PR and Marketing (4): D-Pub

Companies who put Marketing inside (and by implication under the control of) Public Relations were once unusual. This is the inverse of the C-Mark model. Progressive currents in business theory propose such a model. Typical claims made in its support are premised on the concept that all business activity meets a public or a "stakeholder" one way or another, even if that public or stakeholder is an employee or a vendor, i.e. an "internal stakeholder".

If all business activity reaches a public, then the same must be true of communications, since that is a very deliberate activity. If all communications reach a public, then all communications influence the company's relations with the world. So, whether a communication is designed for direct, short- or long-term commercial gains or crafted for reputation-management (which some would argue enables business so amounts to commercial gains, albeit less directly than, say, advertising), it is still public and therefore belongs inside the remit of Public Relations.

Companies who accept this line of reasoning are likely those who subordinate their Marketing department to their Public Relations department, as expressed in the D-Pub model.

Given that transparency today is a more widely acknowledged and responded to issue than it was in 1978 (when these five models were first publicised), the D-Pub idea seems valid. The days of the monolithic, opaque, market-monopolizing, often unaccountable corporation appear to have passed. Social media has given an entire generation expectations concerning bidirectional communication and information transparency that were unthinkable and unrealistic to previous generations. Companies today expect the public to talk back to them, to discuss - publicly - their advertising, to ask penetrating questions and demand answers, to be media savvy, technology literate, and skeptical of hype, soft soap, bandwagon jumping, and greenwashing. Moreover, they are aware that the public is saturated with choice, usually lacks loyalty, and can quickly access competing products and product information from more transparent brands. And, over and above all, the public expects forthright dialogue.

Thus, with such contextual factors considered, the case for Public Relation's subsumption of Marketing (with advertising included therein) grows solid. Had the technology and social-cultural nature of communications not changed so completely since the diffusion of ICTs and the arrival of Web 2.0 especially, the validity of D-Pub would be questionable. In days when the main job of a PR department was sending a press release to the local newspaper or making sure the boss was wearing a suit that actually fitted him for once and had his hair neatly combed-over for his 30-second TV interview, the notion of putting PR in control of marketing would have been illogical, or downright absurd.

But times change. And one of the main meta-tasks of PR today is projecting an image of the company as aligned with, responding to, enabling, or even championing socially positive change. By contrast, marketing's concerns remain relatively unchanged - although their tools are more technical and their understanding of consumers and consumption are far, far more sophisticated than was the case in pre-digital years.

To contemplate: are digital communications for companies a two-edged sword?