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This means war!

PR vs. Advertising

The two disciplines have had an uneasy alliance for the last few years because of social media.  On the agency side, advertising and PR companies want to own the social space.

Both see social media as a natural extensions of what they already do:

  • Advertisers see social media as an additional channel for paid content – slick videos, product or service focused microsites, cool applications and gadgets.
  • Communicators view social media as the evolution of content that once lived in places like newspapers and magazines and see blogs, tweets and Facebook pages as the next place to disseminate news and information.

Inside companies, the problem is the same.  Many companies have no plan for where social media will live.  Generally, the more aggressive and progressive department (either marketing or corporate communications) gets it.  Sometimes both are doing it and not communicating with each other.

Two recent announcements (while I was lounging on the beach in Puerto Rico) highlight the growing tension between PR and advertising:

  • Apple’s launch of iAd

Twitter will now allow companies to buy a “tweet” that will be promoted via the platform’s search capabilities (such as it is).  So a Promoted Tweet will be listed at the top of any Twitter search.  Unfortunately, Twitter’s own search is a gamble at best – and often not functioning.  But the company says it will rollout Promoted Tweets to third-parties soon.

Here’s how Promoted Tweets blurs the line between advertising and communications.  Promoted Tweets can be used for real-time promotions.  So Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts can issue a Promoted Tweet for a coupon for $1 off on a cup of coffee instantly – and for short windows of time (say 1-3 hours).  This is clearly in the realm of advertising.

But Promoted Tweets will also be a powerful tool in crisis communications.  Take the any of the recent social media crises as an example (from Nestle to United Airlines).  A Promoted Tweet gives a company the ability to respond intelligently with a single tweet that will continually be at the top of any search.  No longer will brands have to respond over and over again to keep new information at the top.  This is clearly in the realm of communications.

So who will own the Promoted Tweet space?  Advertising or PR?

Apple iAd does the same thing.  Applications from companies can now be robust tools for promotion.  Apple CEO Steve Jobs used the upcoming sequel to the movie Toy Story as an example.  The iAd platform can provide information about where the movie is playing (a cinema near you!), play the trailer, enable cool games and other free content (such as wallpaper and exclusive photos and images).  Again iAd straddles the line between advertising and communicating.

Who will own iAds and mobile applications?  PR or advertising?

Both of these announcements are crossing the line between advertising and PR.  This, of course, has been the nature of social media – as the web continues to destroy business models and create new ones.  Pretty soon – if we are not there already – the line between what is an “advertisement” and what is “communications” for corporations simply won’t exist any longer.

The question will be which discipline – advertising or PR – will be the ultimate winner in social media?

What do you think?

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