Revolutionary Measures

6 differences between PR and marketing

After one of my previous posts on what public relations can (and can’t do), Ann Hawkins of Drive suggested exploring what the differences are between PR and marketing, leading to this article. To begin with, it is important to stress that PR is a marketing discipline, alongside the likes of advertising, direct mail, brochures and digital. So there is inevitably overlap.

As Ann rightly points out this overlap has increased over the last few years, as marketing disciplines have coalesced, but there are still differences between PR and other areas.

laptop with marketing display

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Here are what I think the six main ones are:

1.PR is less guaranteed
Any marketing campaign can fail, with even the biggest of advertising campaigns coming a cropper. This could be down to poor planning, inadequate targeting or simply not having a strong enough creative idea. However, even the most unsuccessful marketing campaign will have a very visible outputs, whether that is a website, a piece of direct mail, or an enormously expensive TV ad. The outputs of PR appear much less substantial – a press release, a conversation with a journalist or influencer, or an email to a stakeholder. So if the campaign fails there is much less to show for it. You don’t have the 10 foot advertising poster to impress the CEO with. PR is much more of an iceberg – there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes to get a campaign up and running, and much less guarantee that it will succeed. PR is not just media relations, but I’ve been in the position of having a journalist write a piece which was dropped from a national newspaper as the news agenda changed and there simply wasn’t space.

2. PR is (or used to be) less measurable
Historically, one major difference between PR and marketing was that most marketing campaigns could easily be measured, whether in terms of leads, sales or other outcomes, unlike PR. This is one area where PR has changed dramatically over the last few years. When I started in PR 25 years ago, measurement was calculated on the physical coverage you received, using Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). Full page article? Find out how much buying the same ad space would cost, multiply it by three (as PR is much more credible than an ad), and you have an impressive figure that shows ROI.

Thankfully, things have moved on, with much greater professionalism. Digital technology enables specific tracking of where people go to after reading an online article for example, and it is now much easier to measure outcomes, not just outputs.

3. PR often involves a gatekeeper
Marketing campaigns normally directly target the audience they are trying to influence. For example, you want people to watch an ad and buy your washing powder or click to sign up to join a service online. In contrast PR is more likely to reach the audience indirectly, through a gatekeeper. This could be journalists/publications in the case of media relations, or other stakeholders such as analysts, consultants or other influencers. So, you need to create a message that not only resonates with the final audience, but also convinces the gatekeeper as well.

4. Marketing is trying to drive direct revenue
According to a post on a PR company’s website, marketing is always linked to revenue goals, while PR is about reputation. To be honest, I’d only partially agree. Some PR is about boosting your reputation, but it has always been about driving leads as well. For example, if you launch a new product press coverage is a crucial part of not just creating awareness but getting people into the sales funnel. However, it is true to say that marketing campaigns tend to be more linked to sales goals, whereas PR can be much wider in its results and targets.

5. PR is more credible
To me, this remains the most important difference between marketing and PR. Even (or especially) in an age of fake news and widespread disinformation, the outputs of PR, such as media coverage are seen as more credible than an advert. This is because it has passed through a gatekeeper meaning it has been verified by a hopefully independent third party before reaching its audience. Yes, there have been plenty of examples of PR being used to support dubious causes or campaigns (take the work of Bell Pottinger in South Africa), but those that clearly cross an ethical line or have no basis in fact are normally discovered and called out. In the case of Bell Pottinger, the resulting scandal brought the whole company down.

6. PR isn’t always visible
One of the key aims of public relations is managing reputation. While this can be a relatively straightforward job of aiming to build a positive profile with key audiences, it also covers crisis management, mitigating (or even avoiding altogether) negative stories. I appreciate that this sounds dubious, and I’m not advocating PR being used to keep bad stuff out of the media. However, we live in a more and more complex world, where it is more common for things to go wrong in some way. Having a crisis management PR strategy is therefore crucial if brands are to react to minimise any reputational damage. That’s something that you can’t really do with other marketing disciplines, although the likes of VW and Facebook have tried, taking out full page adverts explaining how sorry they are for various corporate misdemeanours.

I’m conscious that while I set out to outline clear differences between PR and marketing I’ve ended up with a fair few caveats that show that different disciplines are getting closer in many areas. That’s actually a positive for PR, as it shows how its reach is spreading, not just in marketing but other areas (such as internal communications) and demonstrates its business value. No marketing campaign (or company) can afford to neglect PR, whatever its overall objectives.

April 3, 2019 - Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks Chris – I found this really useful and a great way to clarify my thinking. The idea that PR is more credible than marketing resonated with me but then I’m a marketing cynic so no surprise there!

    Comment by AnnHawkins | April 3, 2019 | Reply

    • No problem Ann – glad it helped. It is essentially the same credibility as a recommendation vs an advert!

      Comment by Chris Measures | April 3, 2019 | Reply


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