Where Should PR Sit in an Organization?

Is that an easy question or a provocative one?  Most public relations professionals would automatically say that the PR function should report directly to the CEO.  It would be akin blasphemy to suggest otherwise would it not?

However, with PR rising in such importance in organizations, a debate has emerged over where it should sit.  CMOs and the senior-most marketing leaders are fairly unanimous that at least part of the PR function should reside within marketing departments, and in many cases, CMOs already have laid claim to PR within their own organization, supported by their CEOs.

What has prompted the question and sparked such a healthy debate over the ownership of PR?  Certainly the growth of social media and the necessary skills to navigate two-way communication have given PR an edge over more traditional “push”, one-way marketing approaches.  And as reputation, credibility, authenticity, and transparency have become more important to consumers, PR has emerged as a key element of the marketing mix.

The principal analyst in marketing leadership at Forrester, Chris Stutzman, recently spoke at the CMO Club Spring Summit and echoed many findings from the white paper he created for his organization, “CMO Mandate: Adapt Or Perish”. According to Forrester research, a staggering 75 percent of marketers plan to re-organize their function by the end of 2011.

It’s not surprising given the rate of change and the increasing importance of reputation.  According to a 2010-2011 white paper by Prophet entitled “Reputation Winners and Losers”, there is a clear relationship between reputation and brand: “Actively managing your reputation will ensure you are not negatively impacting the value of your brand.  In addition, it suggests that brand and reputation strategies should be highly linked and should not be kept in separate silos to achieve optimal results for a company overall.”  So expect some silo-busting as the convergence of brand and reputation disrupts the traditional marketing model as never before, driving a more holistic approach to marketing which includes engagement and public relations.

What does that mean for public relations professionals?  For CCOs and in-house departments, there is a movement towards CMOs owning PR – at least the communications aspect that engages with consumers, business customers and employees, as well as wider audiences in some cases.  Will we see CCOs’ reporting lines shifting to marketing in the coming months?  From conversations I’ve had with CMOs, I’d say definitely.

But why can’t CCOs become the CMOs themselves?  Communications leaders who embrace the new world order could find themselves in a stronger position, with access to larger marketing budgets for their in-house and/or agency teams, and a wider array of powerful analytics and metrics able to provide greater justification for the engagement of PR and all of the marketing disciplines.

Many CCOs already have been given that task, some of whom I interviewed for my new book, The Changing MO of the CMO – How the Convergence of Brand and Reputation is Affecting Marketers. Regardless of whether the organization is B2C or B2B or even a non-profit, there are great examples of how marketing and PR can come together in a holistic way to become an extremely powerful force for the organization.

When interviewed for the book, Jon Iwata, SVP of marketing and communications at IBM, said he believed that the traditional model of marketing is breaking down.  The marketing funnel is broken and the “4 Ps” (the marketing mix combination of product, price, place – distribution, and promotion) don’t operate as they have historically.  He and Simon Sproule, CVP of Global Marketing Communication at Nissan Motors, talked of the need for a third type of marketing professional who will be much more comfortable with integration rather than thinking in the traditional marketing and PR silos.

So there’s the challenge to all of us.  If your CEO asked you to take on the CMO role, could you adapt to a more holistic way of working that embraced all of the marketing disciplines?

MaryLee Sachs was a former Board Member with the Institute for Public Relations and most recently, US Chair and Worldwide Director of Consumer Marketing at Hill & Knowlton.  She launched her new book, The Changing MO of the CMO, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June which is now available on Amazon.com.

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  1. Thank you all for diving in with your comments. Of course, there is no one right answer, especially given the blending of branding and reputational aspects driven by social media and the proliferation of influencers that both the PR and marketing functions within organizations need to consider.

    Gerry – you are so right when you say that it depends on what the CEO believes and what process he or she chooses to manage reputation. It also greatly depends on how the CEO and the C-Suite define the growth strategy of the organization. All of the CMOs I interviewed for my book had very strong backing by the CEOs who understood the value of marketing communications was greater than the sum of its individual disciplines, and in many cases, it was the CEO – not the CMO – who drove consolidation and reorganization of the marketing disciplines to include PR in their organizations.

  2. Depends on the organization. If it is a heavily marketing-oriented organization, such as in consumer packaged goods, it is likely that the CMO will own all or part of PR.

    On the other hand, if the organization operates in a heavily regulated industry, or is strictly B2B, PR may report directly to the CEO or through the chief legal officer.

    The worst situations are where PR reports to Human Resources, or some administrative poobah in charge of HR, executive presentations and making sure the copiers never run out of toner. That is a case of career HIV.

    Same for dual-reporting positions, such as to marketing and finance.

    In nearly all cases where PR does not report directly to the chief executive, the PR would do well to remember Mark Twain’s adage: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes time and annoys the pig.”

  3. The debate about CMO versus CCO is much like the chicken and egg. Who is the chicken and who is the egg and who came first. Historically marketing was about customer acquisition and public relations was about reputation. Today, all bets are off. It is a new world and reputation is still the most critical factor in customer trust. Who is first and who is in charge does not matter as much as what the CEO believes and what process the CEO chooses to manage reputation. HP had the model of CCO reporting to CMO. That soon ended when a new CEO was appointed. The HP CEO has split the role yet again with the CCO reporting to the CEO. So time will tell, chemistry will instruct and the CEO will decide.

  4. For sure at the top other wise it will never be strategic only operational on the day to day work which don’t contribute much for the decision making process on communication policies…

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