Navigating the Changing Tides of Communications

By: Katherine Morales, APR
Mar. 1, 2020
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The tide is turning for public relations and communications. Can we ride the current?

For too long, PR and marketing functions have been kept separate within organizations. But in this new decade, what if PR and marketing can collaborate to co-manage brand strategies and together become essential communications measurements for all companies?

Behind communication tactics such as content marketing, social media, thought leadership and media relations lies a common strategy for PR and marketing professionals alike: to promote and protect brands so they can grow and persevere month over month, year over year. 

But in a competitive market, what will we promote? In a crisis, what will we protect? And in an unknown future, what will persevere? To answer these questions, we first need to understand what a brand is — and how public relations and marketing can work together to advance brands for the companies we represent.

As I define it with my clients, a brand is the unique value that an organization offers, and how it aligns with customer perceptions. With that definition in mind, here are some predictions for how PR and marketing professionals can collaborate to promote and protect brands:

Reflect consumer viewpoints.

It might seem like a daunting task, but public relations and marketing can work together. One example involves an area where the two functions have usually been kept separate: While marketing departments have solicited and managed consumer reviews of products, PR professionals have worked with bloggers and influencers. 

But given the growing importance of consumer input and consumer individuality in our communications, we will also become more aware of opportunities for PR and marketing to collaborate in reflecting consumer points of view. According to a November 2018 report from McKinsey & Company, 58 percent of Gen Z consumers said they were willing to pay more for products and services that suit their individual personalities. Working together, PR and marketing should mine customer reviews to find potential angles for communication initiatives.

So-called micro and nano influencers (those with 10,000–50,000, or 1,000–10,000 followers on social media, respectively) will continue to provide brands with effective, measurable reach. 

At the same time, new norms will emerge from marketing based on user-generated content, such as Sharpie’s “Write Out Loud” initiative, which asked consumers to help create an ad campaign by expressing themselves with the markers; and from competitions that let consumers influence products, such as the “Fight for the Flavor” Doritos campaign, which let consumers determine a new flavor for the snack.

Collaborate on influential relationships.

Company reputations are built and sustained in part through influential relationships and channels. But while marketers have long focused on celebrity endorsements, PR professionals have worked to influence public opinion through prominent awards, media placements and partnerships. To reach younger consumers, these marketing and PR efforts will need to be integrated.

To reach millennials in the last decade, companies increased their presences on social media. But according to the McKinsey report, Gen Z consumers are “more pragmatic and analytical about their decisions,” and comfortable seeking knowledge online. In response, companies must commit to brand consistency. Marketers will need to create timely, accurate information online, and PR professionals will have to work with marketing to spread brand placements and partnerships across all communications channels. Moreover, the PR function will need to generate greater numbers of high-quality, digital placements.

Understand differing perceptions of value.

Marketers define value as how customers evaluate a product’s benefits and cost compared to those of competitors. In public relations, we’ve always tried to convey the company’s values, often through corporate-social-responsibility campaigns and tie-ins with nonprofit groups. This push-and-pull about the meaning of value has not changed, but today’s consumers want a company’s morals and values to be ingrained into its products and operations. 

According to a survey from Accenture Strategy, consumers under the age of 30 feel a strong affiliation with retailers that subscribe to larger purposes. Furthermore, more than 60 percent consider a company’s ethical values and authenticity before buying its products. 

Marketers today not only have to sell a product’s quality and features, but also how it’s made. Similarly, for PR professionals thought leadership must reflect an organization’s internal leadership and how it participates in society. Understanding the direct connection between brand perceptions and profit will be a winning formula.

As the power of consumers to influence brands grows, the need for PR and marketing to collaborate will also become increasingly evident. 

The new consumer market — including Gen Zers and millennials, who together will have a collective purchasing power of $1.444 trillion in 2020 — will push companies to become more accountable, transparent and purposeful. 

Adapting to generational shifts can be hard for companies. But by reframing our own perceptions of what we do as PR and marketing professionals, we can help our brands and colleagues navigate the changing tides.

photo credit: enjoynz



On March 12, Katherine Morales, APR, will present a webinar titled, “The Shifting Tides of Brand in PR & Communications Today: How to Appeal to the New Consumer Market.” The session is free for PRSA members, and will be available on demand.