PR & Marketing: Chicken or the Egg?


Is PR a function of marketing?  Or is it a separate function all on it’s own? Or is marketing a function of PR?

This is a subject that I struggled with, deeply, for about a year or two after I graduated from Kent State.  You smile. Okay, I was naive.  At the time, I believed back then that PR was its own entity in an organization, offering sage advice, leading the way during times of crisis and waving the corporate/organization logo on a flag during the good times.

After graduating with a BS in PR and entering the working world, I learned over and over again — in both the non-profit world (Red Cross & a church headquarters) and corporate: Dart, Kraft, Hasbro & Rubbermaid — that PR is viewed a subset of marketing.

 Maybe not in the books.  Or in college classrooms. But in real life.

 There are PR professionals who disagree — check out Bill Sledzik’s ToughSledding and many of the 32 comments at Geoff Livingston’s Buzz Bin.  I got “egged on” with the recent posts about this subject. Check out these links, but watch out — the comments get heated!

I see PR under marketing from the direct report standpoint: For example, when have you seen a Director of Marketing reporting to a VP of PR? or VP of Advertising? or VP of Promotions?  Once in a while I see the PR function report in to the VP of Corporate Communications, who is probably responsible for the financial analysts relationships, SEC announcements and annual report.  Or the PR person may report to the VP of Human Resources if they are doing employee and community communications like videos, events and newsletters.  But almost of the time, PR is reporting to the VP of Marketing with the main goal to provide the 3rd leg to the 3 legged stool of PR, Advertising and Promotion.

I also see PR under the marketing budget.  For example, not an hour ago I received an email about an upcoming AAF meeting with a panel of major Cleveland marketing executives consisting of:

  • Judy Abelman of Avery Dennison
  • Peter Baka of Lincoln Electric
  • Rob Horton of ICI Paints
  • Tom Leibhardt of Moen
  • Rob Spademan of Cleveland State University

They will be answering questions about marketing topics such as: “How is your marketing budget allocated on a percentage basis? (e.g. advertising, PR, direct marketing, promotions, research, collateral, events, etc.)”

 So, at the risk annoying some, my vote today: Marketing leads, PR follows. Just my opinion.

(Sorry Bill, if you don’t want me to come be a guest speaker at your class anymore, I’ll understand.  But I really wish that someone had told me this when I was in school and I was believing everything that Ralph Darrow was telling us.)

Author: Chris Brown

Business owner operating a marketing consulting firm. Online Publisher. Keynote Speaker.

6 thoughts on “PR & Marketing: Chicken or the Egg?”

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Tackett

  2. Chris,

    You make some valid points and it’s nice to see some actual “facts” (or real-life findings) added to this debate.

    I look forward to watching the comments as the can of open worms over the pr/marketing debate continues on with this post.

  3. You’re welcome in my class anytime, Chris, and I will put that together real soon.

    I’m sorry you picked up on that little tiff with Mr. Livingston and sorrier that you linked to it. But that’s the danger of slugging it out online, isn’t it? People come to see the show!

    Your perspective that PR as a subset of marketing isn’t unusual. But since you work as a marketing consultant, it’s also understandable you’d see it that way. But when we move outside of the marketing functions into areas like employee communication, investor relations, community relations, issues management, crisis management, etc., we see the many other contributions — strategies and tactics — that PR makes.

    Marketing folks include PR in their budget because they know we need an integrated effort to sell products and brand. We like being the “third leg on the stool,” but when the day is done, PR professionals we do a lot more than support marketing campaigns.

    And I guess that’s my point. A whole lot of what PR does in organizations exists outside the view and the purview of marketing. PR and marketing aren’t rivals, just different disciplines whose missions often overlap a great deal.

  4. Chris:

    Your experience matches what many post-grads come to realize: Academia doesn’t fully prepare them for business reality, instead focusing on theories which don’t really apply. Thanks for continuing the discussion.


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