Is it a surprise PRs are getting top marketing jobs?

As John Lewis shifts its most senior PR into a customer experience role, two PR execs claim the move is evidence of a wider trend.

When John Lewis announced its director of comms Peter Cross had been promoted to director of customer experience, a few eyebrows were raised.

After all, John Lewis is a brand built on advertising. So the decision to turn to its most senior PR to help lead its marketing department was a bold one.

Two years ago, Linkedin made a similar move when it promoted Shannon Stubo from VP of corporate communications to chief marketing officer. At the same time it merged its comms function into the marketing department.

In a recent interview, Stubo claimed the marketing industry no longer separated between marketers and PRs. “Ten years ago it was, ‘I’m in PR I pitch [to] reporters’ and ‘I’m in advertising, I spend money with agencies to buy ads’ – that was it,” she explained.

“Now with content marketing and social, the comms people are doing marketing campaigns and the marketers are doing PR; it’s all converging.”

The age of the PR-minded CMO

So are we now in an age where a PR is better positioned to lead a marketing department than a more traditional marketer? Matt Bourn, director and a partner at Finn PR, believes so.

Linkedin’s Shannon Stubo went from corporate comms to CMO

He says the rise of emotive storytelling means PRs are better placed to lead marketing departments. He tells Marketing Week: “The old way of advertising was to stop, interrupt and tell you something, but that’s either dying or dead now.

“PRs are disciplined and because they are used to regularly dealing with journalists who are hard to impress, they understand it’s about engagement and emotive storytelling rather than interruption. A PR is considered and disciplined in how they deal with brand building and that’s the approach every major brands is prioritising right now.”

According to Kevin Gessay, managing director of entertainment firm PMK BNC, PRs are the “ultimate storytellers”, as opposed to advertisers who prioritise ROI above anything else.

PRs are the ultimate storytellers and now it is all about brand storytelling so John Lewis made the right move.

Kevin Gessay, PMK BNC

“I can see why CEOs are leaning towards PR people and it’s because they are so agile,” he adds. “Their experience is so diversified. I have been in PR for 16 years and I understand how challenging it is to get a story placed.

“Therefore, as a PR I really know how important it is to understand my audience. That’s a huge asset when it comes to leading a marketing department.”

However, OpenJaw Technologies’ CMO Colin Lewis believes we’re reading too much into this so-called trend.  He dismissively adds: “It’s just horses for courses, PRs will suit particular businesses like Linkedin as it’s a platform opposed to a brand so PR messaging is key.

“These PR appointments aren’t doom and gloom for traditional marketers. Had John Lewis recruited someone with a background in programmatic or segmentation would that represent a wider trend too?”

Dealing with risk

Yet, had a PR taken lead on Pepsi’s controversial Kendall Jenner ad, Bourn claims the risk would have been “significantly lower”. In an era where a crisis is always just around the corner, he says having a PR take responsibility for a brand means crisis can be more easily averted.

“It is instinctive in a PR’s DNA to second guess what could go wrong with content. A PR’s default position is to weigh up what could go well and what could go wrong,” he explains. “That’s crucial nowadays.”

Gessay, meanwhile, says the rise of editorial content on ecommerce platforms such as Asos isn’t a “coincidence” and is because more PRs – who understand the importance of editing and content – are getting top tier marketing roles.

He adds: “I don’t see this as a new trend, it’s more just that brands have evolved how they tell their stories. PR people are the ultimate story tellers and now it is all about brand storytelling. I’d say John Lewis made the right choice.”

And even Lewis, who is keen to make the point that the Linkedin and John Lewis appointments are isolated and not proof of something wider, acknowledges PR is becoming a more important tool for marketers.

He concludes: “With the rise of copy, content and social, PR is a skill base marketers need to emphasise harder than before as editorial control is everything for modern brands.”

Is a trend forming? And should PRs be getting the top marketing jobs? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Comments
  • eamon mcloughlin 17 Apr 2017 at 10:47 am

    How many PR’s does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Can I get back to you on that?

  • Marcelo Salup 17 Apr 2017 at 11:23 am

    The entire premise is flimsy. Two examples do not a trend make. Why not focus on the obvious: two highly capable individuals were chosen to lead. Why is there a reluctance to say: “these are two really bright people who obviously are well rounded enough to understand all the factors that affect their particular companies”. In the case of LinkedIn –which doesn’t really manufacture anything– this is even more understandable, as internal and external communications does add value. But, seriously, “are getting hired”…?

  • georgios kotsolios 18 Apr 2017 at 9:15 am

    It is most definitely a trend. PR is gradually making a big statement, a bold proclamation of its prowess and powers to literally revolutionise the way it is perceived by marketers and the public at large. Having already conquered social media and mastered digital, PR has proven that it can also create and curate content in various forms, tell narratives and deliver them across diverse channels while using traditional or new age tactics to entice, sustain and augment consumer interest in brands.

  • asacerd 20 Apr 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Don’t agree at all. Technology is a huge part of communications and marketing and PR professionals are not tech-savvy in general. There is a place for PR but not in high profile marketing professions.

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