What Differentiates Public Relations from Marketing?


Sandeep Singh

Although many assume public relations (PR) and marketing are the same, they actually have some very specific differences. Public relations is about building relationships and developing brand recognition so that consumers become aware of and familiar with a business’s name, reputation, and mission. PR acts as a liaison between the business and its target market. It is strategically and effectively constructed to bridge the distance between the two by sculpting a positive public image of the former and trust with the latter.

Marketing is both broader in its scope—encompassing all advertising pathways intended to lead to customer engagement—and more narrow in its purpose: for customer interest and engagement to ultimately lead to sales.

Should you use one instead of the other? Or can PR and marketing complement each other? Let’s find out.

What Is Meant by PR?

Broadly defined, public relations is a collection of methods and approaches aimed at creating and controlling how information about a person or professional entity is shared with the general public, particularly the media. It’s like the megaphone through which one’s personalized messaging is communicated. PR is both an art and a science in that it develops, disseminates, and manages information to enhance public perception of a company’s name, goods, or services.

What Is Meant by Marketing?

Marketing is less about public image and more about promotion. It is no longer limited to direct sales efforts, as it historically was, but now incorporates a tacit exchange between company and client—specifically, an exchange of values. A business aims to appeal to its audience’s values, and if it succeeds, the audience more highly values what the business offers. To accomplish this, marketers employ the 4Ps: product, price, placement, and promotional strategies. The primary objective of marketing is to convert customer interest into sales to increase a company’s profitability.

How PR and Marketing Differ

There are multiple distinctions between the two related sectors, some more significant and some more subtle:

1. Different Job Descriptions

A PR specialist’s job description entails managing brand reputation, creating positive perceptions, and building trust and optimism about a company. Basically, a PR professional influences public opinion. Their job is to build it up, based on all the good news and good works of a business or organization, but also to repair it when and if something happens to mar a company’s reputation. To build an emotional bond with the consumer, the PR specialist broadcasts a company’s steadfastness and trustworthiness, and in today’s climate especially, a company’s social responsibility.

A marketing specialist’s job description entails using the various marketing strategies available to them—influencer marketing, email marketing, digital marketing, and content marketing—to reach their target consumers directly. On the way to eventually reaching the consumer’s wallet, the marketer consistently contracts with trending influencers and coordinates brand endorsements, again to appeal to the client’s value system. They also monitor market trends, design marketing campaigns, develop demographically based pricing and outreach strategies, and collaborate with businesses to increase their standing in the competitive marketplace.

2. Different Daily Tasks

Marketing and PR professionals dedicate their time in diverse ways. Workdays in PR are filled with drafting press releases, designing press kits, devising innovative and intelligent social media campaigns, and curating custom content for clients to publish online and in print. Of paramount importance to the PR industry is relationship-building with the media. Through these crucial connections, a PR agency can communicate the desired messaging via objective and news-based platforms and channels. Daily activities emphasize forming a personal connection between the organization and the target market so that the organization matters to the market.

Marketing is also concerned with making a one-on-one connection with the consumer. Still, there’s the added challenge of establishing a competitive advantage over others in the same sphere of influence. In order to boost sales, amplify brand recognition, and increase market share, daily tasks revolve around conducting client/market research, undertaking competition analyses, preparing for product releases, planning promotional events, and devising advertising campaigns.

3. Different Aims and Objectives

Summarizing much of what has already been said so far, we can further pinpoint the goals of the two sectors by clarifying that public relations, in general, works in the interests of organizational reputation. In contrast, marketing, in general, aims to generate revenue. On the one hand, public relations concentrates on crafting a positive image for a company and fostering beneficial relationships with the numerous stakeholders in that company. On the other hand, marketing promotes what the company provides or produces, aiming to convince the consumer to try out or purchase what’s being offered with persuasive and personalized appeals to their wants and needs.

4. Different Target Markets

It may seem odd to categorize the same consumer base differently, but public relations and marketing do indeed access the same people or markets in different ways. More specifically, marketing directs its efforts mostly to existing customers and potential customers—individuals and outlets with a personal interest in the company’s product or service. In contrast, public relations reaches out to multiple sectors far more than individual consumers, striving to reach the general public with a broader message about a company’s profile, personality, and presence.

5. Different Definition of Success

In PR, success is measured in terms of the degree to which you can influence public opinion, manage or avert crises, generate positive perception, and heighten brand recognition. Though metrics are indeed used to assess the impact of PR projects, they’re more qualitative in nature. In marketing, though, quantitative outcomes predominate such that profit margins take center stage. Both sectors aim to motivate society at large, but marketing is looking for a specific return on investment which can vary by industry.

6. Different Modes of Communication

Lastly, there’s an interesting difference in the modes of communication between public relations and marketing. PR is much more a two-way communication channel with the public; there’s a necessary back-and-forth between PR specialists and all the people and sectors with whom they’re building relationships on behalf of their clients’ interests.

PR doesn’t necessarily have to engage the consumer directly. Marketing does. The transmission of information is more of a one-way street here, with promotional messaging featuring what the consumer needs to know about product features, product safety, and price. There is no need for return communication from the consumer, only investment by the consumer.

How Public Relations and Marketing Work Together?

Although PR and marketing indeed overlap, they are still two different sides of the same coin. Both benefit a business, company, or organization, but the process is different in the approaches, the strategies executed, and the receiving audiences of both. In a way, public relations aims to pull in the audience it’s trying to reach, and marketing pushes out its messaging to the audience it’s trying to reach.

Despite these differences, the two sectors are somewhat dependent on each other and can substantially enhance each other. Ultimately, both fields try to break through that wall between two separate entities, but PR does so with a softer technique that lends itself well to the evolving marketplace. Public relations will exist far into the future, for it looks beyond click conversions and profitability to relationship-building, long-lasting bonds, and human connection.