PR vs. Marketing: 7 Key Differences Explained

PR vs. Marketing: 7 Key Differences Explained
5th January 20238 min read

Marketing and public relations are two powerful yet distinct ways to promote a brand and its offerings. While both are used to create awareness, the methods employed and their overall objectives differ significantly. This article will focus on the differences between PR and marketing, so you know where they fit into your overall strategy.

If you want people to buy more of your stuff, there are countless ways to do it:

  • Send press releases to publications and generate buzz around your product
  • Create content to appear on websites or blogs
  • Run search engine optimization campaigns and AdWords
  • Organize special events that highlight your product or service

The list goes on. But two of the most prominent promotional techniques are marketing and public relations (PR).

Though they’re often confused - and sometimes used interchangeably - they’re actually quite distinct, serving different roles in any business or organization.

To understand why that is, let's take a closer look at public relations and marketing.

Marketing vs. PR: A Quick Intro

PR and marketing are two of the most popular methods for getting the word out about your business. Brands and individuals use them to build awareness and attract customers or clients.

PR services focus on building relationships with the media, including journalists, and leveraging the power of stories to generate publicity for a brand. The importance of PR lies in its ability to create a positive reputation and an informed public.

Marketing typically involves paid efforts such as advertising campaigns or promotional events to get people talking about what you’re offering and drive sales. It’s often seen as a way to directly influence purchase decisions.

At a high level, the two share similar goals - increasing brand visibility and driving sales. The main difference between PR and marketing is that PR focuses on building relationships with external stakeholders, such as journalists and influencers. In contrast, marketing focuses more directly on selling products or services by targeting potential customers.

What is the Difference Between PR and Marketing?

PR and marketing are two distinct, yet intertwined strategies for promoting businesses. Though both are essential for any successful business or organization, their approaches and objectives differ in important ways.

Here are seven key differences between PR and marketing:

1. Approach

While PR and marketing both serve the same end goal of helping a brand reach its consumers, their approaches couldn't be more different.

PR focuses on forming meaningful relationships with key stakeholders like journalists and influencers to create good press for the brand while also preparing for potential crises.

Examples of approaches to PR activities include:

  • Writing a press release about a new product launch
  • Organizing an event that showcases the brand
  • Releasing a statement addressing a crisis or directly responding to negative press
  • Appearing on relevant podcast episodes or interviews
  • Monitoring and engaging with conversations about the brand

A solid PR strategy can certainly influence buying decisions, but they do not necessarily focus on them directly.

Instead, they focus on building relationships with external stakeholders and creating a positive public perception of the brand  - which, in turn, can help drive sales.

Marketing is a much broader field and includes a variety of different approaches to reach potential customers. It’s typically focused on driving sales by directly targeting people who are likely to be interested in the product or service being sold.

Examples of marketing tactics include:

  • Paid search ads
  • Social media campaigns
  • Content marketing (e.g., blogs, videos, webinars)
  • Promotional events
  • Programmatic advertising (e.g., display ads, retargeting, connected TV)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Email campaigns

Some PR activities double as marketing activities. For example, appearing on a podcast can both help build relationships with external stakeholders and drive sales.

Similarly, press releases and bylines that include links back to your site or CTAs will boost sales, improve search engine rankings, and help build relationships with journalists - all residual benefits that marketers love.

But in general, the approach of marketing is much more focused on driving sales directly, whereas PR works to build relationships and trust with the public at large.

2. Tactics

The tactics used in PR and marketing also differ in many ways.

PR campaigns typically involve creating or disseminating content that tells stories about the brand and its products, building relationships with key influencers, responding to press inquiries, and providing crisis management services.
In some cases, PR stunts can be over the top for shock value, but they can also be subtle and strategic.

When Elon Musk sent a Tesla Roadster into space to test the new SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, for example, he didn't spend $90 million for no reason - his rocket test served as a PR stunt to increase public interest in SpaceX while teasing the new Tesla Roadster.

Marketing campaigns are usually more abstract, and the creative nuance is meant to capture the attention of potential customers. There are simple tactics (e.g., paid social, email, search ads), but marketing also requires developing innovative strategies to reach new customers.

GoPuff's app gives customers a unique and convenient way to purchase convenience store items. As you may have noticed, GoPuff proudly shares its wacky commercials and quirky ads.

But one of the most unique ways it promotes its products is by highlighting the unusual shopping list items people order, along with the time that they order them.

In Mexico City, Uber launched a guerrilla marketing campaign for UberPOOL in which it flew drones with signs that promoted the rideshare service to cars that were stopped in rush hour traffic.

There is no real scientific way to explain why some marketing campaigns work - marketing just takes clever and innovative creativity.

3. Target Audience

When comparing PR vs. media relations, the target audience is fairly similar. But when comparing PR vs. advertising or PR vs. marketing, the target audience can be different.

An effective PR campaign will have a broad reach and likely target the general public, although it may also aim to inform specific stakeholders, like investors or media outlets.

Marketing campaigns often focus on a more defined audience, segmented by demographics (age, gender, location) and psychographics (attitudes, interests, lifestyle).

A marketing campaign may also target a specific market or industry. For example, an automotive company might focus its marketing efforts on car enthusiasts and the auto repair industry instead of the general public.

The reason marketers can do this is that targeting for marketing campaigns is based on data from customer profiles.

There are many types of press releases, and a PR agency can take a targeted approach to disseminate these releases to the right people. Still, the exact audience that they reach is ultimately broader.

4. Goals

Of course, businesses invest in PR and marketing for the same ultimate reason: they want to sell more of their products or services.

But not every business uses public relations as part of their strategy. The US PR market will be worth over $129 billion by 2025. The US marketing services market is already worth half a trillion dollars

This is because the goals of PR and marketing differ. 

