June President’s Message

BeanlandA few months ago, I had the pleasure of leading 22 college students on a five-day trip to New York City where we toured close to two dozen advertising, marketing and PR firms. Each visit lasted about an hour and gave the students a chance to learn about careers in the communications industry.

Before we got started, I told the students to pay attention to how our hosts defined advertising, marketing and public relations. What were the differences? What were the similarities? All too soon, I knew my charges would be looking for jobs and I wanted them to be able to distinguish an entry-level marketing position from an entry-level public relations position. Would their particular skill sets be a good match for the job duties?

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Advertising is generally considered to be a marketing tactic, though public relations practitioners have certainly been known to use advertising to great effect.

In board rooms across the city, we heard a lot about paid media (advertising), earned media (public relations) and owned media (marketing). Increasingly, as advertising budgets and column inches shrink, the emphasis everywhere is on owned.

The buzzword, or phrase, the students scribbled in their notebooks over and over again was “blended content.” Across the three industries, everyone wants to own content creation—in whatever form it ultimately takes—and social. Nearly all of our hosts lamented how hard it is to reach Millennials—impervious to traditional media and moving from one social media platform to another while communicators struggle to keep up. It also struck me that nearly everyone with whom we spoke—public relations practitioners included—used the terms “public relations” and “media relations” interchangeably, which I think probably sells the PR profession short.

The students took furious notes and asked good questions but by the end of the week, even they looked baffled. If some of the brightest and most talented marketing and public relations professionals couldn’t figure out where to draw the line, how could I expect a bunch of 20 year-olds to fare any better? The message they heard loud and clear was that the line between PR and marketing has blurred.

If you come to no other program this year, come to our June 24 luncheon, “PR, Marketing Or Both?” with Don Hale.  It’s a fascinating topic and one that’s extremely relevant to all of us as we consider the future of our industry. I’ll hope to see you there.


Rachel Beanland, APR
2015 PRSA President