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Breaking Down the Communication Silos

By: Guest | September 20, 2011 | 
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This guest post is written by Frank Strong.

It has been said the sales function is about as far away as can be from public relations on the business spectrum.

PR pros should not develop campaigns to drive sales. They should not use calls-to-action. Campaigns should not be measured by leads.

Most importantly, PR should not be measured by sales. That’s marketing.

PR is better served by measuring awareness. In fact, “an ideal objective specifies desired outcomes within target publics, such as increased knowledge and/or awareness, or changed opinions, attitudes, and behavior.”

Believe it or not, there are those who call themselves PR pros in these modern times, who espouse such nonsense. The irony is that PR may succeed in building awareness, and the business can still fall short – the same way a company can book sales one month and go bankrupt the next for lack of cash flow.

If you’ve made people aware of your company’s product, well, hey, your job is done, right? It’s marketing’s fault they didn’t capture the lead. It’s sale’s fault they didn’t close the deal. It’s customer service’s fault they didn’t retain the customer.

Point fingers. Deny the overlap.

The net effect of this misguided view rests in overhead, excessive cost and worse, lost opportunity. It’s silo-ed thinking. Marketing stays on their side of the room, PR stays in their corner – nobody crosses the line. Nobody.

This philosophy may have worked in the past; PR fielded media calls, stamped out news releases, and maybe wrote a speech or two. Marketing worked on slogans, direct mail, and advertising campaigns. Sure, integration between the two disciplines could have improved results, but campaigns surely didn’t fail for lack of streamline; they had different goals.

Then something changed: The world went digital, which meant new rules for marketing and PR. Word spreads faster, communications became social, and trust agents became a key to influence. Content was – and is – like currency, bartered for attention on the world’s largest exchange, which, in turn, is becoming more and more segmented.

These dynamics are forcing a tighter link between PR and marketing, and though I’ve argued that generally, marketing looks more like PR, the reality is, it doesn’t matter who made who. What matters are results. It’s giving rise to the notion of, as Deirdre Breakenridge puts it, the hybrid professional.

If traditionalists worry about shattered boundaries, then the hybrid professional is a frightening prospect.

This is because the hybrid professional is more than just the blending of the two fields. It’s the confluence of those AND customer service AND sales.

For example, tell me which function is being performed in the following:

  • When a sales person tweets a link to your company’s blog?
  • When a PR pro answers a product question on Facebook?
  • When a customer service representative shares a recap of a Webinar?
  • When the custodian links to the company’s product page from his blog?

The question is rhetorical, because it’s integration, by force, design, or accident.  Sales people are doing PR; PR people are doing sales; customer service is doing marketing. The companies that develop well-rounded employees focused on the single goal of sales as the benchmark will be best poised to succeed.

So if traditional PR wants to build awareness, have at it. It might have missed Plurk, Friendster, and Friendfeed, but there’s still time to collect impressions in the form of Retweets, Likes and +1’s. After all, if the tribes click “like,” opinions have been swayed in a measurable way.

But maybe not for long. The PR industry would be far better served by getting comfortable with sales if we still want to be in business.

Frank Strong is the director of public relations for Vocus. A long time Guardsman, he is currently on a leave of absence while deployed to the Middle East. He still posts occasionally on his personal blog The Sword and the Script.

37 comments
farida_h
farida_h

Great post, Frank. You make some excellent points here to support your argument. The problem begins with our affinity for defining and labeling everything in neat little boxes (just because it's convenient to do so.) Obviously, this becomes a huge problem in the online world where our previously set definitions don't seem to work any more because the boundaries are all blurring. Instead of debating over where PR begins and marketing ends we would fare a lot better if we focused on building a good overall grasp over each of these functions - PR, marketing, customer service, SEO and tried to understand how all of these can be tied together to effectively achieve a common business goal, which as you rightly point out, should be to increase business growth and sales.

etero
etero

I agree with you about PR is better served by measuring awareness. Social media can nurture your business to a new level with more captive users and connections. This punchy pieces of valuable content is very useful to my business: http://socialmediasolutionsexpert.com/

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Frank, Frank, Frank. This is why I love you so much. I love the way you think...it's like you've been living in my head lately. It won't come as a surprise that I'm with you in that the PR pros who act like all we should be doing is measuring awareness need to retire. It makes me nuts, actually. And I got kicked out of LinkedIn group for saying so. The moderator thought I was mixing PR and sales and he didn't like it. There definitely are people out there who still think this way. We just need to keep fighting the fight and changing the way we do our jobs. Every day.

