What's the difference between marketing and public relations?

SimonGeneral8 Comments

I use a handy little utility called 103bees to see what search terms people are using to find this site.

As well as showing raw search terms, 103bees also shows the top questions that people are searching on each week. The top question every week is always the same:

What is the difference between marketing and PR?

I’ve posted about this before, but I think there’s probably a more succinct way of explaining the difference, without resorting to a list of different definitions for the two professions:

Marketing is about changing behaviour, while public relations is about keeping or changing reputations.

The two aims work together well. Changing behaviour is a lot easier if you have a reputation that’s consistent with that behaviour; indeed I’d say that your reputation is a pre-requisite to marketing.

Similarly what you do to change people’s or organisation’s behaviours does a lot to influence your reputation, even though that may not be the aim of the marketing activity itself.

Does this way of illustrating the difference between marketing and public relations stand up, or am I glossing over too many of the subtleties?

[tags]marketing, public+relations, definitions, 103bees[/tags]

8 Comments on “What's the difference between marketing and public relations?”

  1. Heather Yaxley

    I don’t agree with the distinction that “marketing is about changing behaviour, while public relations is about keeping or changing reputations”.

    Neither changing behaviour nor managing reputation seems to me to be exclusive to either marketing or PR. In fact, both could be seen as core aspects of management per se.

    Marketing plays a key role in changing certain aspects of behaviour – such as stimulating customers to purchase a product or service. But doesn’t PR also look to change behaviour, for example in getting government to amend legislation?

    In reputational terms, I feel PR sets itself up to fail in many situations if it claims to be able to keep or change reputation. It should certainly be able to influence strategic decisions in relation to their reputational impact – but others have a real impact on reputation that is beyond the influence of PR.

    PR’s ability to help organisations facilitate communications and relationships with key publics should be recognised, alongside a role in managing risk in relation to issues that could become a reputation-affecting crisis.

    Anyway, I think that many of those searching for the difference between marketing and PR are probably students – who should be encouraged to reflect more deeply than being offered an easy solution by kind bloggers.

  2. Simon

    Hi Heather – thanks for the well-argued comment, far more reasoned than my attempt at a quick-fit definition.

    The more I think about the difference between marketing and PR, the more I struggle.

    As you’ve identified there’s so many outcomes that are common to the two professions, that I wonder what the fundamental differences are?

    If there aren’t any fundamental differences, are we seeing a further convergence of the two professions?

    And as for the students, I suspect you’re right. I even get emails asking about this topic!

    1. David

      Marketing is the business function that manages the relationship between an organisation – generally a provider of products/services – and its markets/consumers. (Other typical functions that look after other areas would include Production, R&D, Personnel, Finance, etc.)

      Marketing covers many different aspects, including all the ‘P’s, one of which is Promotion (or Marketing Communications (MarComs) – the means by which an organisation communicates its messages, in the most effective/cost-effective ways, to its various markets/audiences in order to achieve its marketing objectives.

      A typical MarComs strategy for a blue chip manufacturer might involve the use of a number of ‘channels’: advertising, public relations, sales promotion, direct marketing, e-DM, web, events, etc.

      PR, therefore, is one aspect of marketing communications, but without formulating the broader marketing (and brand) strategy, and establishing key objectives and a coherent strategy, PR lacks direction of message and a focused target audience, often becoming ‘promoting’ in general way (throw enough paint around and some might stick!)

      The fact that PR is one particular facet of marketing does not undervalue its importance – it’s just as important as all of the other facets, and requires specific skills in order for it to be effective.

      Hope that helps.

  3. Jeff Browne

    What happened to “telling the truth,” image be damned? Or is that another antiquated concept in the age of Public Relations?

  4. Junias

    Very useful info, Especially for us who are studying PR in Namibia (Africa)
    Keep up the good work Simon.

  5. urbanus

    Thanks for the insights.I agree with other comments that there exists a thin line between the 2.However,I’d want to add that whereas PR is more focused on image and reputation, marketing is more centered on distribution,pricing,promotion and positioning of products and/or services.Marketing seeks to fulfill needs profitably while PR is not primarily bottom line driven but attempts to seek the goodwill and support of the publics.
    Mistakes can be made when marketing is viewed as an effort to change behavior, belief or attitude, which is better defined as persuasion.Marketing involves but is not limited to persuasion and as such cannot be defined that way.

    1. David

      Marketing is the business function that manages the relationship between an organisation – generally a provider of products/services – and its markets/consumers. (Other typical functions that look after other areas would include Production, R&D, Personnel, Finance, etc.)

      Marketing covers many different aspects, including all the ‘P’s, one of which is Promotion (or Marketing Communications (MarComs) – the means by which an organisation communicates its messages, in the most effective/cost-effective ways, to its various markets/audiences in order to achieve its marketing objectives.

      A typical MarComs strategy for a blue chip manufacturer might involve the use of a number of ‘channels’: advertising, public relations, sales promotion, direct marketing, e-DM, web, events, etc.

      PR, therefore, is one aspect of marketing communications, but without formulating the broader marketing (and brand) strategy, and establishing key objectives and a coherent strategy, PR lacks direction of message and a focused target audience, often becoming ‘promoting’ in general way (throw enough paint around and some might stick!)

      The fact that PR is one particular facet of marketing does not undervalue its importance – it’s just as important as all of the other facets, and requires specific skills in order for it to be effective.

      Hope that helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *