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Thought Leadership | 26th August 2021

PR vs marketing: is there a difference?

Read Time: 3 minutes


One of the first questions clients ask in the communications industry is, “what’s the difference between PR and marketing?” 

It’s a great question, but not always an easy one to answer. The well-known 7P’s of marketing regard PR as an aspect of “Promotion” and therefore a discrete function of marketing. The confusion arises in part because the terms “PR” and “Marketing” are often used interchangeably. The goals, objectives and tactics may be closely intertwined; while there are important differences.   

The classic distinction between PR and other marketing is that PR builds the reputation of the brand through media coverage and stakeholder engagement. In contrast, marketing drives sales messaging directly to the consumer and is measured in profits and revenue generation. However, the two activities should be considered interrelated aspects of communication rather than entirely distinct.   

Integrated PR and marketing  

PR and marketing have complimentary supporting functions; doing either in isolation will not work. The two must be combined and integrated to be effective. As a full-service communication agency, we offer a suite of integrated communication packages to help accelerate your business, find out how we can help your business thrive here. 

  • You can’t do one without the other – The truth is that you must have good PR to market something effectively and vice versa. Poorly marketing your product will affect your overall brand reputation, and failing to achieve brand recognition is likely to impact sales negatively.   
  • Digital PR is where it all comes together – One of the most striking areas where the two converge is in the field of digital communication. The inexorable rise of social media and brand influencers has created a sphere of activity typically worked on jointly by PR and marketing departments. Social media influencers have a dual function in that they can be targeted to build brand reputation and used for targeted advertising campaigns that drive product sales.  

Despite these similarities, it is also important to remember PR and marketing have distinctive communication features.  

Longevity, reliability and credibility  

  • Short-term vs long-term – Marketing is generally a more short-term enterprise that focuses on direct promotional action that will have a tangible impact on revenue. Creating a positive reputation for a brand or product using PR requires longer-term thinking. People’s perceptions do not change overnight, and shifting public opinion takes time.  
  • Spin and seeming unspun – Communications tactics are not fool proof and must have credibility to be effective. Consumers who feel targeted by PR and marketing too overtly are liable to get cheesed off and turn their gaze elsewhere. PR material must be deemed newsworthy by a journalist to get coverage and not overtly sell a product or a company’s services. PR that is marketing in disguise won’t get coverage, and inauthentic marketing won’t generate sales.  
  • Credibility and reliability – Marketing campaigns that are scheduled, planned and paid for can guarantee certain outputs in a way that PR can’t. If a company has paid for a marketing campaign, their messages will appear as specified in the outlet agreed. PR is very much dependent on the editorial decisions of the journalists concerned. Coverage is not guaranteed, neither is the angle and key messages included in the pitch or press release. PR can have greater credibility in that it must be earned by having news value, but it can not deliver results in the same predetermined fashion 

Comparing a typical day in the life of a PR and a marketer reveals some interesting features about these communication activities.  

Everyday communication tactics  

Communication professionals will often work very closely together on shared accounts and campaigns. However, the everyday life of a PR professional and marketer involves a distinct set of activities.    

PR professionals can often be found:  

  • Developing and managing brand messaging; 
  • Writing and distributing press releases to the media; 
  • Pitching stories to national journalists and broadcast media;  
  • Managing relationships with key media influencers and opinion leaders; and  
  • Creating eye-catching telling points and media events  

Marketers tend to:  

  • Devise creative advertising campaigns for product launches;  
  • Buy advertising slots on influential media platforms on TV, radio and online; 
  • Develop marketing collateral for product launches like brochures, FAQ documents and website landing pages; 
  • Conduct industry research to help determine the strategic direction of campaigns; and 
  • Brand management on social media channels.   

One of the crucial differences between PR and marketing is the metrics used to measure its success. 

What does success look like?  

 Measuring success for a marketer will involve considering the following: 

  • Did the product meet, exceed or fall short of the sales goals? 
  • What was the return on investment (ROI)? Did the spend behind the campaign generate sufficient sales?  
  • Did the buzz and social media traffic online generate sales?  
  • Was there an increase in social media followers after the digital marketing activity?  

It is important to remember that not all marketing activity is measurable in terms of direct sales. Brand marketing may have sales as an indirect goal. The indirect generation of sales is another area of similarity with certain aspects PR activity.    

For a PR professional, success looks a little bit different: 

  • Positive coverage obtained in the national press, trade publications and broadcast media; 
  • Awards and recognition at major industry events;  
  • Buzz generated from bloggers, social media influencers and key opinion leaders; and 
  • Target audiences reached in line with brand objectives. 

PR is more difficult to measure than marketing as it does not directly correlate with sales. Reputation cannot be quantified in dollars and pounds and long gone are the days of press cuttings and measured column inches.    

At Onyx Health, we’re experts in delivering integrated communication campaigns that help our clients stand out from the crowd, delivering measurable results that drive sales. Get in touch and get ahead of the competition. 

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