Marketing vs PR: What's the difference?

by Shannon Paul on June 15, 2008

A friend of mine asked that very question a few days ago and I realized that I hadn’t given the differences between the two areas very much thought. 

Honestly, from what I understand, many of the elements of each job function are almost identical. In Marketing and PR, we focus on communicating the messages of the company or brand to the most relevant audiences. We both conduct research to decide what those messages should be and determine who should receive them. We both plan and staff company-sponsored events and trade shows, and we both help create content for marketing collateral, assist with advertising and put together similar types of proposals, budgets and reports that illustrate ROI. 

Where I believe the key difference between Marketing and PR lies is in objective rather than function. I would like to know what others think, but for me, the major difference is that marketing efforts are in place to facilitate the sales process, whereas PR focuses on building and strengthening relationships between the company and its stakeholders.  

A company stakeholder can be anyone who is affected by, or interested in the activities and/or products of the company. A stakeholder can be those who happen to live in the surrounding community, employees, customers, shareholders, investors, etc.

The primary activities that separate PR from marketing are:

  1. Public Trust. In PR the foremost objective is to get others to write/talk about the company, its executives or its products in a way that underscores the company’s messaging. This process involves getting the company’s information in front of a journalist or blogger whose audience might actually be interested in what this company is doing. The primary reason for doing this is third party credibility. People who read/watch/listen to this journalist or blogger on a regular basis are probably doing so because they trust them to deliver useful  or interesting information. Having a person with this kind of public trust deliver your message is like having each of audience members’ good friend deliver your company’s messaging. Best practices for how this is actually done is another post entirely, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
  2. Executive Positioning. Most executives are usually extremely busy people. We help research professional and nonprofit organizations that would make the most sense for the executive to form stakeholder relationships and facilitate the introduction process with these organizations to ensure a good fit between the mission of the organization and the company. We also research and identify speaking opportunities to help position the executive as a thought leader in his/her industry and promote these engagements through the channels previously highlighted. 
  3. Community Events. Now, I understand that marketing professionals are involved with events in very much the same way, but I am still under the impression that most of the events marketing individuals are involved in are more sales oriented. While several exceptions to this rule exist, most of the time we are involved with events that are centered around fostering a positive presence in surrounding communities or simply to introduce a community to a brand for the first time. For instance, we might run a booth at a public concert giving away refreshments or branded giveaways and host activities in a branded booth to communicate the company’s investment and/or interest in the quality of life within the surrounding community without any implicit or explicit sales directive or pitch. 

As the relationship between companies and the media changes, I believe that the day-to-day elements of the jobs will look increasingly similar with convergence marketing/PR strategies that focuses on fostering long-term relationships between individuals and brands; where every stakeholder is treated with the respect of a potential customer.

Am I wrong? Tell me. I’m just trying to figure all of the stuff out that I didn’t learn in school. As an aside, I spent the last few years immersed in Flaubert, Faulkner and Joyce… If you know any great Marketing and PR books, please feel free to make a recommendation; I have some catching up to do. 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

June 15, 2008 charliecurve 1

Gotta totally disagree with you on this one, Shannon.

Done right, both marketing and pr will facilitate the sales process and strengthening relationships between the company and its stakeholders.

The only difference is the tools they use (although there can be a little bit of overlap).

At the end of the day the only reason marketing or pr exist is to strengthen a client’s bottom line.


June 15, 2008 shannonpaul 2

I knew I could count on you, Pirate Charlie!

Actually, I don’t disagree with you — at the end of the day, marketing and PR only exist to strengthen a company’s bottom line. However, the relationship is more direct between sales and marketing.

Good PR definitely makes marketing easier since communities that understand their relationship with a company will be more receptive to that company’s marketing and more apt to buy their product/service. However, PR that aims to sell usually fails miserably while PR that aims to build relationships succeeds in aiding sales.



June 15, 2008 Dr. Wright 3

PR is where you actually engage the media. You have to have more than a ‘message’ to get along, you need someone with a personality to share it. People they can get on tv or radio and just regurgitate the sound bites they would use if they were doing a boring lecture.

You also have to be transparent because bloggers and podcasters do their homework before they interview you.

Newspapers might be horrible place to advertise but an good article will only help your company.

Magazines can be great if you company can plan long term, 4-6 onths ahead.

PR is part of marketing and can help make more sales but only if done correctly. It means taking something of interest to the media outlet’s audience and tucking your company in there as content.

Dr. Wright
The Wright Place TV Show


June 15, 2008 prchick 4

Marketing generally deals with the five Ps of marketing:

Product � the product or service offered to the customer (including packaging)
Price � pricing strategies with the goal of meeting a desired profit margin or costing structure
Place (Distribution) � distribution of the product/service to your target market
Promotion � communication and endorsement of your product/service to a customer (including instore graphics and promotions)
People � service marketing and the level of customer service you provide to your customer

Advertising usually falls under Marketing whereas PR sometimes does but often is a separate function.

Public Relations usually deals with creating and maintaining relationships, defining and promoting the organization’s image, internal and external communications (including employee communications), and issues management (including public policy).

In smaller companies, the functions can overlap and in very small companies; marketing, advertising, and PR can be the same person but it’s a rare person who can do all three well.

PR can influence direct sales by different promotional methods but in product promotion the general goal is to “soften the market” for the advertising and sales campaign to follow.

I agree that at the end of the day, it’s about building the bottom line.


June 15, 2008 Charlie Wollborg 5

Good marketing forges relationships. Advertising needs to be about starting relationships. PR is all about leveraging relationships. Sales is ALL about building relationships.

It’s all the same business. Grabbing the unaware, getting them interested, making the sale, turning them into evangelists.

Successful brands use public relations, marketing, advertising and sales together, in an integrated fashioned to achieve results.

As my good friend Terry Bean is found of saying “All business is relationship business.”


June 15, 2008 Liga 6

Hi Shannon!

I agree with the description of PR tasks. Though the question in the title is somehow misleading.

There is no Marketing vs PR. PR is a part of Marketing, as is Advertising, Event Organization and lots more (see


June 16, 2008 shannonpaul 7

There has been some great discussion here. Thanks everyone for responding.

Just for the record, I never intended to be misleading with the opening question.

While some consider marketing to be a part of PR (I’ve heard others say the exact opposite). Most people are still a bit confused regarding the definitions surrounding Marketing and PR as being related, yet independent of one another.

And, as the way new media continues to impact the flow of information, I think these definitions and differentiators between the different functions will continue to converge.

Thanks again for contributing!


June 16, 2008 Liga 8

In my opinion Marketing is everything, what in any way helps to the selling process. Advertising and Promotion are short term efforts. Public Relations are long term efforts which will ensure that short term efforts will work in a future as well. And new media are only a new tool for same old functions as some time ago was print, radio, and TV.

Though maybe that’s an old way of thinking.


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