Marketing OR Communications? If You Had to Choose, Which Would You Pick?

For years I have been amused when a nonprofit organization would label one of its key departments “Marketing AND Communications.” To me, that always seemed redundant. After all, you never hear a CFO claim responsibility for the Department of Finance, Accounting and Accounts Payable.

A university president once talked with me about leading his marketing and communications team. When I asked if he would consider shortening the title for simplicity, he emphatically declined. For that and other reasons, neither of us seriously considered forming a working partnership.

Later, when I taught marketing at another university, I spent considerable time talking about the relationship between marketing and communications. I never believed the two terms were synonymous or interchangeable, and I drilled into my students the concept that communications comes at the end of the marketing process.

Five years ago I left my position as Vice President of Marketing at United Way. Although communications was part of my portfolio, it always grated on me when my CEO referred to my department as “marketing and communications.” Although I appreciated his thorough description of my team’s role, I also thought he was being unnecessarily redundant.


Half a decade ago, as I began working at the American Red Cross, my new CEO and I had in-depth conversations about expectations, responsibilities and titles. The department I inherited was labeled “community relations,” but to me that sounded too soft and even expendable. I wanted to lead a team focused on bottom line results.

My boss concurred and gave me the freedom to select my own title and choose a new name for my department. To avoid the redundancy of the clunky label “marketing and communications” I opted for the truncated term “marketing.”

That worked well until I became ingrained in the Red Cross culture and slowly realized that within our system marketing and communications are two separate functions. I vividly remember being on disaster assignment and telling an out-of-state co-worker I was responsible for marketing. She asked,”So who does your communications?” I thought she asked a stupid question, but as we talked she helped me to understand how the semantics within the organization might lead to confusion about my role and responsibilities.

In March of this year I attending a training session with Red Cross colleagues whom I hold in highest regard. Part of our conversation touched on the separate Red Cross roles of marketing and communications. Upon returning to the office, I talked with my boss about clarifying my role. Without hesitation, he said, “If you want to change your title and rename your department, you have my complete support.”

So I held my nose and elongated my “marketing” title to “marketing and communications.” Although my responsibilities never changed, I thought of the the new label as a tool to help me better function in dual roles.

Well, that lasted for four months. Then a national reorganization reshaped the existing structure. Across the nation, my counterparts and I were told we’d have to choose between marketing or communications. We were instructed that, in the new scheme, no one would be allowed to do both.

I chose communications.

Now, my official title is Regional Director of Communications | Public Information Officer. In my revised role I continue to be responsible for public relations, media relations, social media and disaster public affairs. The tasks labeled “marketing” are now handled in one of four marketing hubs strategically located throughout the country. The marketers in those hubs have assumed responsibility for advertising, PSAs, direct mail, telemarketing, sales support and the related production of collateral materials.

I do not begrudge the title change. To me, it is more of a change in semantics than in functional responsibilities. I am pleased, though, to be given more freedom to focus on and expand in areas where I feel most passionate while also sloughing off the less enjoyable marketing tasks that I once did (and did well, I might add).

Although the reorganization eliminated marketing from my title, it will never dislodge from me my professional identity as a marketing practitioner. In my book, a marketing mindset will always be required to function effectively as a communicator.

Within the past month, the word “marketing” has been expunged from my business card. Yet I feel a sense of satisfaction as I have held onto that label in my revised my LinkedIn summary. In the professional label just below my name, I no longer list my current job title. Instead, I more accurately describe myself as a “marketing strategist and corporate communicator connecting people with causes bigger than themselves.

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