The goal of any effective PR campaign is to boost brand awareness and increase trust in a brand. It does this by improving public perception, dispelling negative rumors, and creating positive stories around a product or service.

The PR cost is worth it not because of its direct impact on sales, but rather its ability to build credibility and trust around a brand - something that is harder to measure.

Marketing campaigns have individual objectives, but they each revolve around one of these five goals:

  • Increasing sales and revenue
  • Improving customer loyalty
  • Raising brand awareness
  • Building relationships with customers
  • Generating demand or leads

Unlike PR campaigns, marketing campaigns are directly tied to sales and revenue. This makes it easier to measure their effectiveness because there's usually a tangible result from the investment.

5. Metrics You Track

Because the target audience and overall reach of public relations and marketing differ, the metrics used for measuring success also differ.

PR teams typically measure success by tracking the number of media mentions, press releases, and stories they get published in newspapers, magazines, radio shows, and online publications.

They may also use sentiment analysis tools to monitor brand mentions and reviews across the internet to gauge how the public feels about them.

Then, they measure the relative success of each individual PR activity by looking at how much coverage it generated, how many people interacted with it online, and how many of those interactions turned into sales or other desired outcomes.

However, the value of PR goes beyond conversions - it can be challenging to measure how each individual story impacts brand perception and overall sales and revenue growth.

Marketers usually measure success through metrics such as cost per acquisition (CPA), return on investment (ROI), customer lifetime value (CLV), and engagement rate.

They also use tools like A/B testing and analytics to track user behavior and determine the most successful campaigns to run.
Since marketing takes a consumer-first approach, it involves heavy use of consumer data for targeting. And since everything is tracked, it is much easier to measure the direct impact that each marketing campaign has on sales and revenue. 

6. Toolkit and Tech Stack

PR and marketing efforts require different tools to be successful.

For PR, your tech stack will consist of the following:

  • Media Relations Tool: Platforms like Cision and Muck Rack provide comprehensive media directories and contact databases that you can use to find and reach out to journalists, bloggers, and other influencers.
  • Public Relations Software: Platforms like PR Newswire provide the tools needed for press release distribution services, tracking coverage, managing contacts, creating story pitches, and more.
  • Social Monitoring Software: Tools like Mention and Brand24 are perfect for tracking online mentions, comments, and reviews of your brand.
  • Content Creation Platform: Tools like Adobe Spark, Canva, and Hootsuite Amplify provide all the tools needed to create top-notch visuals for your stories.
  • Reporting and Analytics: Platforms like Meltwater Insights and Pitchbox provide detailed reporting features which allow you to measure the success of your campaigns.

Meanwhile, marketers will typically need their own set of tools:

  • Marketing Automation Tools: Platforms like HubSpot and Marketo provide the infrastructure and analytics needed to measure customer behaviors and automate personalized campaigns.
  • Marketing Analytics Tools: Platforms like Google Analytics and Mixpanel provide insights into customer behavior, allowing you to track conversions and optimize your campaigns for maximum ROI.
  • Social Media Management Tools: Platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social are perfect for managing social media profiles across multiple platforms.
  • Content Management System: A CMS like WordPress or Squarespace is necessary for creating and managing a website.

7. Time Frame

PR and marketing efforts require different time frames to be successful. PR teams often have to work weeks, months, or even years ahead of a major launch or product announcement to ensure that the right people hear their message.

On the other hand, marketers can often get results much faster if they run paid ads or other performance-based campaigns. Depending on the specific campaign, marketers may be able to start seeing results within hours or days. 

Other forms of marketing (e.g., SEO, content marketing) may take longer to drive results, but they can often produce a more sustained level of growth over time.

Like marketing, PR is necessary for building immediate awareness, but it also builds long-term trust and credibility with customers.

The time frames for PR and marketing combine to create a holistic approach that ensures the success of both initiatives.

Do Marketing and PR Work Together?

Although they are two drastically different industries, marketing and PR have always gone hand in hand, like two peas in a pod.
While marketing focuses on the tactics used to promote an organization's products or services, public relations works to build relationships with customers, stakeholders, media outlets, and communities.

Combining the two gives organizations an advantage by better positioning their brand, with PR developing goodwill by raising awareness of the company's culture and achievements while marketing provides a tangible vehicle for getting a message out to target audiences.

Organizations must stay on top of shifts in public opinion and international trends to carefully craft key messages. Marketing provides the platform while PR promotes them.

The combination can ensure greater success than either strategy alone could ever achieve.

Frequently Asked Questions

What comes first: marketing or PR?

Marketing is the logical first step for any business looking to efficiently deliver its services or products to those who are unaware of its existence. Promotion is crucial in getting the most out of your public relations tactics and reaping rewards from them.

However, some brands would benefit more from a PR-first approach. Suppose a company is relatively unknown or has something controversial to say. In that case, public relations can help set the stage for marketing activities by building trust and credibility before introducing a product or service.

How can you use PR and marketing together?

PR and marketing should be intertwined to achieve the greatest success. For example, if you're using email campaigns for your product launch, PR could focus on building anticipation by leveraging influencers or creating stories about the product.

At the same time, marketers can set up ads targeting those who have expressed an interest in similar products or services. Once the launch has happened, PR teams can focus on post-launch stories and interviews while marketers can use retargeting campaigns to reach people who have interacted with the product or brand.

Is PR under Marketing?

PR and marketing are two different disciplines, with their own strategies and tactics. While PR teams often report to the marketing department, they are distinct entities that should be managed separately.

That said, there is a benefit to having them work together as one unified team. Working in tandem can ensure better results than either strategy achieves alone.

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