communications get into a debate about the differences and more importantly which takes prominence in an organization. First in order to clarify things, the term Communications is somewhat of a misnomer. The field of endeavor is actually called Public Relations but during the eighties Public Relations became somewhat pejorative and fell out of favour and public relations organizations especially in government and nonprofit sector started calling what they do Communications .

There’s always been some degree of tension and competition between public relations and marketing people, especially when it came to questions of which discipline ought to be dominant or which contributed more to their parent organization’s well-being. They also compete for scarce internal resources and for public attention. Some organizations used only one of these disciplines. Others use both. The degree to which they use them, and the specific ways in which they use them varies from organization to organization based on their purpose, size, and history.

If an organization is public sector or non profit and sees its primary goal as serving the public then public relations tends to be the more dominant function because building relationships with its publics is its over-riding concern. Most public sector/nonprofit organizations have a Communications or Public Relations group, involved in public information, community relations, community and public affairs etc. The concept of marketing in these sectors is a bit of a late comer as marketing is very much associated with business. Although Public sector and nonprofit marketing is a burgeoning
field, see Judith Madill’s article on government marketing or Kotler and Lee’s book on Public Sector Marketing and Andreasen and Kotler‘s book on Strategic Nonprofit Marketing

If you are a for profit organization public relations is of secondary importance and is normally done to support and enhance marketing efforts. In a small company, there might not be a separate and identifiable public relations group at all. In a medium to large corporation, you definitely have a good size marketing group with a smaller public relations function.  Marketing in a for- profits generates sales of goods and services and directly contributed to the company’s profitability while Public Relations coordinates relationships with various publics in order to gain public acceptance and approval of the company’s activities, including its sales activities.

Here are some recent definitions: Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders(American Marketing Association) and Public relations is a strategic management function that adds value to an organization by helping it to manage its reputation. (Chartered Institute of Public Relations)

Marketing has at its core a desire to reach consumers and make them think, believe or do what you want. Public relations is more focused on influencing reputation, whether corporate or personal which makes the marketer’s job easier, while marketing activity affects a company’s reputation. The PR function in a private sector company is often (but not always) managed within a broader marketing division. Those organizations that have the most effective communications are those that don’t get hung up on what’s marketing and public relations or communications. Instead they focus on choosing the best vehicles and tools for delivering their objectives, regardless of which toolbox it comes from.

In the nonprofit field we have a very different scenario. Here is a quote from the Andreasen and Kotler book mentioned earlier, found on page 328.

  “The public relations function can be accorded high or low influence in the organization, depending on the board’s and chief executive’s attitude toward the function. In some organizations, the public relations manager is a vice president and sits on all meetings involving information and actions that might affect public perceptions of the organization. He or she not only puts out fires but also counsels management on actions that will avoid starting fires. In other organizations, public relations is a middle-management function charged with getting out publications and handling news, the annual report and special events, the public relations people are not involved in policy and strategy formulation, only in tactics.” Campaign –level P.R. efforts are typically structured in one of two ways. In some organizations, the public relations function or department has staffers who are assigned to particular campaigns and serve to advance their strategies. If the organization believes the campaign managers should have all the tools needed to carry out their objectives , the campaign hires their own PR person or a person from the PR Department will be assigned to the campaign on a full time , long term, basis.”  There is a third approach to structuring the PR / Communications function, i.e., to put it within the marketing area. A major challenge to the chief administrators and board from time to time, is deciding what should be the relationship between marketing and public relations in a nonprofit organization. Clearly the two functions work well together in commercial firms with marketing focusing on the development of plans to market the company’s products and services to consumers, while public relations takes care or relations with other publics.. In Non-profit organizations, however, the relationship between the PR and marketing departments has often been marked by tension and lack of clearly defined areas of responsibility. This is because of the important role of PR at the campaign level. Many marketing efforts simply cannot succeed without powerful marketing efforts!”

“The tension is often an historical artifact. In many institutions the PR function was already established when marketing was introduced. Friction between the two areas subsequently arose, first because the marketing department was often assigned functions that were “taken away” from public relations. First, they did their media relations and events. Second, public relations directors often felt that they should have been given the better paying new position of marketing director when it was created. Third, many PR executives felt that marketing ought to be a division within their departments or that marketing as a separate function was not needed at all.” “These frictions were often exacerbated by the lack of clearly specified separate roles for the two functions and a clear understanding of how they should be coordinated by each other. Our own view is that there is a need for an organization-level PR function but the campaign-level functions should be under the control of the marketing people because of the crucial role public relations must play in most campaigns. Indeed, when nonprofit organizations hire advertising and public relations organizations to help with the campaigns, they often specifically seek organizations that have both advertising and public relations capabilities.”

 Recently our organization had some issues with between Marketing and Communications regarding the web. The web function in most public sector organizations are managed by Communications folks , however where it becomes a problem ( and we find this with many of our clients) is when the marketing function of an organization involved in revenue generation and or cost recovery activities want to use the web as part of a marketing strategy.  The Communications functions tend to control the web and are the “gate keepers of the web”. The Communications function sees the web as a vehicle to provide information as well as enhance the image of the organization while the marketing folks want to use the web as an e-commerce / e-marketing or in some cases a social media function and are prohibited from carrying out this important commercial function because the Communications folks have the final say on what appears on the web. (And usually they regard marketing as a secondary function if at all.) Marketing has a lot to offer a public sector and nonprofit organization (that will be another blog)    as does the Communications function. Clearly both functions should be working harmoniously no matter what the structure of the organization. 


2 Replies to “Tension and Competition between Marketing and Communications”

  1. This too is a great piece. One of my professors defines PR as that which applies to ideas and beliefs while marketing involves products and services. I have some issues with such a distinction (i.e. social marketing….involves ideas and beliefs…) but, after the end of our discussion, he said that to some degree it is a conversation of diction, but to make sure that when we go out into the job force, to choose a job – whether its classified as PR or marketing – that we are passionate about, can learn from and enjoy.

    Good advice I think. (However, I still love examining the current identity crisis communications is facing today)

    Best =)
    Ps- I also added your blog to my links page.

  2. I strongly suggest your professor read the literature on social marketing as he is greatly mistaken.

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