Public Relations Versus Marketing Communications: Can One Write For The Other?
A few weeks ago I asked Jayme Soulati–a favorite PR pro of mine–for a guest post addressing a topic she didn’t feel she “could tackle with aplomb.” So I let her off the hook (because I really, really wanted to give her experience and palpable energy the spotlight here), and left the topic-picking to her. I wasn’t disappointed. Her thoughts–and any ensuing discussion–on public relations versus marketing communications are important for business owners and communications professionals alike to note as they hire and bid for projects. Do you have strengths in one, the other, or both? What makes you think so?
Brushing my teeth one morning this week, I came up with this awesome topic which spurred Shakirah onward with a challenge: let’s see it, Soulati!
Here we go…
Writing styles between marketing and PR–never the twain shall meat (yes, that’s intended… meat). Because one of them butchers the other with a cleaver, and the recipient of said hacking cringes in despair. Usually, it’s PR writing going under the blade of a marketing writer.
But, let me correct that: marketing and PR–never the twain shall meet. It’s impossible for marketing to write for PR, but it is possible for PR to write for marketing. (Hmm, how shall I explain that?)
As a public relations practitioner of 27 years, I’ve done my fair share of writing for marketing. I use my news style, add some copywriter prose, sprinkle in some flowers, and emulate the tonality of the person/product/thing I’m writing for. Invariably, there are edits, but 99 percent of the time what I write is more solid than what I get to work with at the outset.
Remember one thing whilst you ponder; everyone is an editor and they believe themselves to also be a good writer. When PR is writing for marketing, CHECK THE EGO! No way will any marketer allow any writing to slip by unedited.
In this era of folks on the street seeking work, there is many a marketer seeking work from PR peeps. I know this to be true. My dilemma in hiring a marketer to write for public relations goes like this:
Marketing is analytical and sales oriented. Its job is to generate leads, sell stuff, and influence the buy. That’s NOT how PR writes at all, ever. It’s hard to change up that style of writing and use an inverted pyramid with a news flash on top. (Here’s a secret for you, many a PR writer still has trouble burying the lede, too.)
Marketing is more business than PR; I hate to admit this, but I believe it’s true. In a news release or feature story, that style may fly and it may not (usually the latter).
Marketing writers like to dig in deep; no harm there, but PR is trying to sell a story with a broader appeal via several angles that tie to current events (rather than digging a deeper spiral).
Copywriters do extremely well writing for marketing; they also do very well writing for PR when there is a feature story to tell. When marketing gets into storytelling mode via the written word, I’m at a loss how to parlay that into journalistic style.
Before I get carried away and state so strongly that no marketing peep can write for anyone in PR and vice versa, let me clearly say that there are those who can! This is not a blanket statement for all of us in this profession…there are brilliant writers who can emulate any style required; however, they are certainly pressing their comfort zone to do it.
Jayme Soulati is president of Soulati Media, Inc., a virtual PR firm blending social media and marketing. She is a writer, strategist and blogger. You can find her blogging at Soulati-‘TUDE! and all over the interwebs.
Enter your email to get random special notes from me about marketing copy, language, and grammar you can put to work as soon as you read them. It’s not a newsletter–it’s your chance to pull me aside for answers to your own questions, too!
And now for my thoughts on the article itself: I'm thinking you're saying two different things here, Jayme: a) PR CAN write for marketing ("99 percent of the time what I write is more solid than what I get to work with at the outset" and b) marketing doesn't think so "Usually, it's PR writing going under the blade of a marketing writer."
I don't have the corporate experience to say one or the other is true, so I need you to tell me whether you, marketing, or neither side is being objective about this. Not that that was a requirement, of course.
And I must point out that although PR might be *assigned* to write for marketing, it doesn't mean PR writers are really good at it. Since you said marketing writing is the polar opposite of PR, you'd probably have to keep a good-sized butcher's knife on hand for anything a marketing writer sent you *even remotely in that style* for your use. Right? So it stands to reason a marketer would need to do the same. And so, both of you would see a perfectly crafted piece in your styles transmogrified into something that would never get approval in your department, but would be (arguably and with all kinds of qualifications of course) "better" by those standards.
