What's the difference between PR and Marketing?

The differences and similarities between PR and marketing demand a nuanced definition that we'll take you through.

How do the objectives of PR and marketing differ?

The first comparison we need to make is between the objectives of PR and marketing. While both aim to promote a company in some way, they both intend to do it for slightly different, yet important, reasons.

Marketing is very much sales driven. It’s about bringing a product or service to market, and convincing people to buy or pay for that good or service. Marketers promote a product (or the company that produces it) because they want to raise more revenue for the company or, in some cases, prompt a specific action from a specific audience. Crucially, they want to do this relatively directly, meaning there’s a specific chain of events they wish to initiate with their marketing activities.

PR, on the other hand, has a slightly less direct approach. Its role, in short, is to manage the reputation of a company. It aims to craft a specific image for specific target audiences – be it customers, investors, or regulators – with the overarching aim of benefiting the company in various ways. One of these ways might be to increase revenue by promoting product sales, and some PR activities might appear similar to marketing tactics, but PR tends to go about it with a less direct approach.

The best way to think about it is that marketing is closely connected with sales, and PR is closely connected with reputation (which affects sales, although in a variety of complex ways).

How do PR and marketing tactics differ?

PR uses earned tactics

To understand the difference between PR and marketing tactics, it’s first crucial to recognise the difference between ‘earned’ and ‘paid’ media and marketing.

  • Paid media is, as you would expect, something a company pays for
  • Earned media refers to something a company does not pay for; it ‘earns’ it

PR, for the most part, uses ‘earned’ tactics to develop a company’s reputation in the public eye. PR professionals are known best for writing press releases, which they then send to journalists who might write about the company – for free. They might also send free samples of a product to influencers in the hope that the influencers might post content about it. In some cases, PR professionals will also engage in paid work – paying for sponsored articles in magazines, or product placements with influencers, for example.

Marketing uses a wide range of tactics

Marketing, on the other hand, engages in a wide range of both paid and earned tactics. Marketing teams might manage free newsletters on their companies’ websites with the aim of promoting products and sales through them. They might also commission TV advertisements (paid) or engage in SEO activities (earned) to improve their companies’ rankings on search platforms like Google. Again, these activities can overlap with those of PR – sponsored ads in print magazines might be placed by a marketing or PR professional.

One crucial difference to recognise here is that ‘earned’ tactics often lack the control of ‘paid’ tactics. A company could pay Google to rank its website as the first option after a customer searches a specific term, and this might be guaranteed. A journalist might agree to a product review with a PR professional, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll review it in a specific way (unless there’s a stringent contract in place, which most journalist will not agree to.)

Why should you engage in earned media?

You might ask then: why engage in ‘earned’ tactics?

And that all comes down to trust.

People tend not to place so much trust in ads; they know that companies are going to portray their products in a favourable light. They do, however, trust reputable journalists, established media organisations, and (perhaps to a lesser extent in some cases) the influencers they follow.

These media organisations have developed their own reputations. A favourable profile of your company’s founder in The Times could prove a lot more valuable than an expensive OOO advertising campaign.

PR vs Marketing

It’s very difficult to cut a definite line between marketing and PR.

In many ways, they’re very similar. In others, they’re clearly different. Both are crucial to a company’s success in the long term, and should complement each other when done well. To understand how they work, it’s best to accept that they’re simply difficult to compare. They’re separate from one another, while also inextricable.