The New Rules of PR and Marketing

When I began my career three decades ago there was a very clear divide between public relations and marketing.

The job of an old school PR practitioner was to write news releases, schmooze journalists and use all the tricks of the trade to wangle some decent press coverage for your client or employer. Most press officers had started life as reporters and there were unspoken rules which both sides understood and adhered to.

Marketing was very different. Marketing had the budgets and the glamour; marketing campaigns involved expensive print, broadcast or outdoor advertising, or even TV and cinema ads – not to mention shiny brochures, desk calendars and branded pens to give away.

The arrival of the internet changed all that, and it continues to move the goalposts in unexpected ways. Nowadays most people in the UK, including PR practitioners and marketers, are online and own a smartphone, and the Internet has transformed the relationship between PR and marketing.

Most importantly, digital technology has blurred the dividing line between PR and marketing so that now it’s less clear where PR ends and where marketing begins.

So should we consign the old tactics to the litter bin of history and embrace exclusively digital PR and marketing tools? I would urge flacks and marketers not to throw the baby out with the bathwater – the old can co-exist happily with the new and the two can work very effectively together.

Admittedly, some of the tried and tested old school marketing staples are best left behind. Not only can leaflets sent via post, mass marketing emails and telephone cold calling be more irritating than effective, they are also problematic since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

But some of the old methods still have life left in them, such as well written and targeted news releases, sending review products to journalists and picking up the phone to pitch a story to a reporter.

And don’t let anyone tell you that print is dead. All the printers we know seem to be thriving, and sometimes a well designed piece of print hits the spot better than an email or website could ever do.

The Internet has brought us brilliant new tools which we are only too happy to use – low-cost online advertising, social media posts and campaigns, online video, blogs, vlogs… the list is almost endless.

But my advice is this: rather than choose between the old and the new, learn to synthesise the old and the new and make both work even harder for your brand.

Here’s one easy example of how this could work for you:

  • You write and issue a news release about your business which generates some online coverage on a news website
  • You make sure you include a URL hyperlink to your website in your release
  • The news website uses this link so its readers can click on to your website
  • The back link to your website improves your site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), making it easier for people to find you on Google
  • A better Google ranking increases traffic to your website
  • Increased traffic means more customers and more sales!

Or here’s another:

  • You use your Twitter account to tweet about the fact that your business is expanding
  • A reporter on the local paper sees your tweets and gives you a call to find out more
  • You get a positive news story about your business in your local paper and on its website
  • Your local paper also tweets a link to the online story
  • Because the tweet tags in your @brandname you gain more Twitter followers
  • You also get the start of a beautiful friendship with the reporter which could come in handy in the future!

Big national brands understand the power of combining traditional PR and marketing with digital tools.

In January Greggs’ vegan sausage roll went viral on social media after Piers Morgan took aim with an outraged tweet. A video spoofing Apple products was viewed 51,000 times on YouTube, 1.4 million times on Facebook and 5.24 million times on Twitter.

But that’s not the whole story; before the social media coverage Greggs had primed national journalists with a clever review product delivered to their desks – a vegan sausage roll packaged like an Apple iPhone , complete with promo video, which really caught the eye and appealed to journalists’ sense of humour.

The result? Vegan sausage rolls sold out in branches of Greggs up and down the country, thanks to a PR and marketing campaign which married social media and video with good old-fashioned PR pitching.

In February KFC had a problem to solve when trouble with a new supplier meant their restaurants ran out of chicken and were forced to close. This was a major PR crisis which required a bold approach in order to protect the company’s reputation and keep its customers onside.

KFC’s strategy was to go on the front foot with an old-fashioned full-page national newspaper ad which apologised for the situation: “A chicken restaurant without any chicken – it’s not ideal.”

The ad was inevitably picked up by other media and on social, and before long the story had gone viral – not simply that KFC had no chicken, but that KFC had rudely rearranged the letters of its logo for maximum shock effect.

The result? 700 press articles and TV discussions round the globe, a combined worldwide audience of 797 million, a newspaper ad seen by 219 million social media users and total earned reach of more than a billion. All from a single press ad!

It’s clear that digital tools give PR professionals and marketers an enormous advantage nowadays, but my advice is not to be seduced by digital alone: keep the best of the old, embrace the new and integrate the two for the best results.