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identity crisis

October 12, 2007

I wanted to take a moment to comment Joel’s recent blog post entitled “Conversationalists” and Marketing (I included the title because I can’t link directly to the post, only to the blog. A design flaw??) Anyway. Joel talks about the ongoing discussion that “markets are conversations”, and points out that this conversation must be a two-way street.

So good conversationalists have good listening skills, too. It’s fair to say if a company is going to be a healthy participant in a marketplace, it needs skilled conversationalists who are equally skilled at listening, as well as commenting.

What I think gets lost in the course of this post is the fact that the public relations function is (or should be) increasingly held responsible for initiating, facilitating and managing this conversation across stakeholder groups, including customers, employees, shareholders, community members and any other directly or indirectly affected by the operations of an organization.

Advertising and marketing departments should benefit from the insight we as practitioners can provide as to how to engage stakeholder groups, but ultimately public relations, as the term implies, should be the focal point of this relationship. A significant portion of the problem here lies, as one can read in Joel’s post, in this identity crisis between marketing and public relations. As James Hutton wrote:

The critical point is that marketing thought is evolving toward a public relations perspective to such an extent that marketing is essentially redefining itself as public relations.

Hutton argues, and I agree, that much of this new positioning of marketing is due to the inability of public relations practitioners to adequately define what we do, where our expertise lies, and what greater value to business and success we can ensure. We have left a gaping void where the facilitation of conversation should lie, and are continuing to operate in an asymmetrical publicity model. We are asked now to position ourselves as experts trained in the two-way symmetrical conversation (Grunig) that is so vital to the success of any organization, or get out of the way for marketers-come-pr specialists who are ready to take the lead if we do not.

I could talk about this subject ad nauseum, but I just thought it was an interesting post from a fellow practioner and an issue that is becoming increasingly pressing as we redefine communications practice across industries and organizations.

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