What is the difference between marketing and public relations? Many people use the two as though they are the same or combine the two into one. Both are ways to communicate with audiences. Both are valuable to your business if used correctly.

Let’s break the two communications disciplines down.

Marketing is the action of promotion then selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

Public relations is defined as is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public.

While they sound similar, and today with social media the lines are often blurred between them, they are not the same.


How do you know what you need as a business?


Every organization needs marketing and public relations, and both functions work together toward organizational goals. It depends on what your needs are at present and in the future.

Marketing and public relations are management functions within the organization; marketing is a line function’s direct contribution to the company’s bottom line while public relations impact is indirect in helping the bottom line.

Public relations concentrates on maintaining a positive reputation for a company as a whole and managing the flow of information within the company and public whereas marketing focuses on promoting and selling a specific product to a particular audience.

The breakdown is like this:


Public Relations

Involves promotion of the organization and the brand.

Considered a management function and it is a staff function which indirectly supports in achieving its goals and objective.

Earned media, known as free media, is when the organization gains publicity through third-party endorsements such as word-of-mouth, press conferences, news releases, speeches, social media, etc.

Covers the general public as a whole, but something focuses on demographic segments such as in an anti-vaping campaign one of the demographic parts would be teens, and another one would be vape shop owners.

Conversations are two-way communication where it is common to have discussions with stakeholders to gain opinions.


Promotes products and services offered by the company to its customers

Activities oriented towards a target audience.

Paying for media (Paid Media), which includes radio, television, online, and print advertising.

Aims at converting shoppers into buyers creating sales along the way.

Communicating is one-way communication from the brand to the customer.

Let’s recall that public relations is all about relationships and is driven by it while marketing is selling the product and services. When hiring a PR agency or consultant, it is a good idea to enter into a relationship with a firm or professional who has experience in your particular industry. That goes for hiring a marketing agency, too.

For example, you are an HVAC company who has become an exclusive dealer of high end, high energy equipment making a house a lot greener than before. A public relations professional will be able to research, develop and implement a plan to launch this new product. Talking points, slide decks, social media posts, and videos would be created and shared to engage the audience. Executives sent out to talk about how it is crucial to be green is today and how much money saved in a year to trade groups and green builders. Product placement in TV DYI shows such as This Old House as new things that could be helpful to homeowners. Media tours arranged to meet with engineers and executives for TV, radio, online, or print. Features in the media would be earned media.

Marketing, on the other hand, the goal would be making that conversion from shopper to buyer. Marketing would be creating and paying for advertisement to ensure the product was seen and often will use the materials the public relations team has produced. There would be demonstrations of the new technology at trade shows of tradespeople so they get confidence in it so they can recommend it to their customers.

While marketing and public relations are different, they are moving toward the same goal but in different ways.

It is good to have both working for you.

This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on January 28, 2019 and nationally distributed to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.

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