Brands to place greater marketing focus on PR

The decision by AOL, Nintendo and TopShop to hire PR professionals to lead their marketing efforts reflects the changing nature of brand management in the social media age.

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The speed with which a brand’s reputation can be affected by online chatter has changed the marketing game. Reputation management’s influence in the marketing mix is growing. Ignoring the power of online word-of-mouth is no longer an option for companies in today’s interconnected world.

The recent high-profile appointments at AOL, Nintendo and Topshop reflect this trend, with all three naming communications specialists to head up their marketing activity in the last month.

For AOL, the appointment of former Thomson Reuters PR chief Jolie Hunt to the newly created role of chief marketing and communications officer comes ahead of a shift in strategy to emphasise the company’s stable of brands such as the Huffington Post, TechCrunch and Moviefone.

The company says it aims to place a greater focus on understanding what customers feel, think and say about its brands in real time, an approach Hunt believes has always been embedded in PR, in a way that “hasn’t quite been the same with broader marketing.”

She adds: “The world is in a pretty precarious place right now. I think now more than ever, with people having twenty four seven access to information, speed and budget are becoming two critical aspects of marketing.

“PR people have had to deal with very quick deadlines and by and large minimal budgets, at least compared to the greater marketing mix.”

It’s a thought that will be likely running through the minds of Nintendo’s executives as its former European PR chief Sally Pearce gears up to lead the UK marketing activity for the biggest console launch of the decade so far. The question is how easy will it be for Pearce to communicate her ideas to the board in what is her first marketing role.

Head of marketing at online dating company Match and co-founder of communications outfit Cherish PR Katie Sheppard says PR professionals like Pearce have traditionally operated closer to corporate offices which has given them a greater understanding of “that businesses language”.

She adds: “That’s why PR people are so critical to the marketing mix right now. They are great communicating their ideas across al areas of the business.It is often undervalued as a skillset but by hiring people from a communications background it definitely insinuates that [brands] want to get closer to their customers.”

However, Chris Moriarty says the recent hires does not indicate a wider trend.

“I think we need to be careful of calling the recent hires a trend potentially. One swallow doesn’t make a summer. The onus is marketers to understand what the board are looking for.”

He adds that those brands that have the most effective communications are those that do not get hung up on what is marketing and what is PR.

Today, with distrust of the corporate world at an all-time high, reputation can account for a large portion of a company’s market capitalisation, and can be its most important long-term asset. Whether they like it or not companies are at the mercy of the public. That means there is growing recognition of the need to foster a good reputation by developing positive relationships with the public.

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