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  • Writer's pictureLarissa Long

The PR and Marketing Difference

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The key difference between PR and marketing

Although I am a professional who works both in public relations and marketing, it’s important to know that there are major differences between the two disciplines. My work in each field has the goal of increasing an entity’s presence and improving its image, and often for the same reason — profit. Both functions require specialists who use technical know-how and connections to get lots of positive attention for their clients. Where they differ is that public relations is earned media, while marketing is paid media. But what does this mean?

What is PR?

Basically, PR is about winning a space in the spotlight through mutually-beneficial partnerships, coordination, and being in the right place at the right time. The spot you earn isn’t explicitly for sale, but rather it is the reason anyone is watching in the first place. It could be a TV show or newspaper, a blog post or YouTube video, but what they all have in common is that they’re the area where an audience has gathered. PR gets you featured there without paying for it.

What is marketing?

Marketing, and in particular advertising, is about paying for the same type of attention as PR. You don’t get a placement because anyone thinks your product or service is just so fantastic that they have to mention it. And you definitely don’t get a spot right in the middle of the content everyone is there for. You get a spot crafted especially to be sold by paying the right amount and at the right time. It could be the ad break between TV segments, the pre-roll ad before a YouTube clip, or a banner ad sitting alongside a blog post, always certain not to be mistaken as endorsed by the media outlet.

The advantages of public relations

PR is great because you don’t have to pay for the plug. Sure, you need to pay someone (like us!) to make the connections and convince the outlet, celebrity, or influencer to go for it. But you aren’t paying millions just for the small time and space your plug exists in. Plus, good PR often carries more weight than an ad, because it comes straight from the horse’s mouth. A celebrity with fans who trust her can inspire purchases and attention just by saying “I like this thing!”

The downsides to public relations

It’s called earned media for a reason. All the calling, all the favors, and all the convincing in the world can’t make someone whose doesn’t like what you’re selling shill for it. It has to be a natural fit for their program or personality, and often they have to really like it and feel inspired by it to give it a freebie. It doesn’t matter if you think it syncs up right — if you can’t convince the gatekeeper, it’s a moot point.

It’s also tough to measure — people might be motivated by something like Oprah’s Favorite Things to buy a product, but you can’t perfectly track that a particular customer bought your product because they saw it on there.

The advantages of paid marketing

By contrast, marketing can simply buy a spot that’s for sale, just like that. You get your product or service in front of a big predetermined audience that you didn’t explicitly earn and have the chance to impress them when they maybe haven’t even heard of you. Plus, when you’re buying advertising products like particular slots or spaces, it’s a simple transaction. The outlet is required to behave in the way you purchased and present your product exactly as you dictate. There’s no wiggle room for personal taste or style like there is in publicity.

Plus, it’s easier than ever to measure effectiveness — there are countless analytics tools to track the people watching or clicking your marketing campaign all the way to the point of purchase and find out if they bought or not.

The downsides to paid marketing

For one, it’s a numbers game. How much money can you spend, and how do you prove the return on investment? It’s also a game of attrition — the number of people targeted by your ad is greater than the number of people who see it, which is greater than how many click on it, which is greater than how many choose to buy, which is greater than how many complete a transaction in the shopping cart. Also, consumers have gotten pretty savvy about marketing, and know to look up reviews of a product and compare pricing from store to store, actions they might not take if a celebrity they like endorsed that specific brand.

Why public relations should be part of your marketing budget

From the above, you can see there’s pros and cons to both fields. That’s exactly why they complement each other so well. An influential celebrity might mention your product on their show, but an ad placed alongside it will reinforce the sale in a trackable way. An ad campaign might be ignored by the masses, but if they saw your logo on the stage at a large industry event before, the ad is more likely to be noticed and acted on.

Earned media always should play an important role in your marketing strategy, because it makes every dollar spent more impactful. It’s not an easy thing to do, which is why specialists are so valuable. We don’t just take over the tasks of submitting you to popular blogs and finding speaking engagements and events, but also have the connections across industries to actually get your proposal considered and accepted. We’re always networking and finding the perfect partnerships for brands, media outlets, and influencers — and trust me, it’s a full-time job to be in the right place at the right time.

Key takeaways

  • Marketing is paid media, while PR is earned media

  • Marketing is expensive, but gets you a guaranteed opportunity to sell exactly as you want

  • PR is difficult to track and control, but costs far less and is generally more effective than ads

  • By combining marketing and PR, you can make each ad dollar more impactful and measure the results of your publicity

  • Hire a public relations professional or team, because the job is not easy.

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