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6/29/2003

Understanding is the key

By Stacy Cornay
Special to the Times-Call

I know you think you understand what you thought you heard me say; however, Iím not sure you realize that what you heard was not what I meant.

Thatís the way it goes when youíre talking right and everyone is listening wrong.

Thereís a technical term for the disconnect: Itís called a failure to communicate.

As a professional communicator, you might think Iím immune. Not so. When I was growing up, my parents often did not understand me. Now my husband, my pre-teen son, my cat and my dog also exhibit periodic lapses of comprehension. We can handle communications voids on the home front, but when it happens in business, it can create big problems.

In the broad field of communications, there are two primary reasons for disconnects. Both reasons are rooted in a lack of understanding. First is a lack of understanding of the terminology being used. Second is a lack of understanding of when and how to contact and contract with a communications professional.

This time out, Iíll speak only to the first reason. Iíll flesh out reason No. 2 in my next column.

Why is there a lack of understanding of the terminology being used? Probably because many of the terms ó marketing, advertising, public relations, promotion, publicity, public affairs ó are used interchangeably by the general public. However, to the professional practitioner, each term has separate meaning. In the interests of available space, Iíll focus only on the big three ó marketing, advertising, and public relations.

Marketing is the activity of presenting products or services to potential customers or clients in ways that make them eager buyers. Marketing encompasses pricing and packaging as well as the creation of demand through advertising and sales campaigns. Marketing is often described as positioning or branding. It may involve extensive research to determine buying trends, demographics and what your competition is doing.

Advertising is a component of marketing. It is a tool to accomplish a portion of a marketing plan, to publicly promote a product, service or event. Advertising involves purchasing space or air time to convey your message. Competition with other ads is very stiff, but you have complete control over your message.

Public relations is the art ó or science ó of establishing, maintaining or improving a favorable relationship between a business or person and the general public. Itís getting the public to think or feel what you want them to think or feel, and leaving them with the impression that it was their idea in the first place. Public relations involves working with the media to generate awareness. It is time consuming. It requires patience, and outcomes may not always be what you expect.

The three activities may follow parallel tracks, or they may go in different directions. They always will have this in common: all are components of communication.

Successful businesses blend and bend the three to achieve specific goals. Knowing when and how to use each component is as important as knowing the differences among the components. A carpenter doesnít use a hammer to cut wood.

Certainly, there is more to marketing, advertising and public relations ó a lot more. But these brief definitions should get us all on the same page. Thatís the first step to better understanding.

In my next column, Iíll concentrate on how your new understanding can impact your businessí bottom line. The subject will be communications professionals ó who needs them, when and how to cut a deal. Until then, I close with a quote from my husband:

ďIf I wasnít listening, you didnít say it.Ē

Stacy Cornay is owner of Communications Concepts, a public relations/advertising firm in Longmont.