PR’s Biggest Challenges (And How to Overcome Them)

Learn how PR teams can overcome some of their greatest challenges by working more closely with marketing organizations. 

April 10, 2023

Public relations professionals have so many jobs today. Many of them are tough enough on their own, but even more so when considering overall workload.


PR's Biggest Challenges


To learn more about the challenges facing PR, we surveyed senior in-house and agency leaders from the U.S. and Europe. When we asked them to list the five activities they find most challenging, here’s how they answered from top to bottom:


1. Measuring the ROI of PR campaigns.

2. Connecting with relevant media and influencers.

3. Listening to online conversations.

4. Amplifying brand awareness via social media.

5. Distributing press releases and multimedia.


How can these challenges be overcome by PR teams around the world? By working more closely with marketing organizations and learning from them.


How Can PR Bridge the Divide With Marketing?


Historically, the C-suite has held marketing in higher standing. That remains the case today. So perhaps the greatest value is achieved when PR truly looks at what its marketing counterparts do better in comparison. Only then can PR establish the best possible partnership with marketing.


In the recent study conducted with PRWeek, we sought to facilitate that self-analysis by surveying PR leaders from the U.S and Europe. The results not only illustrate how PR can evolve in partnership with marketing—they also help build a foundation upon which the disciplines move forward in unison, which is of paramount importance to the brands they both serve.


More than five out of six respondents (83.2%) agree that “the lines between PR and marketing are more blurred than ever.” Of those, more than half “strongly agree” with that statement.


“It used to be that marketing was about driving sales and PR was about driving reputation,” says Ben Chodor, president of Notified. “But the two departments are no longer on opposite ends of the building anymore,” he adds.


“They are having to work together as, ultimately, what they do drives the same result, whether it be a spike in sales, stock price (in the case of a publicly traded company) or market share. And today it is possible for both parties to directly link their work to it.”


Why Unification Should Be a Mindset


While the lines are blurred, more than half of respondents said their brand’s marketing and PR departments still operate independently from one another, at least organizationally. Even so, the two can still have a symbiotic relationship.


At Coca-Cola, “reporting lines are less important than they were in the past,” says VP of External Communications Kent Landers. The beverage giant has adopted a “networked organization” structure, which is designed to be cross-functional, reduce silos and improve universality of thought.


“No matter your reporting line, the same cross-functional teams are the voice of our stakeholders and are made up of comms and public affairs and marketing people,” he explains. “It is that singular voice that feeds back into every department of the company.”


And that isn’t just true of Coca-Cola’s consumer brands. Corporate brand work is also a partnership between PR and marketing.


The PR and marketing departments at Southwest Airlines also have different reporting lines. Linda Rutherford, the airline’s SVP and CCO, reports into the CEO, while the CMO reports into the chief commercial officer. However, she says the two have a very close working relationship.


“Regardless of whether or not your departments are organizationally connected, one of the most important professional relationships that a CCO can have right now is with the CMO,” she asserts.


While the PR and marketing departments at Southwest each have their own analytics team, the two meet daily and pull from one another in their reports to their higher-ups. “Our teams are very collaborative,” notes Rutherford.


Nearly three-quarters of respondents (74.3%) said the relationship between PR and marketing is strong at their brands, suggesting unity is not only possible, but happening. Still, that leaves a quarter of the industry with significant work to do on this front.


That said, in organizations where the two work as one, PR predominantly reports into marketing (90% said that), not the other way around.


Paul Dyer, CEO of Lippe Taylor, says, “This reporting relationship has historically been mirrored on the agency side. The advertising agency owned the ‘big idea’ and the PR firm drafted off it.”


However, PR has become stronger in areas such as insights and creative.


“We’re [increasingly] seeing the relationship reversed — the PR firm leads an integrated agency with an earned mentality and the advertising agency drafts off their idea,” notes Dyer. “While this is unlikely to change how internal reporting relationships work, it does create a new opportunity for in-house PR pros to take on a much larger role.”


However, he advises, “they need to do the things that their marketing counterparts did to succeed.”


Where Is There Room for Improvement?


At the top of that to-do list is technology adoption, which marketing has done markedly well to advance its profession.


Only 5.6% of respondents said PR is more effective in this regard as compared to marketing. Furthermore, in evaluating the job PR does in adopting technology, one-fifth (20.5%) said it was below average or poor. Just 6.1% said it was excellent.


Ellen Ryan Mardiks, vice chair at Golin, says it isn’t that PR hasn’t been able to bolster its effectiveness with technology and tools. Rather, she says, “we haven’t been able to prove and merchandise our effectiveness.”


That speaks to measuring ROI, which respondents identified as a particularly challenging activity.


“Marketing has been much better at that,” says Mardiks. “But PR’s commitment to measurement and analytic tools is greater than it has ever been.”


“This is an area where we can, and need to, enhance our skills,” agrees Landers. “Measurement and metrics in other disciplines are more of a science. If we continue to go in that direction, it will make a difference to what people think PR can achieve for their organization.”


“A part of the issue has been that PR never had the same access as marketing to user-friendly tools and technology,” adds Chodor. “But now the technology is there for comms to report back to their leadership with great data reports.”


How to Find PR’s “Voice”


With the right technology, PR pros can capture the metrics that they say are most important to their organizations.


“Marketing’s ability to track sales is phenomenal, especially in digital spaces where links, trackbacks and source coding can all be used to give absolute knowledge about the impact of their efforts,” says Rutherford. “Comms, though, has that same opportunity with its content and so we source code all the content we put out there.”


When it comes to share of voice, what brand doesn’t want to be positively mentioned more often than their competitors on social and digital media.


“It has often been tracked too broadly and without enough context to be valuable,” explains Chodor. “The best way to track share of voice is by product, business unit, vertical or comms initiative, and see how it correlates to impact such as stock price and sales, rather than just in a vacuum.”


Lippe Taylor’s Dyer has worked on measurement programs for energy drink brands Red Bull and Monster Energy. Share of voice was critical to both.


“It helped Monster determine if it was gaining on Red Bull,” recalls Dyer. “Red Bull was so far ahead of the pack that it measured share of voice in terms of the percent of culture it was associated with, whether it was hip-hop, skateboarding or e-sports. It was measuring its influence on society.”


“Share of voice is one of the metrics that is key to determining the effectiveness of what we do in PR,” agrees Mardiks. “Clients want to drive and lead conversations that are important to their business and brands. It is a key way of determining if we’re being successful.”


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