Redefining Public Relations - Social Media Explorer
Redefining Public Relations
Redefining Public Relations

Two general topics grabbed me this week. One was the recent ballyhoo surrounding this notion that customer service is the new marketing. No fewer than most of my favorite public relations minds all wrote about it. Some argued semantics. Others jumped on board and echoed the sentiments.

Redefining PRThe second was Bill Sledzik’s tome declaring reasons he mistrusts marketing. He refers to it as PR’s “evil twin” and hints that public relations practitioners today even fail to differentiate between PR and marketing. Sledzik appears to be an old school PR craftsman who is resistant to the notion of integrated marketing (i.e. – that which includes public relations).

Some see marketing, public relations and customer service as different components of the business approach. Some see marketing dictating the others. Even more see customer service as a totally separate from the communications discipline.

In the midst of the cacophony of conversation, I jotted down notes that led to the following:

First, define public relations. Don’t look it up. It’s simpler than that. It is relating with the public.

Next, let’s separate it from marketing, but recognize that public relations will always be part of the greater marketing mix. It doesn’t necessarily mean marketing is greater than public relations. For good marketing cannot exist successfully without it.

Finally, let us realize that while for years we have utilized public relations as an outlet for messages that support the marketing plan, relating with the public requires us to allow both inbound messages and to monitor those passed between those outside our organization.

Therefore, public relations becomes the mechanism by which outbound messaging reaches our audiences, how the public’s inbound messaging reaches our organization and how we monitor messages among audience members communicating relevant information about our brands.

And this applies both off-line, as explained, and on-line through social media.

In other words, customer service is public relations. Is it the new marketing? No. But it sure is nice to think good marketing might mean prioritizing conversation over conversion and message over execution.

Related posts in this conversation you’ll find interesting:

  1. What If Customers Were The Service?
  2. “This Is The Corp Comms Dept. How May We Serve You Better?”
  3. Customer Service Is The New, New Marketing
  4. Public Relations Is Customer Service
  5. The Four Tenets Of The Community Manager
  6. It Takes More Than Gestures To Deliver Amazing Customer Service
  7. If Customer Service Is The New Marketing (Part 1)
  8. Customer Service Is The New Marketing
  9. Customer Service Is Marketing
  10. We’re All In Customer Relations (Added)
  11. Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.

[tags]customer service, public relations, marketing, new marketing, conversation, communications[/tags]

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • Rich, no apologies necessary. I’m a hoop thrower.

    I certainly see your point, and agree in many regards, that developing cookie cutter organizational structures is dangerous. Some organizations (again to your point) don’t have the types of communications mangers in place to appropriately spearhead my definition of how it should be. Every organization is different and the differences define the structure.

    However, in an ideal situation, it is my contention that while most brands or organizations think of marketing as being the overreaching umbrella that public relations falls under, they should treat communications (read: relating with the publics, internal and external) as the umbrella that marketing stems from.

    It’s kind of a chicken before the egg arguement, I know, but communications is best done by communicators and communications managers, not advertising or marketing-focused individuals. Our world has it upside down for the most part.

  • Who should own customer service?

    It seems to me that customer service is not meant to be owned, much like professional development really isn’t owned. Many customer service departments report to operations or direct to the executive team.

    Where public relations can play a role in supporting customer service internally and externally is developing programs and communication (unless this has been delegated to internal communication) to reinforce customer service skills, or perhaps under communication management, eg. vice president of corporate communication.

    Where social media fit in to customer service, something I wrote about some time ago, is that social media is front-line communication.

    I also agree with Martin that PR has a broad context because part of its function is to communicate with multiple public — not just customers, not just media, not just the executive board, not just >blank<, but across the whole of the organization. It has to because if the public relations team is doing its job right, it is providing critical advice from the top down and out across various publics.

    One thing I am sometimes leery of though is trying to tie this into any organizational structure for a company. Whereas I feel the tie that binds is communication management, I also recognize it may not work within the content of many companies because their structures are all unique. As such, I sometimes think we spend too much time on the organizational structure and place ourselves at risk of creating cookie cutter structures.

    That said, however, I don’t think public relations is well suited to be the overall communication guidepost. In general, public relations professional (not all of them) lack certain skill sets to accurately perform the job of communication management.

