As early as the 1990s, the IABC Excellence Study has presented empirical evidence, which shows that public relations should be a separate management function from marketing.

Despite the evidence, there is still confusion among some CEOs and senior managers about the differences between public relations and marketing. This misunderstanding subjugates the public relations function to the marketing function, which restricts public relations from achieving its full potential -- that is, a strategizing function encompassing all types of strategic constituencies. This even restricts the power of public relations in influencing or contributing to the domain of integrated communication. CEOs need intelligence and insight to understand the importance of managing the broader social environment of organizations -- that is, building relationships with internal and external publics beyond customers.

Considering the continuous struggle for public relations to demonstrate its contributions to strategic management, we re-analyzed two industry datasets to unveil new empirical evidence regarding the effects of marketing-dominant and public relations-independent communication departments on organizational outcomes. Our analyses of the 2004 and 2005 USC Generally Accepted Practice (GAP) survey and the IABC Excellence Study presented the following key findings:

Compared to organizations with marketing-dominant communication departments, those with public relations-independent departments:

  • Have a more participative organizational culture (i.e., being more democratic, more proactive, and more flexible).
  • Are more likely to conduct research on two-way communication techniques than one-way communication techniques.
  • Are taken more seriously by senior management.
  • Receive more support from the dominant coalition.
  • Are more likely to be invited to meetings with the dominant coalition and considered in strategic planning.
  • Have a higher amount of gross revenue.
  • Are more strategic (i.e., non-operational) and more visionary (non-shortsighted).
  • Report better organizational ethical performance.

The inclusion of public relations in the dominant coalition and its separation from marketing enhances corporate adaptability to the social or institutional environment. Research efforts by public relations managers as boundary spanners (i.e., environmental scanning) were also found to enhance senior management’s perception of public relations’ contributions.

Although we acknowledge that the public relations and marketing functions are complementary and often integrated, our findings suggest that understanding the differences between the two can enhance their complementarity.

We found that effective and large companies tend to develop independent public relations structures. Those structures make the companies more strategically oriented and earn greater legitimacy from strategic constituencies. As public relations continues to differentiate itself from the marketing function, CCOs play a critical role in leading the transformation and reinstation of public relations practitioners as strategists