September 25, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Hey, public affairs and marketing: Get to know your neighbor

Hey, public affairs and marketing: Get to know your neighbor

When I was in college, my dad encouraged me to major in marketing. That’s where the money was, he said.

I ignored him then. But now I think he may have been on to something.

The longer I do online advocacy, the more I see that successful clients’ public affairs departments have the ability to do one simple but vital task: get up and go introduce themselves to the marketing department.

I understand: Traditionally, there wasn’t much reason for the government/public affairs folks to fraternize with marketing. One group was there to influence, to monitor the pulse of elected officials and key policymakers. The other was concerned with the masses. Their messages – not to mention their budgets – weren’t often the same.

But, enter social media, and the traditional structure is flipped on its head. As companies such as Dell, Zappos, Starbucks, Motrin and Amazon have learned, there’s a crowd out there, and they’re not shy to say what they think of you.

Most of this activity is on the product side – consumers want different computers, shoes, coffee, etc. But these online groups can be a significant asset for the government/public affairs staff who want to influence legislation. After all, elected officials feel the same pressure from social media that corporations do.

To join this growing online conversation, many companies’ marketing departments have established social media strategies. But I want to see them take their response a step further.

When an issue arises and the government/public affairs staff needs to rally people to make phone calls or send emails, the public affairs department should coordinate with the marketing department contact who runs the Twitter account or Facebook page and ask if a message can be sent to the pertinent people. Don’t spam, of course, and be smart about the message. But I believe that if, for instance, someone wants to tax and thus increase constituents’ cell phone bills, that group of people will listen and likely take action.

Coordinating so that the marketing and government/public affairs departments work in partnership will not be easy for any corporation. But the ones that figure it out will have a significant advantage in helping customers influence officials on legislation that affects them. And maybe clients will discover that marketing – in cooperation with public affairs efforts – is, in fact, where the money is.

Katie Harbath is the Director of Online Services at DCI Group. She has more than five years of experience in the online political sphere including work during the 2008 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Her personal blog is at and she’s on Twitter @katieharbath. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Katie Harbath.

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