Marketing v PR — a disaster waiting to happen

Can you imagine a football team where the backline, midfield and forward line all had separate coaches with individual game plans?

It sounds ridiculous but my observation is that in the corporate world it is common practice and, in my opinion, it is a recipe for disaster.

I am referring to the reality that in many large companies the marketing, external affairs and internal communications functions report to different line-managers and often work independently.

Most commonly this comes about because the people who have most to say when it comes to organisational planning tend to be management consultants, often accountants, who simple don’t understand how best practice communications works. Can you imagine a marketing person structuring the Finance Department so that the accountant responsible for revenue worked completely separately to another responsible for costs? And yet this is precisely the model that seems relatively common-place in many companies.

The fundamental cause is a failure to appreciate communication from the customer or stakeholder’s perspective. They don’t differentiate between the types of messages — be it advertising, news coverage resulting from media relations or the CEO’s statement at the AGM: As far as they are concerned it is just Company X. And that’s the problem because when the various communications functions aren’t aligned, Company X is at significant risk of sending out conflicting and sometimes quite contradictory messages.

It can work where the personalities involved in each of the separate streams have sufficient emotional intelligence to recognise the danger and are prepared to cooperate and work together. But the combination of a separate reporting line for communications and a little bit of ego can be fatal. It is a bit like the full-back who refuses to kick the ball to the midfield because they might just get the credit for passing it to the forwards who then kick a goal.

Sound ridiculous? It is happening as we speak — Marketing Managers who refuse to talk to the PR Manager — never happens? Rubbish — it does and the sooner it is stamped out the better. The starting point is to get the structure right and not let the accountants rule.