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The job Is it marketing, PR or branded content?

Digital, social communications have changed the industry

Scott Marioni, left, vice president, and John P. Lonsdorf, co-founding partner, R&J Strategic Comminications.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

For R&J Public Relations, a sign of the times is the sign on its front door.This week, the Bridgewater-based agency officially rebranded to R&J Strategic Communications following the acquisition of Denville-based Fifth Room Creative, a digital branding and Web design firm. The acquisition is designed to strengthen the firm’s digital and creative services offerings.

“We are really focused on changes in the marketplace and how we can best respond to those changes,” said John P. Lonsdorf, co-founding partner of the firm. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve seen tremendous changes in our industry. Many different forms of communications have melded into one. We feel that while it is still public relations, digital and social communications have really widened the spectrum of offerings that a modern public relations firms needs to provide.”

This is not the first time R&J has been re-engineered to meet modern demands. In 2005, R&J Public Relations split from a larger service firm, R&J Group.

“What we are doing today is almost a 180-degree pivot from what we did in 2005,” Lonsdorf said. “We carved off the public relations component of the business to make that our exclusive focus because that is where we felt we were delivering the most bang for the buck within the marketing mix. We felt we could excel by focusing on that one thing.”

According to Scott Marioni, a vice president at R&J, 10 years ago, the firm viewed the industry in one of two ways — advertising-focused or public relations-focused. And the advertising side of the business looked to be on its last legs.

Fast forward 10 years, and public relations has almost completely changed due to the advent of digital communications and social media.

“Public relations is thriving like never before, even though our best known product, media relations, appears to be threatened because of the erosion of traditional media outlets,” Marioni said. “It’s really all about the fundamentals. It’s about the ‘public’ in public relations.”

“Advertising, because of the rise of social media, is less and less effective,” said Bob DeFillippo, senior executive at Warren-based Zito Partners. “The data analytics associated with social media has changed a brand’s ability to go from mass communications to having the ability to talk to individual consumers and stakeholders based on the data that has been collected.

“Traditional media, which has always been supported by advertising, lost its revenue source and its business model.”

In search of another sustainable model, traditional media has transformed itself, and consumers now contend with branded content. Businesses create their own content and can pay to have that content posted or published by traditional media outlets.

“This has blurred the lines between what was considered public relations and what used to be considered marketing and advertising,” DeFillippo said. “This has been a huge force behind the evolution of the industry. I think there are ways branded content can benefit consumers, industry and news organizations, but it requires some discipline in how it’s used.”

Marioni and Lonsdorf share similar concerns.

“If the content is not transparent, engaging and reflective of the authentic brand identity, it’s going to be lost on the target audience almost immediately,” Marioni said. “People don’t want to be sold to and they don’t want to be overtly persuaded. They want to be engaged in dialogue and be able to reach their own conclusions.”

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Daria Meoli

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