Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Social Media: Intersection of PR and Direct Marketing

Earlier this month the Chicago chapter of the Business Marketing Association hosted an event that featured a key note address from Edmond Russ, the top marketer at accounting firm Grant Thornton. BtoB Magazine was on the spot with a recap of Russ’ presentation.

From a review of the BtoB article, it appears Russ dedicated much of his discussion to the importance of an ongoing investment in brand advertising and promotion to establish credibility with key audiences. I've heard the arguments before and agree that brand enhancement should be a goal of any external communications program.

Yet, the lack of measurability with traditional advertising and public relations activities has always troubled me.

PR/communications professionals often decry top level corporate brass for cutting back on brand promotion when budgets get tight. Op-eds spring up in trade journals like PR Week, PR News and BtoB that characterize the C-suite as simply not “getting it” when it comes to the value of communications.

Hmmm…I wonder if it is the PR and marketing folk who don’t get it. The understandable view from the office of the CEO is that an activity with a difficult to measure value proposition and ROI is simply not fundable in lean economic times.

I suspect Grant Thornton’s Russ may agree. Here's the content from the BtoB article I found of most interest:

(Russ photo courtesy of Marketplace Masters.)

"When speaking about effective marketing channels, Russ said public relations is successful in reaching out to prospects but has a low level of personal interaction. Direct marketing, on the other hand, is effective in both reaching out to prospects and having a high level of personal interaction, thus helping to build the brand, he said."

Perhaps I should begin to characterize social media as the intersection between public relations and direct marketing. It's about thought leadership content that engages, educates and entertains delivered to key audiences through a more direct and intimate channel.

The ROI can be measured in terms of brand visibility and positioning through search engine optimization (SEO), as well as via lead generation and sales support. Now that’s something the C-Suite will surely understand.


Angela said...

As a direct response marketer I am not sold. I hear ROI stories but what I see is ROI that is similar to the good old fashioned "marketing mix" where you get leads but don't really know where they came from. Direct response marketing is all about trackable metrics and being able to optimize all the time. Social Marketing is slow and hard to optimize and very hard to scale. (Those are the bits that make it feel like PR!) And it's hard to tell the direct ROI from it and yet in your gut, you know it's incredibly important.

Frankly, I'd say it's the intersection of branding and PR.

Marc Hausman said...

@Angela -- thanks for the comment. First off, I agree with you completely on the importance of being able to measure the outcomes of PR/communications activities. This has long been the problem I've seen with traditional PR -- the ROI is simply too fuzzy.

Where we differ in opinion is in how an organization and establish measurable performance benchmarks with social media and then track progress against those milestones.

I detail my thoughts in greater detail at this post from a few weeks back: