Lessons in Marketing and PR, from FC Bayern Munich

Lessons from soccer, basketball and other team sports can carry over to marketing and public relations (PR): roles are merging and the game is getting faster. We all need additional skill-sets, new structures and, especially, more team play.

Europe ­– my home – may have many issues these days, but at least soccer isn’t one of them; we’re still important in the game, worldwide. Top teams like FC Bayern Munich and world champion Spain set the trends. All elements of their teams are working more closely together as each player moves beyond the traditional definition of their position. Defenders can launch an attack with a smart pass, and when the opponent attacks, midfielders and strikers drop back to support. The results are more ball possession, a faster game – and world-class performances.

This “tactical variability” should inspire us as marketing and PR experts. Ultimately, the world of sports shows how the whole team wins when skill-sets are mixed in the right way at the right time. Modern marketing and PR have to react faster too, and field content more flexibly. To be honest, it is often hard to distinguish the two roles today.

Reimagining the roles of marketing and PR

Here’s why: social media has become the key to communicating and interacting with customers. Some 2.5 billion people have internet access worldwide – almost half spend hours on Facebook each day; over 200 million tweet on Twitter; and they watch roughly four billion YouTube videos daily.

Not surprisingly, the competitive and communication conditions for companies have changed. We used to have a fair amount of control over how a brand was presented; now public comments increasingly determine a brand’s image. On the plus side, it’s easier to quantify the response to our campaigns. The growing importance of our own media and channels as communication elements is another positive aspect. Still, it’s clear that we must renegotiate and redefine the roles of marketing and PR in companies.

Marketing and PR: learn to learn from each another

In practice, PR has often been little more than media-relations: sending out press releases, wining and dining journalists and collecting press clippings. PR specialists tended to see themselves as “corporate journalists”. For many press officers, communication crises were the highlights of their professional careers – time to whistle in the A team and defend the company in public.

But the essence of PR is not – and never legitimately has been – to pander to an increasingly impotent target group (journalists). It’s about building relationships using valuable information, good stories and face-to-face conversation. Marketing needs these skill-sets too these days – even though marketers still avoid real dialog like the plague. Our job is not to be constantly on heavy offense, running ourselves ragged kicking blindly toward the goal. Instead, we have to impress potential customers, attract new customers and make them loyal fans of our company. We can learn a lot from the more subtle PR approach.

On the other hand, PR experts need to realize that customers and employees – not journalists – are now their main target group, and that PR can – and must – make a more direct contribution to marketing and sales. Using a marketing-driven and digital approach, important news and messages can reach more people, farther and faster. (By the way, that’s usually more fun than calling journalists to follow up on your press releases.) In short, PR must target new audiences on the offense, and marketing must sound more informative and narrative.

Integrated teams are the key to market success

Globally, companies are trying to map these new requirements into their organizations. Many are combining the two areas into one department – as we recently did at SAP. However, this definitely does not mean that either side should become dominant. On the contrary, we need to combine the skill-sets so companies can sell their products or services more effectively. The impact of marketing and communication can’t be overestimated, especially in the B2B sector.

The vision is clear: it’s time to pool all these communication skill-sets into integrated teams – digital and analog, with rapid response times. Call it marketing, call it PR – it doesn’t matter. Customers only perceive companies as a whole. To make this endeavor successful, both sides must lose their reservations and vanities, see themselves as one team using the right tactics at the right time in the right place.

Tearing down the wall

Unfortunately, I have too often seen the high wall separating marketing and PR in my various positions as a manager in international companies and head of an agency. Managers develop an absolute belief in their own discipline, and their fear of losing power stifles collaboration.

We can learn from soccer here, too: even top-salary stars like Franck Ribery are now convinced that every forward has to help out on defense. It has lifted him to European Soccer Player of the Year, and his team, FC Bayern Munich, to European Champions League winner.

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