Marketing vs. public relations: Clarification for the confused

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By Alexandra Reid

I see, time and time again, in professional articles and blog posts and hear in every day conversations the misuse of the terms marketing and public relations, and it annoys me.

But I admit I am not entirely innocent either. It’s really easy to mix up these two terms because they are complementary fields that share so many similarities. They are both public facing, require many of the same skill sets and share some methods of media and public engagement. However, it is important to understand that their goals and processes for reaching these goals are distinct.

Boiled down to its bare bones, the answer is quite simple. The goal of marketing is to determine the customers that a company should sell to and to devise a strategy on how to reach them. PR involves creating a purpose-driven, active dialogue with a target audience, whether it’s potential customers, employees or stakeholders, with the goal of developing visibility and a positive corporate image and reputation by relating it to its interest groups.

In defining PR and marketing, we must consider the fact that they are constantly evolving with the changing media landscape and increasing demands of consumers. And these consumers are becoming more powerful and vocal as social technology advances and dilutes the persuasive authority of businesses. These shifts make it challenging to pinpoint definitions for each field. Here are some attempts from reputable institutions:

Marketing defined

“Marketing 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.”

- American Marketing Association

“The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

- Chartered Institute of Marketing

  • The act or process of selling or purchasing in a market
  • The process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service
  • An aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer

- Merriam-Webster dictionary

So, simply put, marketing is the business function that manages the relationships between an organization and its markets, between its products and services and its customers to satisfy all requirements profitably.

Public Relations defined

“Using the news or business press to carry positive stories about your company or your products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives”

Entrepreneur Encyclopedia

“Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics”

CIRP

“Public relations are often a crucial part of a company’s success – or failure. In addition to handling media requests, information queries and shareholder concerns, PR personnel are frequently responsible for crafting and maintaining a corporation’s image”

Investopedia

Again, in its simplest form, PR seeks to foster a mutual understanding between an organization and its publics by bridging consistent communication lines with media and publics to make an organizations “good works” well known to as many publics as possible.

Similarities

As mentioned previously, public relations and marketing are complementary. When a mutual understanding between a business and its publics is fostered through PR, a marketer’s job is made easier. The same is true for public relations professionals when the market fit for a product or service is clearly understood by the marketing team. A lot of professionals, ourselves included, regard PR as a subset of marketing. You can agree or disagree with this viewpoint (We welcome your comments in the box just a little south of here).

Skill sets

PR and marketing professionals both require similar skill sets to perform their jobs successfully. Writing skills are essential to both fields. We have written extensively on the subject of writing, including why spelling and grammar count,the importance of being able to write a clear and persuasive mission statement, the delightful, frustrating and fulfilling struggle that is the art of writing and guidance on how to improve your writing all to double-underscore and highlight its importance to both PR and marketing professionals. In addition, both fields require excellent interpersonal and communications skills as they require you to engage with all manner of publics including customers, stakeholders, clients, journalists, editors, bloggers, brand enthusiasts and pessimists. Both professionals must also be excellent researchers and be able to identify credible and relevant information and apply it to projects. For these reasons, as well as the increasing demand for social media expertise, both professionals must also be technologically savvy. Teamwork, persistence and creativity also rank high among necessary skills required for each field.

Methods

Both professionals also carry similar tool kits to achieve their goals. For example, marketing and PR professionals both develop and carry out strategies for media relations with the primary goal being coverage that is cumulative and long term. New media, press releases and newswire services, media kits, email and the good old fashioned telephone are all employed to get their messages across to the media. Both also manage the reputation of their clients by monitoring the media and Internet for positive and negative mentions and often draft responses on behalf of clients to potentially damaging remarks as a means of reputation management. Of course, these just scrape the surface of the many strategies and tactics in the PR and marketing professionals’ toolkit. Feel free to add additional similarities to the comments section below as you think of them.

Differences

In our view, what sets marketing apart from PR is that it’s about more than just outreach; it also embraces a number of higher functions that determine the very direction of an organization. While they both focus on reaching target audiences for their corporate clients, marketers are responsible for identifying these groups and their specific needs that the company’s products can address. They are also responsible for distinguishing their products from competitors and for advising on the development of new products. They decide the markets that will optimize the company’s profits and provide council on product pricing based on a perceived value. Like PR, marketing requires communications skills, but it also demands more strategic and analytical skills.

So, what’s your take?

Image from: Inti College

/// COMMENTS

7 Comments »
  • Heather MacIntosh

    May 13, 2011 12:57 pm

    Marketing is fundamental to defining what your offering is, your business model, what markets to target and how, your value proposition, your brand. You need all of these things before you can even begin PR. PR is an important part of building awareness and communicating value. It should help pave the way for lead generation and revenue generation.

    The importance of PR depends on the nature of your business. If you have a product for which there is an untapped market and pent up demand, then PR is less paramount. Conversely, if you are creating a new category where you need to educate the market, PR will be an important part of your overall communications plan. In any case, satisfied customers and a growing business means you have gotten your marketing right which is the foundation for good PR.

    If you are talking about skill sets, verbal, written and sometimes visual communications are required for both, as are data analysis, program management and customer service. However, a range of other skill sets can be required to fulfill the marketing cycle – everything from writing functional specs to brand design. That’s what makes marketing so interesting.

  • Alexandra Reid

    May 13, 2011 2:25 pm

    Heather, thanks so much for weighing in. You add many great points and I appreciate you contributing value to this article. Cheers.

  • Zoey Top

    May 15, 2011 3:46 pm

    A concise definition I studied is: “Public Relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action and communication to earn understanding and acceptance.”

  • Alexandra Reid

    May 17, 2011 8:50 am

    That’s a solid definition, Zoey. Thanks for your input.

  • Public Relations in a Nutshell | stephanie e. barger

    March 05, 2012 9:02 pm

    [...] Marketing vs. Public Relations: Clarification for the confused Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintDiggRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Marketing, PR, PR functions, PRSA, Public Relations by S. Barger. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  • Janet

    February 05, 2013 6:25 pm

    Great article! Glad to see this article is still on the Internet. I’m recareering and researching right now. I’m interested in going into PR/Marketing field.

  • Les relations publiques : le premier support du développement de l’entreprise. | RÉFLEXIONS PUBLIQUES, le blogue du cours «Rédaction en relations publiques» (UdeM)

    February 15, 2014 10:02 am

    [...] est clair que les deux éléments utilisent des médiums et une organisation similaires pour entrer en communication avec leurs publics cibles. Par contre, les relations publiques ont un [...]

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