Will Media Convergence End the ‘PR or Advertising’ Debate?

“Is it PR, or is it advertising?”

This is a question that many in the public relations field must consider on a daily basis, but worry not; the debate will soon disappear as the two disciplines become one and the same.

Marketing pro Geoff Livingston attended USA Today’s 30th anniversary/”USA Tomorrow” multimedia rollout event this month, and he left the “future of news” mini-conference believing that the PR/marketing debate will be irrelevant within five years.


In the traditional “mass communication” media landscape, a clear line existed between advertisements and press releases or related content; they may have had similar goals (publicity and consumer outreach), but they had to reach them in different ways due to the limits of their respective venues.

Now, however, the model is shifting due to a fractured media landscape and an increasing public distrust of traditional advertising and corporate messaging efforts (stop us if you’ve heard this one a million times before). Livingston thinks that promotional content will still be separated into the “earned” and “paid” categories, where “earned” content is more trusted by customers and “paid” content earns more ROI.

But (again according to Livingston) everyone who works to design, create and distribute this kind of material will belong in a single department—and all related professionals will consider themselves marketers who work together on projects from concept to execution and follow-up.

Sound implausible? Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sees the “blur of change” too, and he imagines a world in which news is “crowdsourced” and editors no longer have the power to choose top headlines–a more level playing field in which the marketers we just mentioned will have more power to get their messages out. This vision feels closer and closer to reality for us.

PR pros: What do you think of Livingston’s thesis? Does it all lead back to our question about whether “brand journalism” is the new name for both PR and marketing?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.