What’s the Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing?

The difference in the breadth and scope of work between these two has changed a lot over the past four or five decades. Before personal computers, cell phones and social media, the difference was simple. PR dealt with the news media and marketing handled advertising. PR people were charged with persuading the media to air and publish its press releases and portray a good reputation for a company or brand. Marketing produced and distributed flyers and ads in the newspaper, radio and television for the purpose of driving sales.

Another difference was that marketing was usually a short term and typically a once only activity. Supermarket ads in the food section of the newspaper every Wednesday were longstanding examples. With the exception of special promotions, public relations generally was an ongoing affair and more like an eternal courtship.

In short, PR meant earned media while marketing involved paid media. In those days, success for a PR person was positive press, a good reputation in the community, industry awards, and glowing remarks from the public. Marketers measured their success on whether their efforts exceeded their goals, the ROI and how much buzz their efforts created. Today the goals for PR and marketing haven’t changed much but the scope of work has diversified and expanded greatly for both.

What’s Different?

Both PR and marketing have so many more venues to choose from and use than before. For marketers, the challenge often is deciding which ones to invest ad funds into. Public relations professionals sometimes have the same dilemma but it’s more a matter of where to best invest their time spent cultivating audiences.

Like the traditional channels, marketing on digital platforms still strives to generate immediate responses and reactions from consumers from a wider menu of choices like ads, search engines, and/or electronic direct mail (EDM). Marketers also have a bigger variety of tools to employ today like influencers, videos, etc.

What’s changed for PR folks beyond the variety of platforms is the potentially wider outreach to people who have influence. These aren’t the influencers but others like bloggers, podcasters, etc. with an interest in particular subject or industry areas. The field is bigger now and the challenge is identifying and cultivating relationships with these audiences so as to get brand spokespersons or brands recognized and featured.

What’s Not?

The wider selection of platforms and venues has not only created more opportunities for marketers and PR professionals to reach audiences but it’s also made it more challenging in deciding which to pursue and employ.  Despite the differences in roles and goals between PR and marketing, it’s even more imperative that the two work hand-in-hand to maximize their efforts and achieve success.

PR and marketing professionals are usually housed within the same department to ensure good communication and collaboration. Brands, where this isn’t happening, would be wise to consider the value of one discipline strengthening and enhancing the other and bringing both under “the same roof.” Instead of getting caught up on the differences between the two disciplines, the focus should be on determining and agreeing on the most effective strategy and tools to deliver success.