PR Takes the Lead: A Cautionary Tale

September 29th, 2009
by

Gail Nelson
Last week’s Ad Age article, “How PR Chiefs Have Shifted Toward Center of Marketing Departments was the talk of the public relations Twitterati. But in one instance where PR was given responsibility for overall marketing of a Fortune 500 firm, it’s not turning out so well.

This Sunday, as my friend and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Ana Beall’s in Westfield, NJ (yum!) we dissected the sad case of leading with the creative idea.

In this large company, marketing reports to the chief communications officer (CCO), A strong PR campaign featuring researched-based creative can attract new customers during the recession.  whose background is in public affairs. Wanting to attract new customers during this recession, the CCO agreed that new advertising was in order.  Here’s the FAIL, though: Being fond of a popular song, it appears he asked the advertising agency to design an ad using that song without conducting any research. As a result, neither the song nor the visuals have much to do with the brand or the firm’s customers. Here’s an unfortunate postscript: Ad placement for a very strong campaign featuring research-based creative was de-funded a year earlier.

Neither my friend nor I are privy to the inner workings of this company. But given the circumstances, it was wasn’t a shock to learn  that this executive will not be in charge of marketing and advertising much longer: The hunt is on for a strong CMO.

Now, I am not saying that a creative PR idea can’t launch a company’s fortunes. This weekend, I read the story of Twitter’s founding as told by author @shelisreal in his new book, Twitterville. Twitter invested its meager resources in a smart campaign at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) conference; Its clever tradeshow strategy knocked a competing micro-blogging service out of the market, tripled the roster of  users, and secured Twitter’s future.   

But back to our Fortune 500 company: Will this company ever again trust a public relations practitioner with strategic oversight of marketing? Does this gaffe make the case for a broader strategic curriculum in PR education and/or wider professional certification? Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.

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