PR and profit

1 Feb

Jim Horton’s latest white paper (pdf file) discusses the disconnect between the ‘hard’ business objective of making a profit and the ‘soft’ public relations goals of relationship and reputation building.

He’s right, though not in suggesting that public relations and communications courses are not mainstream in business schools. Nor in suggesting that ethics doesn’t fit the syllabus – there’s a massive post-Enron emphasis on ethics in my experience (horses? stable doors?).

But I can cite an unexpected ally for his argument in the newly-appointed L’Oreal professor of marketing at Oxford University’s Said Business School. Douglas Holt, until recently an associate professor at Harvard, was quoted in The Independent on 20 January saying:

….the quantifiable things are not the most important. The numbers game in marketing is middle management work.

The kind of work I do is on the margins in the US. Mainstream marketing – at least in US business schools – is all about cranking up the newest algorithms. It’s a quantitative approach. I don’t want to teach marketing like that.

How does he propose to teach marketing?

There’s a real need to understand the role of culture and the media in the way products are marketed. MBA students should learn about the symbolism of big brands. Why should we leave it to the sociologists and anthropologists to critique these things?

…I want to make the so-called soft side of marketing ‘hard’ and intellectually demanding in a humanistic way – to bring an historical perspective to the study of how companies market their products.

This applies equally well to the study of public relations.

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