Small Business Q&A: What is the Difference Between PR and Marketing?

While both disciplines entail communicating a story, they are different and commonly confused as being one and the same.

Many small business owners wonder: What is the difference between PR and marketing?

While both disciplines entail communicating a story, they are different and commonly confused as being one and the same. The lines between the various forms of mass communications have blurred as more and more of our lives migrate online. The end product for both remains the same: a desired action. However, the processes by which this is reached is very different.


So, what is PR?

Public relations deals with crafting the image of a company in the media. It is a part of business strategy and management, focused on the relationship between your company and the people out there who are (in any way) connected to your venture; whether they be consumers or investors. The purpose of PR is to communicate a positive public image.

PR has had to evolve rapidly in the past years due to the rise of online communication channels, like social media (i.e., Facebook and Twitter) and the unprecedented rise of online media (i.e., online-only magazines and newspapers and user-generated content like blogs, Instagram, and Pinterest). These new digital communication tools often stand at the intersection of many types of marketing channels (e.g., advertising and even customer service) which has led to an increasingly blurred line between the realms of PR and marketing.


So, what is marketing?

By definition, marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising. Most companies have marketing teams and corresponding marketing budgets. Marketing efforts typically require financial investment, whether to purchase advertising space or enact a campaign, hence the need for allocated funds and resources.

However, with the advent of cheap or free marketing tactics … the differentiation between PR (unpaid media) and marketing can become even more harder to understand.


How are marketing and PR different?

As Heidi Cohen explains, “There’s a love-hate relationship between marketing and PR. While both marketing and PR are at their best when used together, many professionals feel that they need to choose one or the other.”

The difference between marketing and PR can be a bit vague. Both require strategic planning and are concerned with achieving business goals; both focus on the brand image and unique selling point (marketing) or key messages (PR) of a business. In fact, there is a longstanding debate about whether or not PR is a part of the “marketing mix” or whether it should be treated as its own separate discipline. The answer to that question often depends on who you are asking – a publicist or a marketer!

In its simplest form PR focuses on securing editorial space in a media outlet (i.e., media coverage) and effectively promoting your brand. If PR is concerned with driving awareness, building brand reputation and “the story,” marketing is more explicitly concerned with “the sale” and the bottom line. The messaging may be similar, and sales are a component of PR, but the marketing department is most often concerned with tactics to drive immediate direct response activities (i.e., e-mail marketing, couponing, direct response TV, telemarketing, etc).


Should we choose marketing or PR?

So, what does this mean for your business? Should you choose one or the other? Which is more important? The best answer is to consider your particular business needs and devise a strategy that responds to them.While both disciplines are designed to drive awareness it is important to ask yourself key questions.

For example, are you most concerned with promoting your product or service value, or is it more important that you boost your company’s public image? Would you prefer to start positioning your company or drive transactional sales? The better you understand your goals, the better you’ll be able to respond to them with marketing, PR or a combination of both.


Lauren Sutton is a freelance writer for PHA Media, tackling some of the most important news and trends in the online business world and a variety of other subjects. In her spare time, she likes travelling to new places and learning about local cultures.


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