People often confuse public relations work with marketing or even advertising. While it’s understandable why they might be linked, and the lines between disciplines are blurring, confusion can be frustrating for PR folks when it comes to meeting client expectations for PR services. We wrote earlier about how marketing and advertising can inform the PR strategy, but it’s also helpful to clarify how PR is usually distinct from those two practices.
Here are some ways PR is not marketing or advertising.
PR can get you “earned media.” When we say “earned media” in the PR business, it generally means being included or featured in an article written by a journalist or writer working for a publication. Advertising can land you in that publication as well, but you pay for the space or time directly. And though the wall between advertising and the newsroom has grown more porous, there’s still a distinction between paid content and non-paid. The main difference is perceived credibility: when you appear in the editorial section, it’s like an implied third-party endorsement, because someone has dug in a bit and determined you were worthy.
PR is not promotion. Doing PR for a company or brand can mean being a cheerleader, but it uses a different set of tools and tactics than marketing or promotion. Marketing can tout the characteristics of a product or service that add value. PR doesn’t promote directly, but rather puts it in context or seeks to highlight what is new or noteworthy. Why does this matter now? A consumer brand might make coupons or special offers available as a marketing promotion, while PR would share the story behind the maker, or explain why the product is part of a new trend.
PR is about awareness. While PR certainly focuses on specific audiences, it’s different from marketing, whose goal is to target consumers (or other businesses), convert them into customers, and keep them coming back. PR generates awareness and interest among target audiences. The best combination is when PR, done well, creates a healthy environment for marketing, and marketing uses those PR results for its more direct or more commercial selling.
PR is more challenging to measure. The media world now has sophisticated algorithmic tools to measure reach, clicks, and conversion, making it much easier for advertising to gauge the effectiveness of dollars spent. In public relations, it’s not as consistent, and the more sophisticated tools come at a price.
PR cannot guarantee perfect control over outcomes. With advertising and marketing, paying for an ad or campaign secures message control and guaranteed placement, but there is no comparable control when it comes to PR. Smart, skilled public relations people with deep experience can offer their wisest estimate for what to expect, but it’s never a sure thing. It’s still about the art of persuasion over power, third-party endorsement over promotion, and credibility over control.