Michael O'Neill

Anywhere from 6-12% of company budgets are devoted to marketing, according to annual CMO surveys from Gartner.

Within marketing budgets, 5-10% goes to public relations (PR).

While in previous decades, more dollars would have been dedicated to traditional PR activities — potentially under their own line item — PR is now considered a small slice of the marketing pie. This change reflects a broader transformation toward digital marketing.

So what are the key differences between marketing and PR?

What Is PR?

Public relations is the process of promoting and communicating company messages and ideas to the public with the goal of positively influencing the world’s image of a brand. PR campaigns often involve:

  • Press releases.
  • Speaking engagements.
  • Video interviews and testimonials.
  • Conference attendance and event hosting.
  • Sponsored posts and ad placements.
  • Social media campaigns.

PR casts a wide net and commonly occurs when a new product launches, company leadership changes or strong business results are announced. PR can also be used as a form of reputation management to combat negative publicity after a scandal or setback.

What Is Marketing?

Marketing is the process of audience research, content creation and channel communications for the purpose of driving awareness, demand and purchase of a company’s products or services. Marketing campaigns often involve:

  • Content such as blogs, landing pages, downloadable assets, videos, infographics and more.
  • Publication and promotion of content across email, social media and web channels.
  • Physical collateral like brochures, business cards and trade show backdrops.
  • Sales-enablement collateral like one-pagers, case studies and comparison guides.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Lead generation and lead nurture messaging.

Marketing is multi-functional and used in a variety of ways throughout the customer journey. This might include generating interest in a brand, nurturing prospects and repeat customers, differentiating from competitors or facilitating sales.

What Is the Difference Between PR and Marketing?

The key distinction between PR and marketing is audience.

  • PR is centered around the public at large — those who might have a casual or even no understanding of your brand.
  • The audience for marketing is more niche, targeted to specific buyer personas that change over time or based on a campaign.
  • PR is focused on creating and maintaining a positive brand image in all corners of society, from the web to word-of-mouth. It’s often less measurable than marketing.
  • Marketing communications, however, address a single pain point of a single prospect in the hopes that said prospect will eventually become a paying customer. There are tangible goals, metrics and business outcomes involved with marketing.

Why PR and Marketing Don’t Have to Be Either/Or

Enterprise organizations will likely have a PR professional or PR agency embedded into the marketing team. Smaller companies might resort to a core group of marketers wearing many hats, including PR, but also social media, advertising, digital marketing, industry events and more.

Regardless of your team’s composition, PR and marketing goals should be aligned under an overarching corporate strategy. Both disciplines ultimately seek to:

  • Improve brand equity.
  • Foster higher sales.
  • Drive brand awareness.
  • Leverage earned media.

Additionally, PR professionals can be on hand to manage spur-of-the-moment activities like:

  • Crisis communication.
  • Media relations.
  • Media coverage.

This division of labor frees up marketing resources to focus on longer-term communication, like:

  • Content marketing.
  • Influencer marketing.
  • Email campaigns.

As you can see, for all of their differences, PR and marketing still exist in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Find the Marketing and PR Balance in Your Business

PR success is marketing success, and vice-versa. By strategically investing in and deploying a marketing and PR strategy, your brand can more effectively reach its target audience and achieve common goals.

But first, as outlined above, how you define and attribute each PR or marketing activity is important. Wishfully thinking an updated website, for instance, is “good enough” press misses the point. Or, publishing a periodic press release is hardly “enough content.”

Active strategy, cadence and volume are needed on both fronts.

Both PR and marketing are about communicating the right message in as many ways as possible. Do it well, and you’ll be discovered soon enough.