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Think comms can lead marketing? Here’s why

Public relations and its ties to marketing is a highly contested issue. Where should PR sit when it comes to the umbrella of marketing? Who should lead it? Is PR just a product of the marketing function?

During the PR Asia 2014 hosted by Marketing magazine at the Four Seasons, Vishal Doshi, head of corporate communications and marketing for Southeast Asia at American International Group (AIG), opined that corporate communications and marketing should be integrated as one function, ultimately led by a PR professional.

For more topics discussed during PR Asia 2014, read also:
The shrinking newsroom and what PR needs to know [GALLERY]

“I believe marketing plays a subset in communications. My personal viewpoint is there is a risk the marketing way of thinking will overwhelm PR if the two came together and was led by someone with a traditional marketing background,” he said.

In an ideal structure, he explained the PR and marketing function would be merged and led by an individual who was responsible for all of the organisation’s relationships – externally and internally. That individual would be the head of communications and marketing and would also need to think like a public relations-trained professional.

They would need to ensure transparency and engagement both within the organisation and with consumers. This structure would then need to be supported by people who maintained various relationships with customers, employees, shareholders and various channels of communications.

This is particularly true for the insurance space. He said historically companies such as AIG and other non-life insurance organisations relied on intermediate channels and sales agents. However, today, with the likes of telcos and airline industries making a play in the insurance space, as well as online insurance sales further segmenting the arena, insurance companies are becoming lesser reliant on such channels.

This sees insurance companies marketing to a broader audience, on a bigger scale, and making marketing and communications merge increasingly.

“Today, the person who creates the brochures, also writes press releases, and also is in charge of the organisation’s digital banner ads and social media channels,” he said.

It only makes sense to make marketing and communications work in unison. “Together they can determine priorities and lead products and ultimately decide what is told to the consumer.”

PR in the new world – managing your stakeholders and boardrooms

On the whole, the PR landscape is no doubt changing. There is now a slew of new technologies, new channels and new stakeholders leading to PR professionals having a steep learning curve.

According to Tino Fritsch, head of communications and the press spokesperson for APAC at ThyssenKrupp, PR now has to act as an internal consultant and explain new roles in the marketing landscape and guide the company through it.

This should be seen not as a challenge, but as an opportunity, he explained.

“This new complexity is a big chance for communications to stand up. We have to learn to use PR in the boardroom. Who else other than PR professionals can try to get boardroom professionals more hands-on?” he asked.

He also argued for the merger of PR, investor relations and marketing.

“If PR reports to the CEO, while investor relations and marketing report to another board member who is also responsible to marketing or branding, this can lead to friction. Investor relations may have some financial information – you have the information from the CEO – but the budget is still within the marketing. It has to be more integrated – otherwise you lose or risk a loss,” he said.

“Now we come to the new world – it’s about managing complexity. It is about different stakeholders. It will take time for those who are used to the old style to adapt. But you cannot run away – you must embrace it.”

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