Advertising Leads PRIn the new media era, does PR augment advertising, or vice-versa? I have partnered with Gregg Voss to exchange guest posts on our respective blogs to debate the issue in point-counterpoint format. Following is Gregg’s take on how advertising augments PR. To read my thoughts on how PR augments advertising, visit Gregg’s blog.

The global economic recession that concluded the first decade of the new millennium exposed plenty ― and not just the misdeeds of Wall Street. It showed that the traditional advertising model used for decades truly needed a massive overhaul, in light of many factors, including the growth of the Internet and especially social media channels.

The implications of the recession for print advertising in particular have been significant. For example, citing data from the Newspaper Association of America, Zacks Equity Research recently reported that the publishing industry endured 16 straight quarters of advertising revenue declines. That included a 5.6% decline in Q2 2010, and a 9.7% decline the previous quarter.

But that same report noted something interesting – publishers aren’t as concerned about total circulation of printed copies as much as making sure those copies end up in the hands of target audiences. Here is where one can make an effective case that advertising augments PR in the post-recession era.

Several authors I look up to, like David Meerman Scott, have suggested that the web has essentially outmoded traditional advertising. Getting people to stop, look and read, view or listen to an ad is simply not as effective for companies than building relationships directly with customers, through web-based channels like social media and blogs. PR plays a key role here, of course, through content development and crisis communication.

But why can’t advertising participate in that process?

Here’s what I mean. The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently reported that Internet advertising was up 17% year-over-year in Q3 2010, to $6.4 billion. That suggests target audiences are shifting online, where social media, blogs and other community-centric channels reside.

Yes, companies encourage target audiences to “Like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, and hope they participate in their online community – which may or not be vibrant and appropriately staffed.

Why can’t a click on an ad put a prospect in the middle of a discussion that can aid in solving problem they have, moderated (or at least attended) by a company expert? For that matter, with increasing Internet bandwidth, why can’t a prospect click on an ad and be instantly connected via video conference with that company expert?

Of course, it will take budget and infrastructure to do that, but that has to be weighed against potentially much higher advertising ROI and gathering of rich customer data.

Maybe the question isn’t whether advertising augments PR, or vice-versa, but how the two disciplines should close ranks to maximize the customer experience, solve problems and drive sales and ROI.

Follow Gregg Voss on Twitter.

6 thoughts on “Point-Counterpoint: Advertising Augments PR [Guest Post]

  1. There’s nothing like data to make a communications guy blush. These guest posters are knocking them out of the park. Good post, sir.

    The implications laid out here are clearly unclear. While we see the efficacy of social media in generating increased page views and total time spent on sites and in ads for product and service providers, there’s still a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” feel to the entire enterprise. This is partially because social media and the data used to determine its usefulness are in their infancy, relatively speaking.

    There’s a good idea here in having online advertising serve as an entree to a larger discussion about a product or service. That, however, will require resources. Unfortunately all but the largest product and service providers are boosting bottom lines and share prices by shearing all but essential services from their companies. PR tends to be the last seated at the buffet, as it were, and is usually left to pick over these leavings, so I’m curious as to how we convince these companies (beholden to shareholders and other stakeholders) about the importance of advertising as a means to augment their (sometimes meager) PR offerings. But I digress.

    In short (I know, too late), the relationship between advertising and PR looks less like one giving the other a shoulder up and more like the complementary relationship they seem to share.

  2. Jules and Gregg, very interesting topic. Honestly not an angle I’ve given much tought to, but will now. Given the way that this point counterpoint is framed I have to say that PR probably has the advantage, but that is based on (if I’m reading this correctly) the fact that you both seem to agree that PR will ‘own’ social media.

    Maybe just maybe (for all the reasons you both articulated) the next decade will see much more collaboration between advertising and PR.

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

  3. Great point! The two should augment one another. Marketing/advertising needs to be careful to tread clearly on the transparency issue. If you are advertising online, make sure you are not trying to seem as though you’re just another Facebook/Twitter fan. The cost of being “outed” is too great. Social Media users are very sensitive to being “pitched” and can unfollow or unfriend you in a second. In fact, PR should really be a part of any Marketing forays on behalf of any company or organization looking to get Social. PR’s experience as gatekeepers can be used to protect a company from being overly aggressive or pushy on the Social Media front. Definitely time for a rethink on this topic. Well done!

  4. Steve, Paul and WriterRightPubs,

    Thanks for the great commentary – totally expanded my thinking. Couple of thoughts from y’all:

    WriterRightPubs: Does the first company that uses advertising as an on-ramp into a larger discussion have the opportunity to change the advertising medium radically (I’m thinking Apple), forcing everyone else to follow suit?

    Paul: PR and advertising often seem so silo’d – is web-based communication and social media the first time in history that there is the opportunity to blur the lines?

    Steven: So, are you suggesting that Facebook/Twitter fandom is either sunsetting, or will eventually have to evolve to separate those focused on community from those focused on a sales pitch? (I’ve wondered that myself lately ….)

    1. Gregg: That’s an excellent question. Apple is a unique case. While I generally frown upon siloed operations, particularly as relates to the advertising function, Apple has done a brisk business while creating a nearly impregnable brand identity coupled with an easily recognizable and enviable advertising campaign. They’ve done so by closing their communications systems much in the same way they’ve created a closed system for their products.

      Apple’s peculiar use of advertising relies upon a mix of factors I’m not sure is replicable across different kinds of companies, though Barnes & Noble has adopted their brick-and-mortar store architecture in marketing its Nook e-reader. That said, they’ve certainly ensured change in how tech companies market and display their wares and services.

      I suppose I answer yes to your question, though in admittedly specific (and, by extension, limited) circumstances.

    2. What I’m saying is that you have to respect the medium. I don’t think that marketing should try to or expect it to change. It is what it is. From a PR/Marketing perspective, it’s an opportunity to communicate directly but on it’s terms. As the host of this blog (my wife and partner, Jules Zunich) has said, which I think is spot on, we have quickly shifted from a tranactional economy back to a relationship based economy. Facebook and Twitter are about relationships. These take time and work. An example, 5 years ago, when the economy was better (or so we thought!), we as a people were just starting to rock in online purchasing. In 2006, we purchased our mini van, essentially online except for the paperwork. If we followed that trend in terms of transactions, then we’d be more apt to be able to use FB and Twitter as transactional tools. The recession changed all that. Now people use FB and Twitter to get to know one another and to follow companies and organizations. The recession (as we all have experienced) has slowed everyone’s buying decisions way down. I’ve never seen money “move” more slowly in my adult life. As such, people are buying based on their relationship, not on a whim. Companies and organizations have been damaged already when the behave as though these social media are a transactional opportunity. Those on Twitter and FB very often follow or friend a company just to watch how they behave to see whether or not they want to business with them. It’s a great new tool but it’s a lot more like old fashioned dating or friendship development than a lot of marketing/sales people think it is. Happy Thanksgiving. Something to consider…

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