You are what your customers say you are

Richard Edelman’s recent blog on the changing nature of public relations and whether we should  embrace the broader term of ‘communications’ to describe our services misses the mark in my humble opinion. The ‘PR vs. media relations vs. marketing communications vs. integrated marketing’ debate has been raging as long as I’ve been in the profession. And, after all these years, it’s just as meaningless as ever.

AndertoonsWith all due respect, Mr. Edelman’s point-by-point rationale for why we agencies should cling to the term public relations to describe ourselves reflects top-down, inside-out thinking. It really doesn’t matter how we define our solution set. The only thing that matters is how clients and prospective clients define it. 

Clients and prospects are less concerned about choosing an advertising, public relations, digital or direct firm than they are in understanding how best to engage in conversations with an ever-changing, incredibly demanding stakeholder base. They want partners who understand the 5Ws of those conversations and who will not only help guide them through a best practices approach for engaging in them but, critically, how to create messages that will then be placed in motion by stakeholders.

To provide a different perspective on the same subject, the following companies can launch all the integrated marketing campaigns they like, and I’ll still think of them the way I choose. To wit:
-    McDonald’s may be distancing themselves from their iconic Ronald McDonald character and introducing healthy alternatives to their menu, but I’ll always see them as a chief enabler of America’s obesity epidemic.
-    Starbucks may provide world-class training for their baristas, select blends from exotic locales and provide uber cool venues, but I’ll always think of them as the guys who sell high-priced, bitter-tasting coffee.
-    Comcast may laud its ‘comcastic’ service in TV spots, but I’ll continue to think ill of them each and every month when they ‘inadvertently’ disable my on-demand service.

Edelman can keep calling itself a PR firm. And, others can call themselves what they choose. I just want clients and prospective clients calling Peppercom when they need a strategic partner that understands how and where constituent audiences are engaging in meaningful conversations. That’s the true bottom line of the name game.

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