I'll remind new readers that my view of marketing encompasses product management (at least that's the name in tech companies). And although I've worked in different areas of marketing and product development/engineering, I think product management has got to be one of the most important functions.
As they say: You can put lipstick on the pig...but it's still a pig.
Read two views on the interview by PR Machine's Robb Hecht with Seth Godin (see Trevor Cook's Corporate Engagement and Jennifer Rice's Brand Mantra) on blogging and PR. Snippet below is from Jennifer Rice:
PR MACHINE: McDonald’s vp of marketing, Larry Light, introduced a new marketing strategy which entails using many stories rather than employing one message to reach everyone. He called this new strategy “Brand Journalism.” How do you think this will affect McDonald’s public relations outreach and media management...will the company tell different stories to different media outlets if it wants?
SETH GODIN: I think the vision is just fine, IF McDonald's also changes the product. Spin isn't going to be enough. The challenge is going to be to make stuff worth talking about, and then giving the PR people the freedom to follow through.
PR MACHINE: ...If you say that the brand journalism conversation is going to happen with or "without you” don’t you think PR folks should attempt to manage it [the conversation] by continually staying involved with it (by interacting with it and perhaps attempting to proactively direct it)?
SETH GODIN: I think (but what do I know) that PR pros can add a huge amount of value by focusing on P, not R. By working with the company as the voice of the public, helping them understand how to make stuff worth talking about. Moving upstream ever closer to the core of the factory.
The last statement referred to PR pros, but it's applicable to marketers, sales, brand strategists, agencies... anyone working to promote a brand. Too often, companies without a remarkable core turn to PR, marketing and sales to drive the brand; but this is a band-aid approach that enables the execs to avoid the real issues.
Starbucks says (and I agree): The stores are our billboards.
Nothing wrong with billboards, webinars, glowing press coverage, lovely (can you tell I was in U.K.) postcard campaigns, speaker slots at conferences...but the right product for the right target market trumps all of that. I can think of at least one company (no names, not a client but Silicon Valley is too small sometimes) that highly values PR/marketing (excluding product management), gets great coverage but whose actual product once closely evaluated is more often than not deemed a pig by the folks that matter - those that ultimately pay the bills.
Pity the poor PR person who is pitching the pig with lipstick. Anyway, I'm having a hard time seeing how a PR professional is going tackle this. In a company that has grown beyond a one-person marketing department, this is squarely in product management's court.
I think Seth is calling for companies to rely less on PR to manufacture or 'spin' a positive image and rely more on substance. 100% agree. But are public relations professionals the best positioned to "helping them [companies] understand how to make stuff worth talking about"? I'm just not convinced this is PR's primary function at all. I think marketing should be integrated and all the functions should be cognizant of the overall goals; thus PR can be a tremendous help by providing feedback internally as to what the influencers really think and feel (versus solely trying to spin or defend the feedback without listening, learning and incorporating it).
This feedback (and its incorporation) is actually part of the process of 'learning' that I heard Mark Leslie, founding CEO of Veritas, speak about recently - you are learning how to hone the product, marketing messages, sales model, the whole she-bang - so everyone in product dev, marketing and sales must be involved. Eventually you (hopefully) get to the market expansion stage (aka 'printing the money' stage) where you hit your stride and are cranking product and selling it as fast as you can - but before then there is a bit of trial-and-error learning curve that goes on initially with any new product, including within mature companies.
I still think that PR's role even in this 'participatory media' age is to influence the influencers (whom would influence the 'public'). There's never a direct relationship with the public - or every single interested constituent/stakeholder - because it's about leverage and amplification. I think PR's role does change in terms of coaching their clients on how to relate with these new, much more fragmented publishers (3+ million blogs and growing!) and as well as how to best use social media directly themselves.
PR has a very important primary role. Attention is such a scarce resource for everyone, particularly the influencers - whether they be press, analysts, or just incredibly well-connected word-of-mouth sneezers and bloggers. There's an awful lot of work for PR to do even for companies and products that genuinely do have something remarkable worth talking about and are stepping into a raucously loud and often cynical marketplace.
I'm trying to memorize this quote, so I'll probably repeat it a few more time over the week:
There will always, one can assume, be need for some selling. But the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available. - Peter Drucker