Borders Such as Advertising and PR Hard to Define

    June 20, 2006

It has occurred to me these past few months that it’s far harder to define borders today than ever before.

In other words, it’s not as easy as it used to be to say this is species A, this belongs to species B. There’s so much gray.

Let’s start with social networking. According to Wikipedia there are some 50+ social nets. They range from everything from the business focused (LinkedIn) to social nets for golfers (Golfbuzz) and others. Flickr and Facebook are on this list. But curiously,, Habbo Hotel, Neopets, Odeo and even digg are absent. Consumers and marketers don’t necessarily think of some of these sites as social networks, yet they share many of the same features. That’s because the lines are gray and borders are harder to define.

Another example is blogs vs. journalism. This debate has raged on and off for years. Where I’ve personally netted out is that journalists who blog are still journalists. Bloggers like’s Rafat Ali who fact check every story and aggressively reports are journalists too. Meanwhile Peter Rojas at Engadget is a blogger because he doesn’t quite go to the same lengths as Ali (nor does he need to), yet he works for AOL – a major media company. Go figure. This is one person’s view, but it’s all very mushy and there’s no consensus.

Finally we come to PR vs. advertising. The long held belief is that these are separate, yet related disciplines. Often they are covered by different budgets. However, the funds devoted to each are drastically different. Spending on PR services last year, according to Veronis and Suhler, reached $3.7 billion. Meanwhile the total spend on advertising and marketing was $475 billion. This means that PR is .008% of the total global marketing spend.

The problem here is – and I am clearly biassed – that the grand vision outlined in 1999 in the Cluetrain Manifesto is now coming true. Markets are now conversations and marketing is evolving into a two-way discipline. This means that advertising must go beyond its borders too. However, many of the most talented individuals who have such conversational skills work inside PR shops. That’s because the public relations industry has long traded in dialogue.

Time will tell if this is PR’s moment in the sun or just a flash in the pan. What is certain is that business doesn’t fit into little compartments any more and power is shifting all around us even perhaps from our nation to another.

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Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.