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Will PR Meld into Marketing and Disappear?

PR converging with marketingPublic relations is converging with marketing, PR and marketing executives believe.

But they don’t agree on whether that’s a good thing or not.

Almost half of PR professionals surveyed for the Global Communications Report say public relations will become more aligned with marketing over the next five years. Only 8% of PR professionals believe that PR will remain a distinct and separate function. Marketers are even more likely to see a convergence: 57% said the two functions would be more aligned in the future, and 20% predicting PR will become a subset of marketing, according to the study from the USC Center for Public Relations (CPR).

“Monitoring this trend toward convergence, and understanding its implications, is one of the most critical issues facing the public relations industry today,” said Fred Cook, director of the CPR and chairman of Golin, a leading PR firm. “We’re seeing a lot of consolidation on both the agency and corporate fronts, which has the potential to diminish the role of the PR professional.”

Don’t Call it Public Relations

Complicating matters, 87% of the 800 PR executives surveyed believe the term “public relations” won’t accurately describe the work they will be doing in five years. Almost half believe PR needs to be more broadly defined, while the rest think the name should be changed. Interestingly, not-yet-jaded PR students are far more comfortable with the current terminology than seasoned pros. Fewer than 20% think the name needs to be changed and 85% are relatively comfortable explaining it.

“When the corporate communication function is perceived as just another way to sell product, credibility will be compromised,” blogs Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology. “Maybe the term ‘PR’ will be replaced but, if so, the function that speaks on behalf of the business (not the products it sells) needs a distinct identity — or at least a clear way to differentiate its messages from marketing.”

That argues that PR must preserve its responsibilities outside of marketing, including corporate reputation management, corporate social responsibility and corporate affairs.

Earned Media will be Less Vital to PR Agencies

Earned media will continue to decline as a source of PR agency revenue, while paid, shared and owned media will increase, executives say.

In-house executives predict that over the next five years they will devote more resources to owned channels than to earned channels. Sixty percent of all PR executives believe that branded content and influencer marketing will be important trends in the next five years. Both are primarily paid media, not earned media.

As the lines blur between media formats, the average consumer will not make a distinction between paid, earned, shared and owned media, PR professionals predict.

Worrisome Predictions

Some PR professionals find the trends disconcerting.

“PR has the opportunity to move aggressively into paid content, an arena long dominated by advertising but that will require investment and training,” said Paul Holmes, founder and chair of the Holmes Report, which co-sponsored the study. “The bigger challenge for the profession and for society is what happens when consumers no longer know the source or the nature of the information they receive, and how that impacts the credibility of that information.”

Confusion over “fake news” in the minds of many consumers has caused some loss of trust in traditional news sources, possibly compromising the value of earned media placements by PR and increasing the trend toward using owned and paid media to promote corporate goals.

Growth for PR Agencies

Despite challenges, most (92%) of PR agency executives predict growth in the next five years, while 70% of in-house executives predict an increase in their budgets and headcounts. But for the second year in a row, recruiting and retaining the right talent are the greatest obstacles to achieving this growth.

The future of PR, then, seems to have become hazier.

Your thoughts: Would convergence of PR and marketing be good or bad for the PR profession and the clients it serves? Why?

Bottom Line: Many PR and marketing executives predict PR will converge with marketing and disappear as a distinct function as the lines between paid, owned and earned media blur. Even if PR maintains its independence, it will certainly change. Many PR pros say the term “public relations” will no longer accurately describe their jobs.