By Betsy McCloskey / Guest Column

It used to be that marketing and public relations were considered two separate functions, not to be confused with one another and each with their own dis­tinct purposes.

Marketing drove sales for a company’s products and services through advertise­ments, while public relations focused on the long-term strategy of building a brand’s reputation and awareness. While these goals still hold true, they are more interdependent with each other.

In today’s hyper-connected, digital­ly focused world, marketing and public relations professionals need to work more closely than ever before to create effective campaigns, drive sales and in­crease brand awareness. Social media has increasingly changed the dynam­ic by creating a two-way conversation space for brands. Aside from being an advertising platform, you can also inter­act with your audience in ever-changing ways. Indeed, social media has created a space for consumers to get to know your brand in a more intimate way.

Marketing guru Seth Godin has said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” Brands that tell a story and provide a reason for consumers to keep coming back will win out over those that don’t.

The idea of incorporating that brand storytelling into your marketing plan is so important in today’s marketplace, especial­ly among the millennial audience. Accord­ing to a recent Forbes article, millennials prefer to do business with brands offering pro-social messages, sustainable manufac­turing methods and ethical business stan­dards. To communicate those messages, your company will have to incorporate tra­ditional marketing and a strong public re­lations effort – working together, of course.

That same article went on to talk about how millennials are the first generation to become jaded about the fact that marketing is wholly self-interested. This is just anoth­er reason why it is critical to infuse public relations efforts with your marketing cam­paign. Traditional advertising isn’t going anywhere, and research shows that it is ef­fective, but with newer generations it will be critical to have a balance between advertis­ing and telling your brand’s story in unique ways. This could be anything from editorial articles, partnering with influencers, unique guerrilla marketing techniques and more.

Much of the data around brand story­telling focuses on younger generations, and with good reason. According to CNBC, $30 trillion in assets will be passed from baby boomers to their Gen X and millen­nial children over the coming decades, so it will be important to know just how these groups are making their buying decisions.

In short, your advertisements will only go so far to create loyal customers. Public relations can help build trust around your brand before they even know about your product or service. The added impact of a well-run public relations campaign that tells the story of your company and brand will help push people from being just a customer to a loyal brand ambassador.

Consider this the next time your com­pany is about to launch its next big prod­uct or roll out a new service line. How will public relations play a role in your cam­paign? What story can you tell about your company to your target audiences before the launch to build brand awareness and trust? Incorporating public relations tac­tics will help maximize the impact of your marketing campaign and keep your cus­tomers buying from you for reasons far be­yond the great product you are offering.

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.