I'm a writer by nature, and believed I could really write just about anything I set out to. I've often told myself once I completed it that I had done it. But that didn't always mean it was meeting its purpose, and I knew it.
So I got training. I learned tricks of the trade. I learned the history. I learned the mechanics. But since I realize there's much more I couldn't possibly have absorbed in class, I keep learning more. I can write in a few distinct styles, but I've only labelled a few of them. The reason I like those labels is mostly cerebral, but also so I can have more confidence in exactly what it is--from the stylistic point of view--I'm providing for my customers, and how it *differs* from other styles.
"Marketing versus PR" was one of the lessons I began to absorb peripherally when I met you and several other PR practitioners, and the more I learn from you the more I want to know. So thank you again.
Let me address incrementally...your style of writing is not what one usually sees. It's book style, feature style, out of this world style and NOT news style. I would never hire you to draft a press release, but I would hire you to do some storytelling (that's marketing) or a feature story (that's PR, too) and certainly web copy targeting consumers. No offense suggested; it's my impression of your skills having read you awhile now.
As for how you launched the graf, you read correctly -- that's what I'm saying. My statements are based on experience; MY experience. I can't speak for any others; we'd need to inquire to see. I am currently acting in a brand managerial role using PR perspective in all that I bring; that includes writing.
I mentioned somewhere that many PR writers bury ledes all the time; writing is never something you perfect; it's something you strive to perfect. (You said it well in your comment above; the learning you're doing.)
Seriously, I just would not hire a marketer to write for PR. I'm not certain I can explain that any better than I tried to do in the piece. Now that this thing is going "national" on Ragan.Com at 6 p.m. ET, I'm probably going to be defending myself even more strongly. But, will stick to my guns. After nearly 30 years, I have some keen experience that speaks.
@Soulati | PR It's the experience that does speak for you--in fact, I probably should have included that in your byline so you won't have to repeat it over and over and over in comment replies... And thanks, but--I really wasn't thinking of me. I'm an anomaly, as you said. I was thinking of marketing writers who do have the kind of agency/corporate experience I don't.
I meant to add, re learning, that I do think it's possible to learn two styles that are polar opposites.
[Stepping over the remains of shattered chandeliers and crumpled napkins) Hello? Can anyone help me, I'm trying to find my blog... Jayme Soulati? Well that explains everything.
This post and the discussion has been eye-opening for me in lots of good ways--just as I anticipated. Big thanks to Jayme for calling us out and making us think--as well as hosting while I was MIA today.
Also wanted to mention that this post was tagged by Ragan.com to be republished there as well, so plenty more thoughts and opinions to come (I hope!). No idea how you do it (and with such aplomb!), Lady J.
I'll leap fully into the commenting fray tomorrow.
I understand the distinction between approach and writing styles but I don't think I have ever wondered about whether I could write one or the other. I just write in whatever style/tone/mode is necessary.
I suppose that begs the questions of whether I do it well or not, but...
You're the single-most anomaly I've ever met, or not met as the case may be. TheJackB
@SoulatiTheJackB | PR You are so carefree about so many things on this journey. If more could be like you with your confidence, knowledge and expertise...that's what I meant.
TheJackB It does, beg that question, doesn't it? That's why I'm so interested in Jayme's and Davina's experience dealing with marketing--and marketing's experience dealing with PR. According to them, marketing didn't think PR was good enough at marketing writing.
ShakirahDawud It is an interesting question to me. I write about anything and everything. It is what I have always done. I never worried or wondered about whether I was capable of writing in a particular style or not.
I don't know if that means that I am arrogant, clueless or something else. Anyway, I have written many different things, papers, releases, ads and every time I just used a model and went from there.
TheJack...I would not hire you to write my press release, either! Is that any consolation, Shakirah? I need news style, journalistic knowledge, ability to put the story into the first graf and not write the stories you two do and are capable of.
