The Public Relations Approach is the Future of Marketing

The phrase “public relations” doesn’t accurately define the role of PR in the future.

So said the 2017 Global Communications Report, from the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. The survey found, “87% of PR executives believe the term ‘public relations’ does not describe their future.”


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The evolution of digital media has forced the integration of previously distinct marketing disciplines. The lines have blurred and functions are now interwoven.

Is this the end of the road for the public relations professional? Will the function of communications be subsumed permanently by marketing?

No, I don’t think so. It’s just the opposite.

The approach of the classically trained PR professional, who has diligently acquired technical and digital skills, is permeating marketing. This has been evident in marketing trends over the last decade, where core PR tenets have been a unifying enabler.

  • PR is the link to SEO. The influence of PR was clear in search marketing when Google became the new front page. It’s still true today. If you want to earn backlinks, you have to do something new and unique. Directory submissions and pitching to fix old broken links is often fruitless work.
  • PR steered the approach to social media. We saw PR in the rise of social media, where authenticity reigned and rejected commercialization. You can’t win over a reporter over with an advertisement, and as it turned out, readerships and social media had a lot in common.
  • PR the first to inbound marketing. The PR approach was apparent too in inbound marketing – earning attention and forgoing interruption marketing. It’s called earned media because it cannot be purchased.

These ideas are not new. For example, a 2010 survey of 966 PR professionals I led for a former employer, Vocus, drew similar conclusions. The results, in part, prompted the company’s then CEO to observe that marketing increasingly looks more like PR.

PR isn’t being subsumed by marketing – it’s influencing a better approach to marketing. PR isn’t diminishing in business value, it’s more strategic than ever. PR isn’t becoming less important – it’s becoming more important.

So, while I agree with the conclusion, that the term “public relations” might be less fitting in the future, that doesn’t in any way diminish its role in the marketing mix.

Indeed, successful businesses will seize on this as an opportunity because the future of marketing looks more like public relations.

Note: A version of this post was previously published on Sword and the Script under the title The Future of Marketing Looks More like Public Relations.

Graphic credit: 2017 Global Communications Report

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