Advertising World, Meet PR

If Marketing Is Becoming a Conversation, One Field Has Long Traded in Dialogue

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It's never been harder to define borders. You used to be able to say this is species A, this belongs to species B. Today? There's just so much gray.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

Take social networks. According to Wikipedia, there are some 50-plus social networks, ranging from business-focused communities (LinkedIn) to golf-dedicated ones (Golfbuzz). Flickr and Facebook make the Wikipedia list but, curiously, hubs like del.icio.us, Habbo Hotel, Neopets, Odeo and Digg -- sites that share similar social features -- are absent.

Then there's the blogs vs. journalism debate that's waged on and off for years. I've personally netted out that journalists who blog are still journalists, but so too are some bloggers, like paidcontent.org's Rafat Ali, who fact-checks every story and is an aggressive reporter. Yet Engadget's Peter Rojas arguably is a blogger because he doesn't quite go to the same lengths as Ali (nor does he need to), yet he works for AOL -- a major media company. Go figure.

Finally we come to PR vs. advertising. There's been a long-held belief that these are separate, yet related disciplines. But you don't read a lot about PR in these pages and that's because often it's covered in drastically different -- and different size -- budgets. Spending on PR services last year, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson, reached $3.7 billion. Meanwhile, the total spending on advertising was $200 billion.

The problem here is that the grand vision outlined in 1999's "Cluetrain Manifesto" is now coming true. Consumers have control, markets are conversations and marketing is evolving into a two-way discipline. This means that advertising must go beyond its borders too.

Now being a PR guy, I am clearly biased. But a lot of this talent is inside PR shops. The public-relations industry has long traded in dialogue. Sometimes, our "theater" of operations is the newspapers. Other times it's TV or in online news outlets like CNET. Last but not least, we're increasingly zeroing in on the blogosphere, Digg, memorandum and even Google as we migrate toward direct-to-audience conversational PR programs. The media pie hasn't shrunk. It enlarged and with it so did PR.

Time will tell if this is PR's moment in the sun or just a flash in the pan. What is certain is that business doesn't fit into little compartments any more and power is shifting all around us.

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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and author of Micropersuasion.com. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
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