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The Difference Between PR and Marketing (and where they overlap)

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Marketing and Public Relations (PR) can look like interchangeable terms. We hear people say things like “That company has good PR” and the first thought that comes to mind may be an ongoing advertisement, a recent publicity campaign, a sticky phrase from a TV commercial or just the memory of a positive referral to a product. However, in the wide array of communication terms, they are not actually synonyms. Here are the different contributions that PR and marketing bring to business success. 

The Difference 

PR focuses on building relationships. The Public Relations Society of America (2012) defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” These relationships can refer to reputation management, media coverage, government relations, pre-and post-campaign research, audience identification, etc. The term publics refers to the stakeholders, employees, target audiences, the media and potential donors, among others, that are relevant to build relationships with. So, in simple terms, PR is all about creating, maintaining and repairing relationships between a group of interests for an organization and the organization itself. 

The goal of marketing, as defined by the American Marketing Association (2013), “is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” In a previous blog post, we wrote about the marketing mix (also called the 4Ps of marketing): Product, Price, Place and Promotion. These are some of the essentials for effective marketing in business planning. So, in simple terms, marketing is all about letting customers know a solution to their problem exists. Marketing helps create a demand for a product or service in order to fulfill the customer’s needs.

Yes, they overlap! 

  • Both Marketing and PR focus on selling a product or highlighting a brand, but their final goal is different: sales vs. positive reputation

  • They are part of the business investment: PR is more of a long-term investment to increase brand’s credibility whereas marketing can be a more straightforward or more direct line to reach customers based on promotion and sales.

  • They rely on each other: A company needs sales as they need reputation management. A company’s positive sale trends contribute to creating a positive perception by groups of interest or publics.

In Simple Terms

Let’s simplify it further using a quote from S.H. Simmons on the difference between PR and Marketing: 

“If a young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If the young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is, that’s advertising. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart, and successful her date is, that’s public relations.”