When Marketing Becomes PR

I’ve been asked a lot lately about the blurring lines between marketing and PR. It’s certainly true what was once a clear and distinct difference is now more of a hazy smudge and (of course) I have a theory as to why.

In traditional marketing, you speak directly to the customer.

In traditional PR, you speak to the customer through the media.

But, today, the customer IS the media.

Today, the customer is out there reporting on his experiences with your brand. Perhaps, he’s writing a blog about a new laptop. Maybe, she’s scrawling on a Facebook wall about a PDA; or making a video for YouTube documenting the purchase of a first car. Maybe your customer is posting on boards about walking out of a home improvement store because she couldn’t find a single person on the floor to help her despite pressing that useless call button for assistance! (I’m just saying it could happen.)

Bottom line, customers are online telling the story behind their brand experience. And, isn’t that what PR is all about? Getting others to tell the story you want.

Look at viral campaigns. Mainstream media, bloggers, and the average customer make viral marketing work because they report on it. They’re not just talking about the product; they’re talking about how they learned about the product and the marketing concept behind it (including the pitching style of publicists.) The campaign itself becomes the story.

Because of this, it has never been more important for marketers and PR pros to converge strategies and allow one tactic to feed the other, to blend into each other, creating news that stands on its own; news that spawns more news as the campaign grows.

We need to embrace this convergence and speak to the customer the way we would a reporter — give them a story to tell. We need to engage the customer in the brand and make the journey of the purchase as much the story as the purchase itself. Because like it or not, it already is.

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