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PR vs Marketing – What’s the Difference?

January 8, 2018
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Though Public Relations and Marketing have traditionally been two different practices, the two have more recently formed a unique union in which the efforts of one bolster the efforts of the other and there are a lot more ways that the two integrate in 2018 than they did 10 or even five years ago. Traditionally, public relation professionals have been concerned with generating brand awareness for new brands, changing public opinion, and managing crises. However, digital PR strategies have developed over the past few years that have bridged the gap between brand awareness and ROI.

If we take a look at how PR and Marketing have contrasted in the past, we can see that there are differences in a few of the goals for each. The main difference is that a PR campaign  has traditionally been a driver in knowledge of the brand, highlighting new and exciting initiatives, products, and services, and overall getting the word out to drive traffic and sales shortly after placements and media hits go live. On the other hand, a marketing strategy, and more specifically, a digital marketing strategy, is laser-focused on getting your target audience to take action and convert through various channels. Whether that’s SEO, PPC, social media, paid social, content, or CRO, these digital marketing channels have grown over the past decade to become the foundation of present day marketing. Now, PR is coming along for the ride and strategically supports these marketing channels too. Outlined below are a few key differences between PR and Marketing.


One of the main differences between Marketing and PR in a traditional sense is their target audiences. Traditional public relations media pitching reaches a wide audience with the goal of increasing brand awareness and building a sound reputation, targeting specific publications with a readership that would be interested in the product or service the brand offers and what the company is up to. This begins with researching your target demographic and compiling media lists that are comprised of the perfect editors to cover the topic based off of their beat. When you think of PR, you think of people not necessarily “actively” seeking out information about your specific brand, but rather they have interests that align with that media outlet and they may stumble upon some coverage highlighting your business.

In contrast, marketing is more laser-focused on the people who will take action and directly contribute to the business’ bottom line and for many marketing channels is far more targeted. While public relations professionals pave the way for awareness and brand reputation of a brand, marketing is considered more direct to consumer. PR strategies like influencer marketing and blogger outreach generally build awareness, while Marketing strategies like PPC or social advertising reach hyper-targeted audiences based on specific audiences that can be reached in a way through a strategic communication process. The grey area of these audiences, however, has expanded now that PR has become an assist to many of these marketing initiatives.

PR services

What You’re Promoting

When it comes to what you are promoting through PR versus marketing, there are a few key differences. You can directly promote a specific product through PR, but you are more likely promoting the brand as a whole. What I mean by this, is that you will get more effective placements when you’re pitching something newsworthy that tells a story on the brand, rather than a singular item. With that being said, this is not always the case. For example, if you’re pitching gift guides, you might actually be pitching one single item. The point is that the goal of public relations professionals is to broaden the reach and visibility of an entire brand regardless of what is being covered in a placement. If a media outlet is touching on one item or diving into the brand’s amazing culture, it’s still getting the name on the radar of potential customers.

With marketing, you are directly promoting a specific product or service, especially when it comes to advertising through paid channels. A marketing professionals executing a paid search campaign for an ecomm brand, for example, serves ads with specific products because it brings customers deeper into the marketing funnel. While a PR takes a more TOFU approach (Top Of Funnel), Paid Search is more BOFU (Bottom Of Funnel) as it involves people already searching for an intent to purchase.

Related: What TOFU Means to a Digital Marketer

Though this is not always the case 100 percent of the time, a public relations campaign is traditionally earned media, meaning there is no exchange of money. With things like sponsored posts and media buying, the game has certainly changed. However, the basic principle of public relations is that you are pitching something newsworthy or something that an editor feels would be of interest to their readership, allowing you to reach your target audience. This is especially true, and remains to be true, when pitching top tier press, who cannot accept gifts in exchange for coverage. Marketing, however, is heavily paid. If you’re dealing with PPC or paid social, you’re paying for clicks and, in turn, visits to your website.

Using Digital PR To Enrich Marketing Efforts

Now that we’ve gone over a few of the differences between PR and marketing audiences targeting as well as what you’re promoting, let’s talk about how PR and marketing can be viewed as strategically working together.

How can we utilize traditional PR strategies and tactics to enhance our digital marketing efforts? The answer is by creating cross-channel strategies and using PR as an assist. Digital PR should not be a standalone service, and many marketing firms and agencies are tapping into the results that PR generates across an array of digital marketing channels. Whether you are leveraging your secured coverage as a landing page for advertising, or repurposing images from influencer outreach on social media, there are many opportunities to incorporate PR into a digital marketing agency.

Going Digital with Media

To start, your PR strategy should primarily (if not strictly at this point) target online publications. If you’re a b2b or b2c business, you can get more visibility into the impact of your PR placements when you focus on securing online placements. Fortunately for those publicists who have a traditional PR background that may heavily involve magazines and even newspapers, now many of these outlets can be found online. Moreover, a lot of these outlets have gone fully digital, and no longer produce print publications.

Don’t Forget Links

When you’re communicating with press for an online placement, the reason why you get more visibility into what the placement is doing to your business is through the use of links, you should be keeping links top of mind. When you secure an online placement, don’t just go for a brand mention. Make sure you are requesting the editor or contributor to include a link. Even better, if this is an earned media placement, make sure that this link is followed, meaning you will not only get the brand awareness, traffic, and potentially conversions from the placement, but also the SEO value. This is the main way that PR can support your SEO efforts, since the number one way to build your website’s domain authority and influence positive keyword rankings is to secure backlinks on authoritative websites.

Use Your Online Coverage to Drive Paid Social Results

Once you’ve successfully secured an online PR placement, you should leverage the win in your Facebook ads. For example, using the tool Sniply, you can send a targeted audience of Facebook users to your placement and then pixel those people to later retarget on Facebook. This works great because you are driving them to an informational piece of content that is not super salesy, while also having the ability to later drive them deeper into the marketing funnel through ads.

Using Influencer Assets in Organic and Paid Social Content

Tieing in social influencer outreach should be a part of your digital PR strategy. After all, it’s another form of outreach, but instead of media you’re reaching out to social influencers. Rather than securing placements with influencers and reporting on the engagement or traffic metrics as well as top line revenue, consider how you can also put these creative assets to use. These are not only considered user-generated content, but also lend heavily to brand credibility when you’re being endorsed by an influencer.  Therefore influencer marketing is an effective marketing strategy that helps build media relations and promote your brand.

We have been able to repurpose influencer content shared on Instagram as well as content shared on YouTube from our influencer campaigns into our organic social strategies giving credit to the influencers and working into our content calendars. In addition, the influencer assets we have leveraged in our paid social ads have had higher click through rates and higher ROI overall. This is because it’s not stock photography, but looks like custom imagery and lends to the social proof as well.

PR and Marketing, Two Peas in a Pod

While there are differences between PR and marketing, the consensus we’ve come to over the past few years is that the two of them should work in conjunction with one another. The cross-promotion of your media placements means better results for your holistic marketing ecosphere.


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