What's the difference between marketing and public relations?

What's the difference between marketing and public relations?

At a workshop session yesterday I was asked what was the difference between marketing and public relations.
A good few years ago the answer would have been that marketing was paid-for exposure under a company’s direct control, while public relations was free exposure.
But that answer misses so many of the differences that it’s not really valid. Let’s have a look at some trade body definitions for the two professions:

Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. (Chartered Institute of Marketing)

Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals. (American Marketing Association)

Public relations is a strategic management function that adds value to an organisation by helping it to manage its reputation. (Chartered Institute of Public Relations)

Once you cut through the business jargon that shrouds these definitions, what’s left?
Marketing has at its core a desire to reach consumers and make them think, believe or do what you want. Public relations is more focussed on influencing reputation, whether corporate or personal.
This graphic from Ads of the World sums it up nicely.
The two professions are clearly complementary – a strongly positive reputation makes the marketer’s job easier, while marketing activity affects a company’s reputation.
If you ever want to infuriate a public relations professional, suggest that public relations is part of marketing.
While the PR function in a company is often managed within a broader marketing division, this is usually for logistic management reasons rather than because PR skills are a subset of marketing skills.
Those organisations that have the most effective communications are those that don’t get hung up on what’s marketing and what’s public relations.
Instead they focus on choosing the most appropriate tool for delivering their objectives, regardless of which toolbox it comes from.


I work with technology-centric businesses as an interim Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I created the B3 framework® for scaling technology businesses and I write a newsletter called Build for leaders who are building brilliant companies.