    My apologies for jumping through the conversation; there were a lot of hoops in your comment. :)


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  • Rich and Bill … great contributions.

    Rich – I see your point about customer service being a role everyone in the organization is responsible for, but who, I ask, should own it? My arguement is public relations. PR should develop strategies, messaging, training and feedback for everyone in the organization. It aligns with Martin’s assessment that PR is about broad context. Who is it that has to ramp up when there is a crisis? Who is everyone instructed to direct folks to in those cases? PR. My thought is that PR should be the overall communication guidepost. Marketing is an extension of the communications program — has audiences with different degrees of interest and awareness of the brand, different metrics for success and thus, needs to be managed differently — and should work hand-in-hand with PR.

    And Bill, I think my stance here is in agreement with your perspective as well.

    Thanks again for the discussion. Do continue!

  • Sorry to have wandered away from the thread for so long. Finals’ week takes its toll on us here in the academy and leaves little time for the blogosphere.

    I see a whole lot more agreement than disagreement in this thread, but that’s often true when you bring strategic communicators together. It all comes back to audience, objective and outcome, doesn’t it?

    But dang it, there IS a big difference between marketing and PR. Martin captured my sentiments best: “Marketing is more about delivery. Where PR is all about the broad context. That’s why PR people get so frustrated when they get subsumed by the marketing department.”

    This guy and I are on the same page.

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  • I enjoyed your post very much, but I too have to disagree a couple of points.

    I think you are right in that “relating to the public” is what it has become. But simply “relating” to the public (and very often not the right publics) doesn’t help companies during a crisis. Customer service is certainly an admirable skill set, but customer service can be applied to every position in a company so that argument seems pointless to me.

    Marketing and public relations do have different skill sets and neither is really above one or the other, but they really cannot work effectively apart either. What good is a public relations person saying something different from marketing? That’s were it begins to look like manipulation.

    As for social media, it seems to me it depends on the function of the blog. I’ve seen marketing and public relations (and advertising) people all employ it equally well.

    Loved the last graph. Something to think about.


  • Kami – Thanks for the impetus for all this. It’s always interesting to take a step back and reassess our percerptions, definitions and mindsets. That’s one reason I love the folks like the commentors here who bring different vantage points to the table.

    Your post was perfectly titled, by the way. Without points of contention, even semanticly, it wouldn’t have sparked such interesting responses. You rock!

  • Jason; Great conversation going here. I am glad that the “PR is Customer” service piece I wrote last Sunday has sparked such a meaningful conversation about the differences between marketing and PR over the last week.

    I like how you have summarized it here, in that public relations is too often narrowly defined by those that practice it. Maybe I also narrowly defined it in my piece. Possibly a better title might have been Customer Service is at the root of Public Relations. At any rate, it should be.

  • Great points Martin. And thanks for the reassurance. Sometimes I post things wondering if I’m just nuts or if it actually all makes sense. It’s good to have some validation.

    I can’t agree more than PR is so much about communication to multiple audiences at the same time. From the basic press release to large scale PR campaigns, there are always at least three or four different audiences to cater to. Now that personalized outreach has become an imperative, particularly in the online world, that makes the job all the more difficult.

    Thanks, so much for stopping by.

  • Hi Jason… I am enjoying this comment thread. I too am “old school”. 16 years in financial PR in NYC.

    I think you hit it on the nose in your last answer: the line that separates marketing from PR is one of scope of information. I think marketers (at least the ones I know) tend to focus narrowly on crafting the best possible “delivery” system, in both content and vehicle, for the company’s sales message — i.e., what the organization wants to say.

    That’s a slender slice of the information universe. The PR-pro, on the other hand, has to deal with the ENTIRE information universe… planning and executing with a wider scope — i.e., to many more audiences, each with its own agenda, all at the same time.

    I have to remind executives all the time… effective communications is less about what you want to say, and more about dealing with what people want/expect to hear. You can’t get your message through without considering the context in which it is heard.

    Marketing is more about delivery. Where PR is all about the broad context. That’s why PR people get so frustrated when they get subsumed by the marketing department. When you narrow the universe of considerations, you tend to get bad PR decisions.

