Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe: Deciding between Marketing, Communication, or Public Relations

Posted on July 29, 2015

Kim Newcomer, Slate Communications, provides substance to the trendy, but often hollow, suggestion that local government needs to tell a better story.


Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe:

Deciding between Marketing, Communication, or Public Relations

By Kim NewcombeLinkedIn and Twitter
Your Communications Director is now hooked up to an I.V. of caffeine. She literally (and audibly) snarled in yesterday’s meeting when someone suggested that we “really ought to do a better job of telling people about this.” And you’re fairly certain she slept in the office last night; today’s outfit is strikingly similar to yesterday’s, but with more wrinkles.
There’s only one conclusion: that woman needs some help.
downloadWhether you’re looking to hire additional staff or outsource to a firm, adding resource to your communications efforts should not be approached haphazardly. Before you send out the S.O.S., consider what type of support you need: marketing, communication, or public relations.
Indeed, not all skill-sets and not all firms are created equal. We all bring particular areas of expertise. Just as Planners come in all shapes and sizes (transportation, long-range, environmental, sustainability), Communicators come in different flavors as well. Many individuals and firms will bring a combination of skills, but I’m willing to bet that most also have one area in which they are particularly strong.
Determining your greatest need will help ensure that you find the right person, or people, to accomplish your goals…and to let that Communications Director take a much needed day off.
At Slate Communications we like to divide our projects into three different categories.
Marketing: you have a service to sell
Marketing is traditionally the term used when you’re trying to sell something. Don’t worry City friends, “sell” is not a dirty word. I know you prefer to use the term “provide a service” but the truth is if you’re charging a fee, you’re selling something.
Marketing is often tied to revenue goals. Frequently marketing efforts include comprehensive campaigns that integrate creative visuals and a call to action.
Ex: Transfort selling bus tickets.
Communication: you have something important to say
Communication can also be viewed as sharing information. You have a road closure planned for next week? You might want to tell people about it. Changing the way your utility billing process will work? It’s a good idea to let people know. Want to share your organizations performance measures? Start communicating!
anigif_optimized-31494-1422140102-4Communications campaigns can also encourage a change in behavior (take a detour, pay your bill online, etc.), but sales isn’t the ultimate goal.
Now, don’t go assuming that you can get away with boring, half-hearted communication just because we’re not using the sexier term “marketing.” Your communication efforts still need to reflect consistent messaging and creative visuals to effectively get your point across.
Ex: New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority Manspreading Campaign (yeah, I went there)
Public Relations: you want two-way engagement
Public relations is often dismissed as an effort to garner media coverage. Here at Slate, we subscribe to the more literal interpretation: developing a relationship with the public. Just like any strong relationship, this one requires two-way engagement.
Public relations includes campaigns and programs where you are looking to hear feedback from the community. You have a topic where their perspective is needed to help identify the best solution. Open houses, online forums, surveys, etc. – all provide an avenue for you to engage and listen to your residents. And we all know good listening skills are critical to any quality relationship.
Example: Poudre School District Long Range Facilities Plan
Depending on your needs, you can prioritize the right type of skills and experience to add to your team to most effectively boost your efforts.

Just Say No

tumblr_inline_mr08hs15UZ1qz4rgpRegardless of your focus, please promise me this: you will not hire a random intern at $8 an hour to resource your marketing, communication, or public relations efforts. I have nothing against interns, but just because your engineering intern has a Twitter account doesn’t mean he should lead your communication strategy. You wouldn’t completely hand over structural design of a bridge to a student who has yet to earn her degree; so please apply the same logic to communications.
Similarly, please don’t assign communication duties to someone who is a poor – or unskilled – communicator. Communication responsibilities should not be tossed on the desk of whoever has capacity, regardless of how tired that Communications Director looks.
You take pride in providing professional-level services; you should communicate those service with equal professionalism.
Take the time to find the right person, the right firm, the right fit. Communication is a skill. It’s actually a profession. People get degrees in this stuff.

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