While public relations and marketing are not the same thing, it’s not uncommon to confuse the two. There are, after all, similarities between the two disciplines: Both aim to help a company achieve its goals, increase the public’s awareness of its mission, and promote its products. How each goes about doing that is where the difference lies.
It’s worth pointing out the definitions of public relations and marketing to highlight some of the differences between the two. The official definition of PR, from the Public Relations Society of America, is: “….a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
PR focuses on developing relationships. In contrast, the definition of marketing, from the American Marketing Association, 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.”
Goals and Targets
Communication lies at the heart of both PR and marketing, although the goals and the target audiences for each tend to vary. The goal of marketing is to sell products to a customer while the goal of public relations is to build a relationship with that customer.
The customer is often a target for both marketing and PR, but PR typically also targets a number of other stakeholders, including potential investors, the media, and others who would have an interest in what a company is doing and in helping it to achieve its goals.
Who’s In Control
Another difference between marketing and public relations is who is in control of the content and information. In the case of marketing, a company or brand has full control of what goes into the advertisement or other marketing material.
When putting together an ad, company executives have the final say in how it looks and is presented (just think of all the scenes in the TV series “Mad Men” where the creative team worked hard on a new slogan or imagery, only to have a client reject it outright or want their own ideas used).
In the case of PR, the control shifts to the media and to the journalists or bloggers who are writing a story about a company. While this can seem to be a disadvantage to company, it often works in the company’s favor.
In March 2014, Inpowered commissioned a study examining the role of content in a customer’s decision making process. The study found that “expert” content, compared to user reviews or branded content, was the most likely to have a positive influence on a customer’s decision to purchase an item. Expert content increased purchase consideration by 83% compared to user reviews and by 38% compared to branded content.
So, while journalists or bloggers are the ones in control of the so called expert content, relinquishing that control to them has the effect of making their opinions about a company or product seem more credible and genuine.
Earned vs. Paid Media
Marketing tends to use paid media to get a message out to consumers. The company is in full control of purchasing it, and often pays a considerable sum to put it out in front of people.
Earned media is the province of PR. It doesn’t cost a company much out of pocket (aside from the cost of, for example, writing and distributing a press release or executing a social strategy). As a result, the return on investment for earned media is typically much higher than the ROI for paid media. Since a company isn’t putting much money upfront, it has little to lose if a campaign doesn’t net many new customers.
Of course, the downside of earned media is the control issue. It’s all well and good if a journalist or blogger publishes a positive story about a company. But, if the journalist takes issue with a particular business practice or questions the company’s manufacturing practices, earned media can end up costing a business.
Although they are different, marketing and public relations aren’t mutually exclusive. Your business doesn’t need to focus on one and ignore the other. Both can be a part of a successful communications strategy. And ideally, the two disciplines will be strategically coordinated, so that each can leverage the results of the other.