In today’s world, this is a wrong question to ask. Let me elaborate on this.
The traditional role of PR has been to decide, build and manage public image, a role that marketers think as their responsibility and privilege but this role has been successfully hijacked in the recent times by Social Media.
Why social media is more successful at this has a simple and obvious reason. The “public image” is not a decision made by one-way communication from the company’s PR department but rather a result of two-way engagements between the company as a whole and the consumers and the process includes all of its touch points.
PR uses various tools such as press release, brochures, newsletters, annual reports, or press kits which may include other material. Some of that overlaps with marketing collateral, as we call it. But whatever happens in the process of creating and distributing this material to various agencies or whatever is conveyed through all this material, it all reaches humans. Humans, as a species, makes choices about what they believe and it is often as irrational as it can get. The public image is a result of how this material along with everything else the company does, is perceived by general populace and not necessarily what is intended to be conveyed. Hence often times, result don’t truly reflect intentions.
So what’s the reality check? Social Media!
This perception is strongly reflected in the social media effort of the company i.e. in what people say about the brands or the company on Facebook, Twitter, Orkut or other social networks, what content is posted about the company on YouTube, what people write about the company on blogs, forums and product review websites and what conversations take place on the web in general.
PR, Marketing and Social Media, each are targeted to a different set of audiences. For instance, PR may be for investors and stake holders or journalists and marketing is for consumers. But in social media, everyone is invited. I believe, that the most important audience of any external communication from a company should always be the consumer, all the more so in the new information age because all the information is available freely and is just a click away. Take care of the consumers, everything else will take care of itself.
This nature of social media gives it a strong rebellion sort of a power. Where PR intends to gain control and marketing strives for it, it is social media that decides or rather places a verdict on whether the job has been done or not.
How does this implicate on future? The strategy for the future is to integrate all the three and look at it from the perspective of an integrated interface that consumers have to pass through to reach your company. All communication either in PR, or in Marketing or in Social Media, needs to have one strategy, one structural backbone and more importantly one voice.
For a better technical reading on the matter related to this concept, I strongly recommend reading The Hybrid Theory Manifesto: The Future or Advertising, Marketing and Communication, by Brian Solis.