KyleAkerman
KyleAkerman

Frank,

Great job here! Personally I like to lump it all under Marketing. It works for me because I define Marketing as identifying customer needs/pain points, developing products or services to solve those needs, creating an acceptable value exchange for customer and company, and helping customers if they have issues after the sale.

So for me Marketing = Consumer Research + Product Development + PR + Sales + Customer Service.

But as you said it does not really matter what you call it. All functional groups need to be focused on profitable sales or you will just be moving the deck chairs around as the ship slowly sinks.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Frank you are coming on Strong 8)

The hardest thing for upper management to do is to get disparate roles with disparate comp plans to work together. Everyone wants credit. The key is to align comp/rewards so that people work together. Forget egos. We all care about money the most. If someone has to suck it up to make more they will. But if the people who craft the comp plan don't do it right you can't blame people for not working together.

As I normally have a story from my past life in B2B Industrial Sales I worked for a very progressive company 95-01. A california industrial parts distributorship. I did 4 years inside sales and 3 outside. Operationally (inside sales is operations) we were paid as a group for On Time Delivery. 95% of all line items per month was the benchmark. It was critical when I quoted leadtimes customers it was accurate.3 times a week I reviewed open orders (items not in stock at time of order). I then expedited what was looking late (based on new info from each vendor). Purchasing also was paid on this. So it was in their interest to ensure we got parts in time. Purchasing also was paid on inventory turnover and worked hard for accurate min-max levels. Warehouse was also paid on inventory turnover so they shipped everything the could each day.

No different with marketing, PR, sales etc. Align the compensation so all groups work together towards a common goal. If not you can't be upset people do what benefits their bank account most.

ChristopherPerez
ChristopherPerez

I agree with the concept to the hybrid professional, but here's a question: If we're moving toward this integrated approach to PR and Marketing, what is it called? And what do we call ourselves? Sure, it's fine and well to say we shouldn't be silo'd and we share the objectives of marketers, but to your point, a lot of marketing is looking more and more like PR.

Marketers are adopting PR thinking and bringing this to their work -- so specifically, is this PR anymore? How do we define PR in the scope of an organization if in fact the silos have fallen? I can't see sales and marketing calling themselves "PR pros" so does this suggest we should start calling ourselves "marketers"? Is this a sign that PR -- the name and moniker -- is becoming obsolete?

Don't really expect answers here, but it is food for thought.

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

This was interesting Frank. My comment on @ginidietrich 's post yesterday hit on this silo issue.

Your approach seems like a no-brainer (though it's obviously not for many) in large companies and large agencies where both marketing and PR are under the same roof. I think my question would be how do you handle the silo issue when a company hires a PR agency and then a separate ad agency?

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

You've inspired my post for tomorrow, Frank, and thank you for guest blogging for us! The technologies are far too fluid for businesses to be so rigid in their philosophies. It's like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Roles are no longer clearly defined and put away in tight little boxes. Teams should be working and collaborating towards bigger, strategic goals.

dbreakenridge
dbreakenridge

Hi Frank, thank you for the mention in your post. You really hit some great key points. With communication becoming more social, it's critical that PR move outside of its silo and it's time to expand the functions. The hybrid professional is working closely with marketing, sales, IT, web, etc., and in many cases, PR is guiding the way with policies, procedures and training. Although awareness is important, If PR professionals choose to remain in the awareness silo, then we can't move into the future with a more strategic function in the organization that is tied to higher level business goals. Align with the sales/financial goals and you'll be at the boardroom table with the CEO!

ElenaVerlee
ElenaVerlee

Frank, what an excellent post. You managed to put into words what has been floating around in my brain the last little while but couldn't quite pinpoint - so thank you for saving me all that work! What we have been noticing is that clients hire us for "PR awareness" but in reality what they want is "sales". Most if not all the time, their "marketing" needs a lot of work. Everything works hand in hand and being just PR no longer cuts it. We need to roll up our sleeves and just get things done. There are no lines!

Collectual
Collectual

Frank,

I really enjoyed the post and am really surprised to read that some organization are as rigidly siloed. It seems every part of the organization would benefit from the some of the say business metrics: sales, leads, etc to validate their current strategies. Introduce social media and the ability to connect and serve customers really can blow away many of those ingrained hierarchical responsibilities. Whoever has the answer the customer is seeking should be the one engaging with the client or customer, regardless of whether they're PR, Marketing, Customer Service or a combination of all three. Of course, in an ideal world if they are different people hopefully they are sharing their engagement points with the rest of the organization.

Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer @collectual

Krista
Krista

Hi Frank-- great to see you on Spin Sucks! This is a very timely discussion, as I've been witness to the actual institution of a "no silo" approach to marketing and PR departments, both in an agency setting and currently in a large university health system. While the agency model did not work (as clients still wanted to separate the two for billing reasons), the institutional model appears to be catching on, but it will take some time.

Most communications folks, regardless of which "team" they're on, often strongly identify with what they view as their work. When integration requires that they share or relinquish parts of their work, it's viewed as a turf battle. But in the end, we're all trying to support the same company, product, or service. I think once these growing pains subside, the institution will have a more effective and efficient communications team, not just separate departments working independently of one another.

Certainly lots to think about, which is the hallmark of your posts! Hope you are doing well and stay safe :)

KenMueller
KenMueller

Tear down the silos, and make sure that they don't just impact HOW you do things, but how you communicate internally (which is probably part of why Netflix is in trouble based on this morning's post).

This reminds me of my years on-air in radio. The sales staff and programming staff were always at odds. The sales staff looked down on us and basically told us "If we weren't here, you wouldn't be making any money". To which we responded, "Uh, if WE weren't here, as the product, you'd have nothing to sell!".

It amazes me that within an organization their can be inter-silo bickering...

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@farida_h Hi Farida! Hope you are doing well.

That's an interesting point...do you think we label things for convenience or is that just how we understand things? I tend to feel it's the latter, which is why when the lines get blurry, we (sometimes) instinctively reject something that's different or new.

Mandy_Vavrinak
Mandy_Vavrinak

@juddwheeler Next month. You are presenting on Thurs, yes? I will be in Stillwater, unfortunately, but saw your topic. Sounds perfect.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@KyleAkerman Ha! That's a great analogy, Kyle. Where exactly does that deck chair go...and should we call it a deck chair? Thanks for the comment!

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@HowieG

Yes, Howie, I think you are right. And your comment, like some of those other smart comments below, hint at the leadership challenge of integration. Certainly incentivizing people to work as a team working towards one goal is an important part.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@ChristopherPerez Great points Christopher. Lot of questions about that. @tdefren is a person who often writes about this exact topic and has some pretty insightful ideas. Certainly the lines are blurring, though I still think there are some distinctions, primarily in how professionals with different backgrounds will approach a communications challenge. However, if the word we choose to identify with fades, i.e. "PR" is no longer used, would that mean by virtue of default, tighter integration? Love that question -- love thinking about it. You should write a post and elaborate on your thoughts!

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@Adam | Customer Experience

It's a good question and I'd answer with a question: how do you get them working together?

Some of my thoughts:

- Set the overall objective

- List it as a requirement in the RFP; evaluate the answers

- Joint kick-off, weekly status calls and quarterly brainstorms

- Repeatedly ask: how does this complement the other?

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@ElenaVerlee And that is a great challenge from an agency perspective. We want to (and need to) play a larger role in order to achieve success, but sometimes it's viewed as a turf war.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@ElenaVerlee Hi Elena, yes, I think you're right -- and I think the way for PR to approach that train of thought is by demonstrating PR's role in touch points along the sales cycle. How many PR or social engagements does it take to make a sale? Can we even ask that question absent the role of a sales person? BTW, you might be delighted to know I wrote this post in camouflage PJs. :-) Anyone reading this comment and doesn't understand, should check out Elena's blog!

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@Collectual You make a good point Jennifer it's a good question for anyone (in business) to reflect on: How do I contribute to sales? If you are in politics, it might be how do I contribute to votes? Or in an association, how do I contributed to membership growth?

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

@Krista Ah, shucks, Krista, thanks for the kind words and practical example. You say "it will take some time" and that brings up a great point: it's not easy. Integration is HUGE shift -- a paradigm in the pure sense of the word -- and a change like that does not come without resistance. Perhaps this is what @KenMueller was alluding to just this in his comment, but tearing down silos surely requires steadfast leadership.

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

It is amazing, Ken, because that's the problem seems to be replicated over and over. As marketing economist Peter St. Onge (@140on360) once put it succinctly "cooperation is best for everybody, but non-cooperation can be best for an individual."

Mandy_Vavrinak
Mandy_Vavrinak

@juddwheeler Can't do today, but I will save the date for Oct. 27th. When will reg open and do you know how much?

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