How a PR background sets CMOs up for success

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Public Relations

Public relations and marketing are two sides of the same coin. Both build and safeguard a brand’s reputation. Both recognize the importance of nurturing stakeholder, customer, and media relationships to further their brand’s narrative and build credibility. And both know how to craft differentiated messaging that can help a company stand out in a crowded marketplace.

As someone who has held the title of Chief Marketing Officer for a number of companies in my life, I consider myself lucky to have begun my career in public relations. The skills I learned in my early PR days translated very well when I moved into product marketing and eventually worked my way up to CMO. Understanding how to simplify complex messages and package them up for various audiences is the centerpiece of any CMO’s skillset. That ability is well-honed in PR when writing for discerning and space-conscious journalists.

A background in PR gives CMOs the communication and media chops we need to take our brands to the next level. Let’s explore three key areas where PR experience proves a distinctive advantage for Chief Marketing Officers.

Strategic communications

PR professionals excel in crafting and implementing strategic communications plans. A career in public relations requires an intimate understanding of what messaging and types of content resonate best with customers.

The most effective PR practitioners are always hungry for greater insight into public opinion on industry trends and the broader marketplace. This is essential for creating successful campaigns, and it’s a skill every CMO could benefit from sharpening.

CMOs are responsible for conveying their brand’s message, values, and offerings to stakeholders in such a way that it not only piques their interest, but also instills confidence in the company’s ability to deliver on its value proposition. Customers, employees, investors, and the media alike need to be assured of an enterprise’s success with every product push or brand initiative.

A PR background can empower CMOs to leverage data from market research, surveys, focus groups, and social channels to inform successful campaigns. This is true for both single-channel and integrated marketing, as CMOs with PR experience are singularly aware of how to integrate public relations efforts with other marketing channels (e.g. advertising, digital marketing, social media).

Crisis management is another area where former PR pros shine in marketing roles. Developing crisis communications plans and managing difficult situations are a PR professional’s bread and butter; CMOs who are adept at proactively designing crisis strategies will be better equipped to mitigate risks and protect their brand’s reputation when challenges arise.

Media relations

PR professionals have extensive experience working with journalists and media outlets. They understand how the media operates, what journalists look for in a story, and how to best position their organization to maximize the potential for coverage.

A successful PR program also requires team members to have their finger on the pulse of industry trends. These individuals aren’t just keenly aware of what’s happening right now; they’re also able to sense where major media conversations are heading to get a jump on emergent trends before the competition.

CMOs with PR expertise are uniquely poised to ensure company messaging and initiatives are relevant to both industry-specific and macro level conversations. They know exactly how to tailor their messaging and thought leadership to make it newsworthy and personally appealing to relevant journalists. 

Furthermore, these CMOs know how to strengthen existing relationships with journalists and nurture new ones to secure media coverage, navigate interviews, and ultimately improve public perception of their brand. CMOs with a PR background also have a deeper understanding of all types of media—including earned. When too much value is placed on paid media, earned coverage can fall by the wayside, despite being just as important as paid opportunities.

Stakeholder engagement

Any comprehensive PR program involves thoughtful and strategic engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. These include (but are by no means limited to): 

  • Executive spokespeople and thought leaders
  • Product experts
  • Existing customers
  • Investors
  • Analysts
  • Integration partners
  • Community members

These relationships are the cornerstone of any effective media program, but building and maintaining them is no easy feat. PR professionals constantly walk the line between delivering value to these individuals and leveraging their points of view and expertise for various initiatives.

CMOs with PR experience understand how integral these relationships are and know how to activate each group. They’re able to develop strategies to engage with, listen to, and address stakeholders’ needs and concerns to strengthen brand loyalty and their company’s market position.

PR pros bring a strong perspective on customer relationships in particular to the table. PR necessitates the use of data and analytics to identify customer needs, all in service of targeting the right audience with the right message at the right time. This skill translates incredibly well to marketing, especially the role of CMO. An acute, data-backed ability to understand one’s customer and reach them with relevant and timely campaigns will cut through the noise and build brand loyalty at scale.

With nearly half (44 percent) of marketing leaders stating they’re only moderately confident in their use of data, analytics, and insights systems, CMOs who step up to the plate already well-versed in these areas will have a competitive advantage over their peers.

A match made in heaven

Starting one’s career in PR, or even working closely with agencies and in-house PR teams, gives marketers the necessary experience to become exceptional CMOs. Developing a healthy obsession with building strong narratives, creating compelling content, and using data and analytics to measure success will go a long way.

PR professionals constantly challenge themselves to look at the big picture rather than hyper-focusing on individual campaigns. The most effective CMOs share this perspective and encourage their marketing teams to adopt the same.

Chief Marketing Officers must be able to keep track of industry and media trends, form strong relationships with stakeholders and journalists, and leverage data to inform campaigns. Starting my career in PR has certainly served me well over the years. It can be a strong foundational path to build on for any aspiring CMO.

Paige O'Neill
Paige O’Neill is CMO at global enablement firm Seismic.