I am by no means criticizing your styles or writing; there are certain criteria PR writers need to be really good writers of press releases and other vehicles we use (that most don't understand until they are introduced to them). These good PR writers are hard to find.
Maybe we need @Shonali to weigh in here; she's got some teaching behind her.
Soulati | B2B Social Media MarketingShakirahDawudShonali You mean that my BA in Journalism and time as Editor in Chief of two newspapers is all for naught.
Damn. Damn and double damn- that is four damns for those who aren't counting.
Actually this ties into one of our conversations about how we present ourselves on our blogs. I don't link to my professional work there nor do I write many posts using my "Clark Kent" hat.
TheJackBSoulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I guess I'm in ShakirahDawud 's camp. To me, a good writer isn't just one who's readable, but who's versatile. There are many good writers who aren't very versatile. But those who do well in the Communication field (note I didn't say "marketing" or "PR") are versatile.
Personally I think we should stop talking about "marketing" v. "PR" regarding... well, pretty much anything. We should also stop perpetuating the notion that all "PR" does is write press releases. Yes, the ultimate function of "marketing" is to generate profits. But any "PR" pro who isn't keeping his/her eye on their business'/client's desired outcomes is doing both a disservice, IMHO.
@SoulatiShonali TheJackB | PR Thanks, Shonali. This did turn out to be a very different conversation than the one I've read at places like Gini's about integration of disciplines. But I think that's partially because although I can appreciate the utility of pros from adjacent disciplines taking what lessons they can from each other, PR is constantly being redefined. So I hoped to generate enough discussion to help potential marketing and PR clients understand what makes PR and marketing communications what they are, and why they shouldn't hire one pro and expect them to do the work of other--unless that pro has demonstrated versatility, as you mentioned.
Everything I write for corporate marketing is edited. It goes through the marketing team and it's tweaked, understandably. Then it goes to the copy department and all hell breaks loose. ShakirahDawud TheJackB
@Soulati | PR TheJackB The copy department is probably... well, a little touched, I'd imagine, if it's producing some of the completely wacky--and sometimes completely unscrupulous things advertising gets away with in public. Not for PR, no. But not for me, either. I like creative, not insane.
Thank you, Friends, for coming here at my invitation today (mostly)...I appreciate all the hefty remarks and discussion. Loved this experience, and I bet there is blog fodder being created all over the sphere tonight, eh? See you tomorrow, Shakirah, wherever you are!
I know you're gonna spit later and then we'll be right back here for more.
Ok first, the headline has me confused with the rest of the story. Marketing Communications is not the same as Marketing. As the link pointed out what isn't PR, a lot of things aren't Marketing, they are subsets of Marketing. Activities such as Advertising and Promotions both help market a business by communicating messages. (And here we go with the Definition Debate.)
That said, one of the worst client experiences I had was with some 'marketing' guys; they thought they knew enough about marketing Communications, but really.. just enough to be dangerous. The writing that gets a sales plan or marketing program approved by management (internal, business and often non-communications audience) is very different from the writing that attracts the interest of a blogger (social audience), a reporter (media relations audience) and different from what will attract a potential customer (B2B or Joe Average consumer).
I don't know if it's a 'deep spiral' or 'buried lede' so much as writing with purpose. It's why I'm an integrated PR person, why I work with the 'marketing' team - all that 'right messages, right audience, right way.' I do have some clients want to be more technical, share the wrong details, not understand what is relevant to whom and why. In that sense, absolutely it's the writing difference of 'selling the product' vs. 'selling the story, the lifestyle or benefit' i.e. what people will read that will motivate them to part with their money. Either that, or I'm over-thinking this. FWIW.
I didn't include "communications" in the headline and agree with you. Marcom is something totally different than marketing. 3HatsComm Writing with purpose; hmmm, perhaps it's back to the basics -- what are the objectives for the piece and for whom? You know the tier one PR attack...I, too, am integrated.
I think we need a pure PR person to expound here; do they exist any more? Thanks for coming by.
Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing OMG, is ANYONE good enough at what they do to be a one-trick pony? No one lives, breathes, exists, operates, makes money in a vacuum. (Unless you're off the grid, isolated in the shack somewhere.) We all need some integration, a few different tricks up our sleeves. Hell I cheat, bring extra sleeves.
Back to purpose and objectives, that's one of my things about writing in general. It's NOT words on a screen, typing of the keyboard. Some 'marketing' types make that assumption, undervalue it; writing, done by folks like us is MORE than words. It's strategic, goal-oriented, results-driven - all that crappy biz barf I make fun of - but it's true. It's the 'basics' all right, along with a lot of expertise and experience behind it too.
3HatsCommSoulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Haha! I was just talking about the idea of silos over at kmueller62 's place.
I can't amplify your words enough, Davina. There is HUGE misunderstanding about PR's expertise behind the scenes b/c that's where we live -- not in the rabbit hole @ericamallison but behind the C-level dudette. 3HatsComm
@Soulati3HatsComm | PR True, and I can't figure out why any marketing person would devalue it. I certainly can't.
3HatsComm Sorry bout the headline. I was trying to shorten "PR Communications Versus Marketing Communications" by just putting the noun once--but caused some jargon confusion instead.
That said, thank you! As someone who doesn't have experience working in a corporate environment as a writer in either discipline, you helped me differentiate quite a bit here.
But since these disciplines are merging so much these days... would you say it's "easier" to be integrated as a primarily PR professional than as a primarily marketing pro?
ShakirahDawud3HatsComm Gotcha. I think "PR" types may respect, appreciate 'writing' more but MarComm folks have to be able to write well too. It is merging and blurring these days, no question about it. Again, I think it all comes back to purpose: are you writing a release, a media pitch, an in-house CRM campaign plan? Is this just pro-forma TPS reports or is this something that has to take complex numbers and data, turn them into actionable information for decision-makers? I know I personally would not do as well with some material/topics than a seasoned marcomm would. FWIW.
I wrote a bit in the post about marketing being more business oriented (and PR needs to get there, absolute) and that's where marketers bring that analytics/data/business/sales perspective into writing. PR needs to use more data to validate its news, but that information is terribly hard to find from reputable sources. 3HatsComm ShakirahDawud
I haven't had to make these kinds of distinctions and am not immersed in the PR/Marketing terminology or debate. So, it would help me to see two pieces of similar content, one with a PR slant and one with a Marketing slant. I mean, I know there is pure marketing material and that's often easy to spot. But how would you position a white paper or perhaps a video that tells a brand story? I'd love to see some actual examples to better understand how PR might slant the content versus how marketing would.
Neicolec I've always thought of PR being more closely aligned with press releases and the like. Bare bones, if you will, and directed toward the people who need sound bites. Marketing seems to have a little more play room, so it would be the content given to current and potential customers, not necessarily the news hounds. I'm not entirely certain of the distinction, either. I'm just a writer. :) Give me an assignment, and I'll do my best to write it according to the known constraints.
I have to tell you, Erin. As a core PR practitioner, I'm doing more writing than ever before and hardly any of it is a news release. I am all over white papers, thought pieces, newsletters, web copy, tips series, bylines, case studies and whatever needs writing every day. The day of a PR person only writing press releases is LONG gone. Erin F. Neicolec
Soulati | B2B Social Media MarketingErin F. Well, see, I'm kind of like Erin. I don't really think about whether it falls into PR or marketing. It's content that serves a purpose and I write it. Of course, it's a different matter if you're being hired to do the strategy. Still, I do have trouble understanding why there is this ongoing battle about marketing versus PR. For us outsiders, it's kind of confusing.
Neicole, I cannot explain it any better than to say for 27 years this competitive streak has existed (a lot of it from advertising) amongst the three disciplines. With the blurring over the last five years, it's even more challenging to know whom to hire when. Marketers usually and frequently hire PR; PR needs marketing to extend its reach inside a company with the branding, vision, values and sales.