    Anyway… i enjoyed the site.

  • Hey Eric — Rambling commentary is always welcome. Length of comments is a good measuring stick for how engaged audiences are. Ramble here all you want.

    I hear your point but think the problem is that the focus isn’t the same for every brand/client or audience. But then again, if the point is informing customers and not advertising to them, maybe there’s our point.

    My question is whether or not marketers can create that information rather than advertising or if it is wholly subjective and reliant upon the audience?

    Confused more? I am.

  • Eric Eggertson

    Whether everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon or extending the conversation or bleeting like goats, I think the discussion about where the focus should be is a good one. Customers/clients generally react defensively when someone tries to sell them something. When someone tries to inform them so they can make better purchasing (or whatever the transaction is) decisions, the client feels they’ve been treated with respect and is more likely to ask questions and learn more about whatever it is that’s being offered.

    Still, creating fear in potential customers continues to be a driving force behind a lot of marketing/PR, which relies on manipulation AND information. Are you not cool enough? Do you smell? Will your dentures fall out? Are you not man enough? Too fat? If you end up selling someone something they don’t need, the customer is not well served, and I think society as a whole gets a little bit more warped.

    Sorry for the rambling commentary. I guess I’m stretching for something that brings this whole discussion closer to something I can wrap my mind around.

  • Michelle — Not off-topic or irrelevant for certain. Good marketing certainly is that which is received by the consumer favorably. I completely agree with the quote.

    While I think this is what contextual and social advertising models like Facebook’s Beacon are trying to accomplish, they don’t have the altruistic intent behind them that your quote relays. Maybe one day we’ll get there, but the early attempts are lacking. Still, it’s nice to know that some folks, like yourself, are trying to achieve that ideal. It gives us hope!

    Thanks for chiming in.

  • Yesterday I read a quote about marketing/advertising that has been stuck in my mind. It seems appropriate to this conversation about marketing/pr/customer service. It came from a marketer fresh from the Web Community Forum. She said “The biggest take-away line I got from the conference was this: “When advertising/marketing is truly targeted and contextual, it stops being advertising and starts being information.” (

    As a content creator whose sites are supported by advertising this is something I think about a great deal. I think properly targeted advertising is beneficial to both the advertiser and the audience and its something I’m working hard to achieve on my publications. Advertising as information (preferably useful and interesting information) instead of just a sales pitch seems to hit a nice balance between marketing and PR. As a consumer I know it works for me. I’m much more likely to click on ads that provide useful content/information than something that’s just a glaring sales pitch. To quote a friend of mine “I’m an all-consuming media beast who always needs more information.”

    Sorry if this isn’t completely on topic or doesn’t really add anything to the discussion. This topic just resonated with me.

  • Bill,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response and clarifying. I hope my generalization from the perspective of someone who admittedly doesn’t know you and only gleans that assumption from digesting some recent posts did not offend.

    I hope I either asserted your core message or at least led my readers to it. But bravo for making sure.

    Thanks again for the comment. I look forward to exploring more of your thoughts now that I’ve found your blog.

  • Thanks for stopping by the blog, Jason, and for a thoughtful essay in response. Right on two counts, but I’m gonna disagree somewhat on a third.

    First, you’re right that my post was a “tome,” which is why I put it up during finals week, when my students won’t be reading. I hope it was clear, but it sure wasn’t concise.

    Second, I do see marketing “dictating” far to much to the PR discipline, which is why I sounded the alarm. But I also agree that the customer service function should be seen as an extension of public relations more so that marketing. Listening and transparency should rule that function. It’s a place where PR people must assert themselves and, as you put it, “relate to the public.” I wrote about the problem here:

    I will disagree when you say I appear “an old school PR craftsman who is resistant to the notion of integrated marketing (i.e. – that which includes public relations).” But then, it probably does “appear” that way to folks who don’t know me. While I am, indeed, old, my school of thought is a progressive one rooted in symmetrical practice that gets too little mention in the PR blogs. While I’ve been working in an IMC environment since before Medill labeled it that, I am not a marketer and never will be.

    My core message, which could have been more clear, is this: Let’s not lose our identity or our perspective as PR professionals. If we surrender to marketing, we’ll just be another tool to support the peddler.


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