A few weeks ago, I spoke at a local networking event about entrepreneurship. I shared the story of my business and how I got started.
After the event, a woman came up to me something I didn’t expect:
“What’s the difference between PR & marketing?”
She was relieved. As a freelance writer, she said she had been trying to figure it out and never got a good answer. I don’t think she’s alone.
This is a popular conversation among people in my industry and there are strong opinions on either side. But, when it comes to small business owners, I think many are scratching their heads trying to discern the difference.
What is Public Relations anyway?
I think part of the reason PR and marketing get so confused is that public relations is so misunderstood. People typically think of PR as publicity or media relations. Although that’s certainly part of it, most PR practitioners will tell you there is so much more to it.
In my public relations class in college many years ago, PR was defined as “communicating with your publics” and publics could mean anything from customers, employees, investors, prospects and yes, even the media.
My boss at the PR firm I worked at right after college called it “the art of persuasion”. I always liked that.
Essentially, PR has always been deeply rooted in effective communications, which typically include:
- Media relations / publicity
- Crisis management
- Employee & internal communications
- Branding and messaging
- Investor relations
- Speaking engagements
How is Marketing Different?
Traditionally, marketing has been more associated with developing campaigns and promotions directly tied to driving sales. And, oftentimes, marketing includes public relations and advertising as components of an overall campaign.
For instance, some marketing activities can include:
- Email and direct mail campaigns
- Webinars, eBooks & other lead generation tools
- Pay-per-click campaigns
- Tradeshow participation
- Search engine optimization
Does the Difference Matter?
After all, are you communicating with constituents or are you promoting your business? Oftentimes, the answer is both.
The differences between PR and marketing are much more apparent — and important — when dealing with large corporations. For instance, if you’re a publicly traded company, you’ll want a team who knows how to handle release of quarterly earnings and communicating with investors.
If you’re a small-to-medium business, the difference is less important. After all, you likely don’t have an entire department of people who handle these practices. If you’re lucky, maybe you have a person or two. And sometimes, you don’t have someone on staff at all.
What you need is a firm or consultant that integrates these practices and who can understand which tools to use and when. To do that, you should look at their capabilities and services.
The right companies and consultants should know how to integrate your marketing and PR effort to give you a better strategic approach. And, if they don’t offer all of that under one roof, they should be able to bring in the right team or work with other firms and consultants to present a unified approach.
Although this post only scratches the surface of this conversation, hopefully, it gives you a better idea of the differences and how this applies to your business.
What questions do you still have? Does this explanation help?