What Is the Difference between Marketing and PR?

5 years ago

As a writer for a Chicago marketing company, I’ve seen that many people use the terms public relations and marketing interchangeably, but the truth is, they are not the same thing. What exactly are they? How are they different? And, most importantly, which one should your business be using? 

Quick Definitions


Marketing: The process of promoting, selling or distributing a product or service; the work of moving goods from producer to purchaser 

Public Relations: Encouraging public understanding and goodwill towards a particular company and its products or services


Four Key Areas of Difference


Though related, marketing and PR are very different strategies. Below, consider four of the key contrasts between these two promotional tactics and let them guide you on deciding which to employ in boosting your business.

  • COST: Paid vs. Free

Traditionally speaking, marketing is paid advertising and PR is free coverage. Many companies have marketing teams or budgets, with PR lumped somewhere inside—“but this is usually for logistic management reasons rather than because PR skills are a subset of marketing skills,” says blogger and marketing professional Simon Wakeman.

Marketing efforts typically require financial investment, whether to purchase advertising space or enact a campaign, hence the need for allocated funds and resources. PR, on the other hand, can in fact be cost-free, as it is most focused on getting newsworthy information picked up by other outlets, such as social media or journalists, effectively promoting your brand.  Nonetheless, to say marketing costs money and PR doesn’t is not the whole story. As Wakeman writes, “That answer misses so many of the differences that it’s not really valid.”

  • CHIEF OBJECTIVE: Value vs. Image

While both marketing and PR are communication efforts designed to boost business and promote a brand, their chief objectives are not the same. Marketing focuses on the market and building sales; PR focuses on relationships and building trust. 

“Marketing is analytical and sales oriented,” says Jayme Soulati at Ragan's PR Daily. “Its job is to generate leads, sell stuff, and influence the buy.” You could say marketing is about pushing the product or service a company provides, particularly in a way that appeals to the audience. Contrast that with PR, which “is about building positive relationships with the public primarily through exposure and coverage in the media, for example, newspaper, radio, and TV newscast interviews,” according to Andrea Baxter of Bratface Marketing in an article she wrote for Design Sponge.

While marketing and public relations often work together as a team, they are distinct in their particular purposes. To put it simply, marketing is about building customer interest; PR is about building customer relationships.

  • CONTENT: Spin vs. Straight

When it comes to content, marketing is all about spin—finding the right creative angle to package products or services in a way that draws the audience. PR, on the other hand, is more no-nonsense, traditional, with the tone of a press release or a news story. Content is what does the work in marketing, communicating and informing the customer; but content is just the beginning with PR, where the goal is to create something newsworthy and attention-grabbing that can be grown. 

  • CONTROL: Full vs. Released

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between marketing and PR is the level of control they offer companies. With marketing, a business can enjoy full authority over promotional materials, from branding to contests to messaging. With PR, on the other hand, a business releases control as soon as it submits its press release or story, letting it explode in ways it cannot anticipate, expect or plan for. In her Design Sponge article, Andrea Baxter points out that “when it comes to PR…companies often do not have control over how the media presents information, if they use a company’s information at all. The PR department can pitch any story, emphasizing areas they want the media to mention and focus on, but the media won’t always ‘get the word out’ the way it was intended, nor is it obligated to share/cover your story.”


Which to Choose? Should You Choose?


As the lines between marketing and PR blur through social media, it’s possible that the fields will continue to have more and more overlaps and similarities. Recent marketing grad Jake Cripe, in the blog PR at Sunrise, writes, “Companies are using their Twitter streams and Facebook pages to both market themselves and carefully craft consumer perceptions. While press releases and marketing campaigns still show the differences between the two subjects, the new shiny mediums are blending the two together, complementing each other and making businesses more efficient and effective.”

So what does this mean for your business? Should you choose one or the other? Which is more important? The best answer is to consider your particular needs and devise a strategy that responds to them. Do you want total control through marketing, or are you willing to release control in favor of potentially free publicity? Are you most concerned with promoting your product or service value, or is it more important that you boost your company’s image to the public? The better you understand your goals, the better you’ll be able to respond to them with marketing, PR or a combination of them both.


Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago marketing company with a team of Chicago Web designers, copywriters, social media experts and more.

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