Writing for each of these "things" is absolutely different. Not sure putting the styles side by side would help in any way; perhaps it would help clarify, but it wouldn't change how we work independently or side by side (and nor should it). Neicolec Erin F.
Soulati | B2B Social Media MarketingNeicolec Eek! I didn't mean to suggest that was the case. The press release was the only example that came to mind as being specifically "PR." All those other things? I've written them or write them, but they were never part of one realm or the other. They were just communications written in a different ways according to different audiences.
NeicolecSoulati | B2B Social Media Marketing We're just rebels (You too, Jayme.) who believe in the power of well-constructed sentences. ;-)
Erin F.Soulati | B2B Social Media MarketingNeicolec Crisis communications! PR often requires a rapidfire response when the unexpected happens. It is a clear example where PR is not a subset of marketing but is, in fact, saving marketing's a-- ته قنداق تفنگ (that's Persian for you, Jayme :). It is one example where public relations communication is truly "fly by the seat of your pants" -- there is no time to plan, and everything you learned has to switch to diplomatic gears.
Dang, if you enlarged that Farsi, maybe I could even read it! The first word is "Keh" and the rest I'm gonna assume is unmentionable on Ms. Dawud's blog. (Ahem, I've kept this extremely professional today, eh, Shakirah?) P.S., Thanks for coming over at my invitation "whilst" we were tweeting about Girl Scout cookies today!KabiDG Erin F. Neicolec
Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Yes, it's Farsi in damage control-sized type (I am absolutely new here and hope not to offend anyone, truly). But seriously, I will agree with your comments below. I believe the major difference between PR and marketing writing are the audiences for which they are written, where PR writing can address different stakeholders at once. The the second major difference is the responsiveness with which they are written; PR writers are to be at the ready, 24/7, to protect the brand's reputation.
Soulati | B2B Social Media MarketingNeicolec@ericamallison I know Erica. We're friends on Facebook. :) I think I've seen Neicole here and there, but I don't know that we've been formally introduced. Hi, Neicole!
KabiDG Well said...and, I can read and write Farsi at a third-grade level, for the record! Hah
@Soulati | PR Erin F. Neicolec So what was it that PR practitioners were expected to write "back in the day?" I keep hearing this, that PR isn't just a press release "anymore..." Was it ever? What other pieces were traditionally expected?
@Soulati | PR Neicolec Erin F. I sensed that competitive streak with my first introduction to Jayme's, @ginidietrich's and @3hatscomm's blogs. It was that streak I wanted to learn about more directly, for my and other outsider's edification, and I'm glad that's what I got.
@SoulatiKabiDG Erin | PR Neicolec I think that's part of the picture I've always had of PR--as "clean-up," in most cases after a spectacularly ill-conceived marketing stunt, but for other things, too. Re: crises, PR is a lot less "plan" and a lot more "procedure," than marketing then, would you say?
@SoulatiKabiDG | PR No offense taken--I can do the phonics from Arabic, but that's it. Otherwise, you'd've been in BIG trouble, lol! Seriously, though, pleased to meet you. I think I appreciated Jayme's comment about PR being much more catch-all and marketing being much more "client persona"-focused.
ShakirahDawud I think you're getting to something really characteristic about PR writing. And although there is plenty of "procedure" in PR, the procedures can be different and are, perhaps, "protocol" and "conversation" oriented. PR writing is very ear-to-ground. Food for thought: If you were suddenly invited to meet with the president of the United States, or the Queen of England invited you to one of her garden parties, would you bring along -- your marketing writer or your PR writer?
OH YES! PR was all about publicity; you've seen the struggles and definitions we did at my house a year ago...there is so much misperception about what PR actually brings to the table. It's because of the darn "publicist" or "publicity" or "press agent" monikers where the press release was king.
Can't really go into the last question...way too much. We have many vehicles labeled in PR vernacular familiar to agency brats like me. Not sure if Davina is agency brat, but based on her comments, it's likely. ShakirahDawud Erin Neicolec@soulati