The Dilution of Disciplines: Knowing What’s What in Modern Marketing

by Doktor Spinn on 2021-10-08 · View Comments

Will we see a merging of the different marketing and communication disciplines? More and more specialists are claiming to be generalists and vice versa. Meanwhile the media landscape puzzle is becoming increasingly more complex. Will tomorrow’s marketing professionals be able to master all crafts within one organization? Beware, I say.

Designstrategen posed the question on whether we’re all moving towards the same goal as the disciplines seem to merge. Well, that we all have the same goal ought to be a given; operational excellence and business objectives, right? But should the disciplines merge? In my humble opinion - no way.

Don’t Go For The Popularity Vote

As a public relations professional, I’m well-trained in switching between a variety of perspectives. I have no trouble living in a world where the truth comes in many different shades of whatever. If you’re selling too little, you’re a well-kept secret. If your glass is half-empty, well then I guess you’re up for a pleasant refill, right?

So I know a spin where I see one. In times of increased complexity, you can always get the popularity vote by publicly declaring that we should all just call it by the same name and then just go out there and and start doing it already! Anyone heard that argument before?

Yesterday I read an article featuring some not-so-digital profiles of the Swedish PR industry. They goshed at the fact that people are out there hyping social media. Instead they stretched for the popularity vote stating that you shouldn’t use the number of followers as a metric for success…. Thanks for waking up and smelling the coffee, guys. The social media community got to that conclusion quite some time ago.

Revolution Requires Evolution

PR agencies aren’t the only ones struggling to get it right. The web agencies also ended up in awkward position. Suddenly their coding abilities became a necessary component in most digital marketing endeavours. The social and semantic branch of web coding, the SEO specialists, were therefore necessary to bridge the gap between web coding and PR.

The advertising agencies also ended up in a awkward position. Market research, planning, art direction, copywriting and overall creativity are their strong suits. But overwhelmed by the zeitgeist, they started focusing on getting advertising into the on-going conversation, because that’s what social media is all about, right?

But getting the word out is the job of a PR professional. The job of advertising is to get the product in front of the right people in order to sell more of it. Contrary to popular belief, people don’t hate advertising. People simply hate getting bothered with commercial messages that’s of no or little concern to them. Reaching the right people is therefore more important reaching a lot of them.

So, instead of focusing on their strengths, such as marketing research and planning, the advertising agencies got stuck on creating advertising that gets talked about, instead of advertising that reaches the right people and sells product. Hiring PR professionals and setting up in-house PR shops is therefore like in-sourcing peripheral competence.

The Clint Eastwood Approach

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see an agency or a multi-department that houses excellent practice in branding, design, PR, SEO, coding, copywriting, planning, word-of-mouth, market research, and community management. But if we get practical, would you hire an agency with just one PR professional? What if he or she gets sick? We need to remember that the one-stop-shop strategy requires quite the volume of employees.

Personally, I’ve taken a great interest in SEO and coding lately. I’ve learned a lot and all this new knowledge has made me humble. It has given me a great respect for their trades. This makes me a better PR professional for sure, but let me tell you that I’ll never be a professional. No-one in their right mind would pay me my hourly PR rate for messing around with their code.

As one of Clint Easwood’s characthers once said on the silver screen, “a man has to know his limitations”. Not to be discouraging, bur there’s a SWOT if I ever heard one.

Bridging The Gap

It’s therefore important that we spin this problem right. The problem isn’t that we have different disciplines. It never were. The problem is rather that we know too little about each others strengths and weaknesses in order to work well together at both the strategic and the operational levels of our mutual clients.

I’ve been in meetings with advertising agencies where we’ve had the same client. In most cases, the advertising agency then asks me to put a spin on their marketing campaign. Sure, I say. I can probably do that. Seed some word-of-mouth on how creative and funny the campaign is. Maybe get the advertising trade press on-board as well. But.

I rather focus my efforts on the client’s behalf instead of the campaign’s, I then suggest. If for instance the campaign pushes an environmentally friendly product line, then I would want to position the client as an environmentally conscious organization in the minds of their key publics rather than be spending my time spinning the creative excellence of the campaign.

And if we change perspectives, I’m sure that the advertising industry thinks that PR professionals often times are operating too far from he bottom line of marketing - increasing sales. I’m sure this goes as well for how different departments in larger organizations works together - the solution is to see the big picture and to understand how the pieces fit together, not to undermine the craftsmanship of individual professionals.

A great brand manager understands the differentiators of the disciplines in the marketing mix and therefore knows how to use them in order to power up the brand and drive sales.

The Dilusion Of Disciplines

In my opinion, we’ve got little or nothing to gain by the dilusion of disciplines. Each discipline instead needs to evolve further in developing their core competence, not becoming slightly better at everything. It’s called competitive edge for a reason, right? If there’s problems with your sauce, mixing it with another won’t get you the flavor you were looking for.

Or to put it more bluntly; your PR activities won’t get better results by mixing some advertising into it. Advertorial content has its place too, but it’s no refinement of either discipline. Instead great PR has to go great together with great advertising, great web interfaces, and great SEO, thus enhancing the overall brand experience.

The Gordon Ramsay Marketing Mix

It’s like ordering out, I think. First you’re allowed to commit by getting to choose for yourself what you want to eat. If you are being served something else, you’ll probably get somewhat aggressive. Then you want different components of the meal presented in a compelling matter, not being mashed all together in a tin can. Each part of the dish should also appeal to your senses in their own way, and they should also go well together. If it fits the bill, you’ll come back. If it’s extraordinary, you’ll tell your friends.

For the restaurant, this requires smartness in compiling the menu and efficient teamwork in the kitchen, and that’s precisely what the marketing and communictions industry is lacking today.

I think celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay would be a great brand manager. In fact, he is.

At the crossroads of conformity and diversity

Ladies and gentlemen of the marketing and communications industry, we’re at a significant crossroads here. Either we all go for the one-stop-shop strategy, or instead we make sure to work better together towards the same goal in mutual respect for what each each do best. In an increasingly complex and competitive environment, this is an important strategic decision.

Or as I would spin it; this is simply a choice between conformity and diversity.

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