Learn the key differences between these two functions, so you can leverage each one fully.
Do you need PR or marketing—or both? And what is the difference between them?
Understanding the difference can prove tricky at first since people often use the terms interchangeably. In reality, PR and marketing fulfill different functions. Let’s look at the purpose of public relations vs. marketing, along with their distinct audiences, time frames, tactics, duties, and benchmarks of success.
Marketing and PR have distinct but complementary purposes. While marketing deals with selling products, PR involves building and maintaining a positive reputation as a company or brand. In other words, marketing zeros in on promoting specific products (or services), while PR focuses more broadly on the company or brand image.
Marketing ultimately aims to generate leads and bring them to the bottom of the funnel. PR works to influence perceptions of your company across various dimensions, from recruitment and retention to investor relations and customer retention.
These purposes are highly interdependent. For instance, brand awareness created by PR will strongly influence the success of a product, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says. In essence, marketing can leverage the trust that public relations has worked to build. So, these two functions should maintain strong communication and alignment. If you have both marketing and PR teams, they should coordinate their strategy and messaging.
“PR is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long-term process that drives the credibility of your company,” writes Forbes Business Council. Long PR campaigns play a central role in establishing brand equity, they emphasize. Marketing often runs shorter-term campaigns for specific products, with the understanding that products will evolve in accordance with customer preferences. While these campaigns may be time-limited, often lasting a matter of months, public relations campaigns have no such limits.
Because they have different purposes, marketing and public relations teams speak to different audiences. Marketers speak to current and prospective customers specifically, whereas public relations can speak to any stakeholders, from investors and employees to the general public.
Since marketing and public relations have somewhat different purposes and time frames, they employ different tactics. Let’s take a look at some commonly used ones for both.
Marketing strategy typically involves reaching the customer base via several channels. Often it utilizes paid media. Tactics may include a mix of the following, for example:
- Sending email promotions via a newsletter
- Posting special offers on social media
- Sharing video content
- Creating website content
- Placing ads on billboards
- Creating print or television ads
- Using ad placement services like Google Ads
Now, let’s examine public relations tactics and how they differ.
Public relations strategy centers on storytelling that crafts the desired brand image. In contrast to marketing, PR typically doesn’t “pay to play.” Instead, it uses unpaid channels to share its message. The idea is that these unpaid channels boost credibility by leveraging the support of respected personalities, the media, and industry organizations.
- Building relationships with social influencers
- Nominating staff for awards
- Maintaining a social media presence
- Issuing press releases
- Securing media spotlights to highlight company stories
As social media platforms have grown in prominence, marketing and PR have often harnessed the same channels for their purposes. This can lead the lines to become blurred. But the content they share will be different—the marketing team might share a post about a product release, while the public relations team might share an award spotlight, for instance.
What responsibilities does each function hold? Here is a sampling of the main ones to further distinguish marketing and PR.
- Conducting industry research
- Assessing market segmentation
- Developing buyer personas
- Designing marketing campaigns for products
- Producing creative assets and content for marketing materials
- Securing advertising spots
- Assessing customer response and adapting as needed
- Designing a strategic communications plan that addresses different stakeholders.
- Talking with key stakeholders to uncover story angles
- Developing brand stories based on those conversations
- Coaching leaders and spokespeople for speaking engagements
- Booking speaking spots at industry venues and other events
- Devising a strategy for handling a crisis
- Writing speeches and press materials
- Making media pitches
Marketing campaigns highlight a product’s distinct value proposition for the target audience. Meanwhile, PR communications boost credibility and build trust by incorporating messaging on topics like corporate social responsibility and thought leadership.
Benchmarks of success
How do you benchmark public relations vs. marketing success?
Marketing and PR use different metrics of success, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce points out. Marketers typically have clear and obvious metrics like ROI, number of products sold, and conversion rate. Companies can evaluate these metrics in the short term and adapt quickly if need be. Since public opinion is less tangible than product sales, PR teams need to get more creative to discern the best benchmarks of their own success. Further, since PR plays the long game, companies may not see instantaneous results from public relations efforts—but it’s vital to measure them nonetheless.
What are good KPIs for PR, then? Looking at data from opinion surveys, social media engagement, media mentions, web traffic, and newsletter subscriptions can help PR teams assess their success. Awards won by the company and its staff also help illuminate the success of its public relations.
For instance, a PR team may create a list of publications they’d like to be mentioned in, along with a target number of mentions, says Entrepreneur. They can then look deeper at those mentions to see whether they used their key message, which will strengthen brand awareness.
In sum, if you’re looking to tell a brand story, public relations is what you need. If you’re working to revamp your image or build stronger brand awareness, opt for public relations. But if, on the other hand, you’re looking to boost sales of a product, launch something new, or track metrics closely, marketing will serve your needs best.
Of course, many companies employ both public relations and marketing, giving them the best of both worlds. As mentioned, they offer complementary benefits, which often makes that a smart approach!