PR + Customer Service Merger Accelerating

About a year ago, I posted this graphic about “The Next 50 Years of Public Relations.”


At that point, my focus was primarily on the waning (but never unimportant) emphasis on “Media Relations.”  In the intervening months, as predicted, our role as “PR counselors” has evolved even more quickly than I suspected last June.

Yes, “Media Relations” is still a critical part of the job.  In fact, it may be more important than ever, as many clients now realize that mainstream media results can rev the engine of online chatter in social channels.

But I’ve been floored by the amount of “Customer Service” our team now handles.  This piece of the job accelerated far faster than I’d expected.

For some of our large consumer brands, particularly those who have asked us to be part of their extended brand management team, we are fielding scores of customer issues.

On any given day, the SHIFT team will:

  • Monitor for mentions of the brand and/or relevant keywords, across the web, including “owned” brand properties (e.g., Facebook Fanpage)
  • Flag and report on important issues and/or major crises related to consumer complaints and conversations
  • Respond on behalf of the brand to minor Customer Service issues
  • Identify and react to opportunities to insert the brand into a relevant conversation, in appropriate/respectful ways
  • Report all issues to the client team as necessary for data capture and/or escalation
  • Field and respond or direct Customer Service issues that come via the brand’s own website properties, including complaints and questions that come via email

And that’s just a partial list.  As noted on occassions too numerous to mention, Social Media is not only upending the Marketing Industry Players, it’s essentially crashing its way through any and all consumer-facing departments.

The “PR industry” continues to benefit.

How much longer before the PR team’s at the table with the Product Development team, counseling on “what the people want next?”

Related Posts:

Of Stars & Schmoes: The Mandate to Synch Social Media & Customer Service”

“This Is The Corp. Comms Dept. How May We Serve You Better?”

Posted on: May 13, 2010 at 11:34 am By Todd Defren
18 Responses to “PR + Customer Service Merger Accelerating”


  • Paul May says:

    Second time I’ve read this and something just occurred to me…for many of the types of customer issues you listed, it seems like access to the internal CRM data is critical to supporting the client effectively. Without it, it seems as though determining the appropriate response would be difficult in many cases. Would you agree with this? Are clients becoming more willing to provide access to this data?

  • Eric D says:

    When you think about it we are going back to the basics of business. Customer service needs to be a top priority. The worse thing that can happen is for a dissatisfied customer to start “trash talking” a product or service. That is magnified a thousand times in today’s world of instant communications via Twitter, Facebook and other media. Customer service and product PR should have never seperated in the first place.

  • Amy Shelton says:

    Great post. This really showcases the profession’s ability to encompass more and more everyday. In addition, it is very interesting to think mainstream media is a focus in order to create more chatter within the social media realm. Overall, this post serves as a great peek into what the future of PR entails.

  • Amy Shelton says:

    Great post. This really showcases the profession’s ability to encompass more and more everyday. In addition, it is very interesting to think mainstream media is a focus in order to create more chatter within the social media realm. Overall, this post serves as a great peek into what the feature of PR entails.

  • Great post – our VP just shared with our team! FYI, had some trouble Tweeting this and thought you’d want to know. Not sure what the deal was but the Tweet this button didn’t result in a link.

  • What an interesting post. It’s so fascinating to think what new customer service strategies and tools we will develop as technology allows us more capabilities. This industry is truly molded by the customers – what kind of care they demand will change a company’s practices.

  • The best point I have ever seen made on this topic came via our employee social network, Sprint Space, when I worked at Sprint. Employees were talking in a blog about how a customer came to a store to get her phone fixed and couldn’t because it wasn’t a Sprint service and repair store. Then one employee noted that customers don’t care about internal corporate silos. All they want is their question answered or problem resolved. They see the Sprint logo online or on a person’s shirt and they want help.

    The job responsibilities of PR mean we will often be involved in public-facing, external communications and therefore the progression toward handling customer service issues seems natural. Smart of you all to understand that and help your clients that way. One question: How do your clients’ customer service departments generally react to PR’s involvement? Do they work with the PR team and even you to understand the social space? Or is PR having to pull them along?

    Lastly, I think your point about PR being at the table with product development is completely valid and should be happening already. As you point out, PR is facilitating many of these online conversations that lead to product insights from customers. And PR can provide even more beneficial information to product dev by putting social media tools in the hands of their employees — especially the frontline ones — so their conversations can shape product strategy.


  • Arik Hanson says:

    Very interesting post, Todd. I’ve seen some of the same things in my consulting practice. And, I think the real benefit for brands is eventually, as you note at the end of the post, we will be able to give brands meaningful feedback (straight from the customer’s mouth) on how to improve their products and services. And, I continue to think that’s one of the bigger benefits of social media that some brands are overlooking right now, wouldn’t you agree?


  • Great point. The customer service angle is indeed having a tremendous impact and especially on service industries. I see social media as a customer service enabler which will ultimately transform our hotel “call center” into what it was intended to be: a “customer service center”.

  • I agree with this 100% and have witnessed the PR + customer service merger since I switched from focusing only on traditional media relations to more social Web strategies for clients. PR pros just entering the industry need to understand this! Thanks for continuing to highlight how the role of a PR pro has evolved.

  • Sean Scott says:

    Sounds like the next 50 years will be a rapprochement to the customer and away from media entities. This all made possible by the democratization of the brand enabled by the internet and accelerated by social media.

    And as interaction with customers increases so should PR’s roles in product development and for that matter any persons that deal with customers. He who is closest to the customer will ultimately win.

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