On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
PR book Public relations and marketing:
On the way to Integrated Marketing Communication?
©2001 Michael Turney Table of contents PR class home page About the author

Professional journals are increasingly filled with reports that public relations and marketing have already merged or predictions they soon will. And, although there's still debate about the best name for the new, combined discipline, its existence seems to be taken for granted by practitioners and academicians alike.

One somewhat superficial, albeit very telling, indication of the change in thinking about the public relations and marketing relationship is evident in three successive editions of Fraser Seitel's textbook, The Practice of Public Relations, one of the most popular textbooks on the market written by a current public relations practitioner.

The fifth edition (1992) had two separate chapters, one called Public Relations Marketing and the other called Public Relations Advertising, which dealt with various aspects of this issue. They clearly treated public relations and marketing as distinct fields even though their interests occasionally paralleled one another and their practitioners might, on occasion, use one another's tools.
The sixth edition (1995) had a single chapter entitled Communications Cross-Training which emphasized the public relations practitioners' need to understand and be able to work with marketing concepts, tools, and concerns. It also pointed out that marketers who wanted to be on the cutting edge of their field needed to learn about and be able to use public relations concepts and tools.
The current seventh edition (1998) has a single chapter entitled Integrated Marketing Communication which describes the "irrepressible intertwining of heretofore separate disciplines ... into a sometimes unholy alliance to win consumer support" and warns that future practitioners will need to use a far wider array of communication tools and strategies than in the past if they are to survive professionally.

The integration of communication became popular in the last decade.

Patterns similar to that found in Seitel's books can be found in numerous other textbooks, and one need look no further than the past several years' covers of PR Strategist, Communication World, PR Tactics, The Journal of Marketing, and any number of other professional journals for marketers and public relations practitioners to see a plethora of articles heralding the benefits of one version or another of combined and integrated communication functions. Among the terms that have been touted are product public relations, marketing public relations, marketing communication (sometimes called marcomm), and public relations marketing.

But, by far, the most popular term for combining communication functions has been integrated marketing communication (often called IMC). The details of its evolution don't need to be covered here; they're fully treated in any number of books, including the course textbook.

Integrated Marketing Communication may be a fine term, and an even better concept, but let's not become so enraptured with IMC or any other new terminology that we lose our perspective. As William Briggs and Marilen Tuason reminded us in a recent issue of IABC Communication World, "Marketing communication, regardless of its parentage, is a reality in many companies..." but then came the punchline: "Employers don't care what integrated communication calls itself as long as it gets the job done."

Perhaps, public relations practitioners shouldn't be overly concerned about what their profession is called either.

The preferred name for public relations is changing.

Public relations has never been the unanimous choice for what to call the process of managing organizational relationships, but in recent years, O'Dwyer's Directory of Corporate Communication has noted, "The number of companies that identify their internal unit for communicating with their constituents as public relations has dropped off dramatically." This is more fully discussed in a linked reading.

Whether integrated marketing communication, corporate communication, or one of the other popular buzzwords will ultimately overshadow public relations as the name of choice remains to be seen. They may all turn out to be short-lived fads. What will be far more important is whether the underlying integration of communication functions that these terms purport to represent will actually be realized and, at this point, the projections are anything but unanimous.

Practitioners' reactions to integrated communication remain mixed.

Some PR people feel threatened by the thought of working closely with advertising, direct mail, sales promotion, and database marketing specialists. But other PR pros are rushing out to meet these fellow communicators, saying IMC (integrated marketing communication) is client driven and PR people had better get on the bandwagon if they hope to keep their jobs.

Jack O'Dwyer
O'Dwyer's PR Services Report, (Jan. 1995)

Organizations that make public relations a marketing function lose their ability to communicate effectively with groups other than consumers.

James Grunig
University of Maryland

Considering marketing and public relations as the same function, in my view, is in the best interests of the corporation. ... Marketing and public relations can and should be compatible. ... in gaining understanding of influential third parties--such as legislators, government agencies, political parties, labor unions, public interest groups, and churches. In the future, public relations will play a greater role in shaping marketing strategies responsible to consumer concerns. In the classic sense, PR will influence not only what companies say but what they do.

Thomas Harris,
The Marketer's Guide to Public Relations

I don't like the tendency of advertising agencies gobbling up large public relations organizations. (This was a frequent occurrence during the 1980s, when major ad agencies liked to trumpet their ability to provide total communication services and integrated marketing.) That is like surgical instrument manufacturers gobbling up surgical medical colleges or law book publishers gobbling up law colleges.

Edward Bernays at age 98
interviewed by F. Seitel (1987)

The interest in IMC comes from people in marketing and advertising and not from people in public relations. Most are interested because of declining demand for advertising services and for graduates with advertising education. ... The vested interests of marketing and advertising are in a campaign to merge public relations under the rubric of marketing ... (because) advertising and marketing people are looking for additional fees.

Betsy Ann Plank
former PRSA president

Table of contents Further reading on
Changing names of PR
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Marketing and PR overview
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13 Feb 2003