The Difference Between PR and Marketing

By Claire Papanastasiou

Public relations professionals know it. Marketers know it. Beyond those folks, however, the difference between PR and marketing may well remain one of the world’s best-kept secrets… until now.

While both share a common goal of attracting and retaining business, their approaches and roles differ greatly, yet are equally important to businesses of all sizes and industries. Further confusing matters is that these two functions usually work together under the auspices of business development and/or marketing.

Here’s a quick rundown on the differences:

1. Focus

  • Marketing focuses on advancing a company’s services or goods (business development)
  • PR focuses on advancing the company’s relationships (media relations)

2. Function

  • Both are management functions and work closely together
  • Marketing directly contributes to a business’ bottom line
  • PR indirectly supports the business’ goals and objectives, which fuel the bottom line

3. Targets

  • Marketing targets clients, including other businesses
  • PR targets the media that reaches a company’s desired audiences. The media are PR’s lifeblood, though in these changing times, a dedicated team will go the distance to communicate with a company’s non-media stakeholders, such as customers via social channels (LinkedIn, Facebook) or by creating corporate communications (investors). PR targets the media to reach the following audiences, depending on a company’s goals, and creates outreach strategies.
  • Examples of key audiences include:
    • Current and prospective clients, including other businesses
    • Internal audiences, employees (talent retention)
    • Potential lateral hires and C-suite staff (talent recruitment)

4. Impact

  • Marketing helps bring in new business
  • PR helps build a positive internal environment and external image
    for a company and its reputation, which helps bring in new business, and attract and retain talent (and makes marketing’s job a lot easier)

5. Paid, Earned, Owned Media

  • Paid media primarily handled by marketing
  • Earned (editorial by third parties) and owned (website) handled by PR
  • Earned media carries the most weight (this is the top reason why a business benefits from investing in a sustained PR program)

Making the PR commitment, setting expectations

The decision to embark on a plan takes thought and time, and there are several topics to consider before making the commitment – and investment.

  • Leadership buy-in. Seems like a given, though buy-in here means that company leaders accept that PR is a strategic long-term partner. Mutual respect and open lines to the top management team is key. A plan won’t work unless trust has been built, and that rapport can only be established through continued contact.
  • Defined goals. A PR department operating in a vacuum is a waste and can be potentially costly. The more defined an enterprise’s business goals, the better; and the more the PR is involved or aware of them from the get-go is best so the media team can create a meaningful communications strategy. Ongoing collaboration is a non-negotiable. Unlike an advertising buy, which is usually a one-off transactional exchange, a PR program is an ongoing relationship, much like a marriage.
  • Set expectations and commit. A robust PR operation is just that. Its mission is to leverage a business’s news of all kinds in the best interest of the enterprise. Sometimes things go smoothly. Other times, not-so-much for one very real reason: The media do not work for businesses. PR professionals know this, and recognize the value of setting expectations with company leaders when embarking on a PR plan. Making sure everyone is on the same page will ensure a positive process, which in turn will lead to more positive results.