What Is The Difference Between Public Relations And Marketing?

How To Tell The Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing Jobs

Public relations is different from marketing. Sometimes it isn’t.

Public relations jobs aren’t advertising jobs, but sometimes they are. Confused? I’m often asked the difference between public relations and marketing, so I wanted to answer the question for myself as much as for anyone else.

At the end of the day public relations, marketing and advertising are about communicating a story. The “why” is identical: Get customers. Move product. Drive revenue. “How” is what sets them apart.

Small business public relations, small business marketing and online advertising for small business are just parts of a whole.

The lines between the various forms of mass communications have definitely blurred in recent times, as more and more of our lives migrate online. The public relations job description may (or may not) be different from the marketing and communications job description, but the end product is identical: action.

Description of Public Relations

What is public relations?

I don’t know. Seriously. Do you?  While Wikipedia may have the most cut-and-dry answer, the rules of public relations for small business are changing so fast no one wants to be wrong.

Public relations is whatever you want it to be. Public relations is anything that communicates a story to an audience. That’s my definition.

On this blog I use the term public relations and business interchangeably. Your job as a startup founder is to communicate the benefit of your product to an external, paying audience. That is public relations. Business development is public relations. Community-building is public relations, and listening to customers most certainly is public relations.

To be effective in business you need to reach as broad and relevant a public as possible. That’s it. Once you’ve found them you need to speak in the language they care about.

Marketing Job Description

What is marketing?

See above.

I’ve worked a few entry-level marketing jobs. My boss was my client and the only public that mattered. While I was preparing collateral to be consumed by the external public, they were not the stakeholders. What the buying public thought about my work didn’t matter and I wasn’t accountable for any results–just product.

To me marketing is about delivering the look and feel of a company–and being the voice–but it’s not expected to move the needle. Marketing’s chief consumer is itself.

Without solid marketing your company isn’t even an idea in the public’s mind. You’re just a bunch of people working in a room. Traditional marketing doesn’t get people fired up, or stir passions.

I can’t say whether this is everyone’s experience with marketing, but that has been mine.

Is there a difference between public relations and marketing

The difference between public relations and marketing

Gawker’s Sam Biddle recently posted the job listing  to be Fab.com CEO Jason Goldberg’s next executive assistant. It sounds pretty intense.

Depending on the size of the organization, someone in human resources or the marketing and communications department would be responsible for writing it up. If a company doesn’t have an internal recruiter then marketing would definitely be on call. Your public relations team would never write job descriptions for the company. It’s too intimate.

The job of PR is to tell the best possible story about you to the world. If they saw how the sausage was made this would be a deal-breaker.

While both public relations and marketing know how to write, you’re writing for distinct audiences. Marketing is unapologetically one-sided. It lacks nuance.

To me marketing copywriting is the embodiment of the old saw, “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.” It’s just part of the job.

Public relations and marketing differences

There is more than one public

Marketing and communications speaks to the internal public as often as they communicate externally. These internal marketing initiatives are almost always handled in-house. As a marketer you help prepare collateral and messaging the company for one-off events such as tradeshows, important meetings and other formal events. Marketing can and does have relationships with the press. In small organizations and early-stage startups the head of marketing and communications is responsible for internal communications initiatives (corporate comms.), public relations and press outreach, as well as social media.

At very young companies all of these public relations jobs and communications responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the CEO. It’s a lot.

What is the difference between public relations and advertising?

“Everyone knows the best advertising is to be in the news,” writes futurist Daniel Burrus. Public relations is free advertising.

When your public relations efforts pay off you can get your message in front of hundreds of thousands or millions of eyeballs without paying for placement. It’s not free. You have to work a lot harder to “earn” that kind of exposure, but self-interested parties will do the distribution for you when your content or message gives them social capital.

Small business public relations is an attempt to leverage the power of storytelling to reach the desired audience through an incremental cash outlay (retainer for professional services), versus a fixed budget for media. There are a variety of public relations strategies and tactics to reach these goals. Advertisers invest in creative and then buy media placement where they think the audience will be. Traditional PR metrics measure the value of media hits against the advertising spend of reaching the same number of people. This is rapidly changing in an era when every communications initiative, every piece of collateral and every utterance can be tracked in minute detail.

How Are Marketing and Public Relations Different?

Drawing a line is hard

Drawing a line between public relations and marketing is hard. Like the liger cub in the photo above, they’re becoming one another. It’s also becoming increasingly unnecessary to draw a line between the twp.

It all comes down to resources. A small, scrappy startup is going to have to do everything in-house. Division of labor favors generalists who can push the company forward to its next important milestone. Once you scale up you can afford to hire a public relations firm, who may have the bandwidth and the expertise to carry out a lot of media relations, collateral development, business development and communications duties that come along with growth. Hiring an outside public relations firm may be expensive, but you’re able to end or suspend a contract, which allows you to control your burn rate. Not so with an internal hire.

When you move from a Series A startup to your Series B, or you’re actually producing significant revenue–gasp–you may shift many of your public relations duties in-house, or the focus of the engagement with your firm shifts. As you grow you’re going to need more communication, not less.

Marketing takes on new roles with increased specificity. New jobs emerge such as community manager, chief happiness specialist and rabble-rouser. Is a community manager part of the product team, customer support or marketing? Is he or she responsible for content marketing, advertising or sales? You betcha! All of that and then some.

The future of integrated marketing and public relations

Joe Pulizzi from The Content Marketing Institute recently put out a great story about the marketing department of the future. A company with a big enough budget, Red Bull Media House, for instance, could reasonably expect to have all 10 of the new roles of marketing on their payroll.

Public Relations and Content Marketing Strategists of The Future

I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of marketing, a lot of public relations and a lot of storytelling going on. It’s all public-facing, it’s all revenue-driven and it’s all vital to long-term growth.

If you’re delivering customers it doesn’t matter what your job description says. How you measure the impact of your work is important, but it’s not the only thing.

Marketing teams can buy advertisements and pitch stories to reporters. Advertising agencies can (and do) whip up some pretty compelling content. A modern public relations firm isn’t bound by any laws that says they have to harass reporters all day on behalf of clients.

The future of marketing, public relations and advertising is going to be integrated, messy, colorful, chaotic and combustible.

Stay tuned! You won’t want to miss it.

About Chikodi Chima

Chikodi Chima is the publisher of PR Tips For Startups, a blog and podcast series featuring innovative marketing strategies from today's small business leaders. Chima is a former staff reporter for VentureBeat and TheNextWeb, who's writing has appeared inFast Company, Mashable and GigaOm. When he's not blogging, he likes running up hills in San Francisco, practicing yoga, and reading. Everything. Chikodi helps startups tell stories that change the world at Moonshot, a boutique consultancy that specializes in growth hacking, content marketing, media relations and strategic communication for small business.


  • David Rosen says:

    This is an interesting post, and I agree with much of what is said, including the closing observation that, “The future of marketing, public relations and advertising is going to be integrated, messy, colorful, chaotic and combustible.”

    Here is my take on the question posed, which takes a somewhat different tack.

    Public relations and marketing are both communications disciplines, but they are fundamentally different in terms of goals, objectives and underlying philosophies. While they have been recognized historically as distinct disciplines that support each other, the distinctions have become hopelessly blurred in recent years, and marketing has largely subsumed public relations in many quarters.

    And in a parallel development, branding seems to have eclipsed reputation building as a top communications priority. More on this later.

    At its core, public relations is about reputation building. It seeks to create awareness, goodwill and a climate of opinion that will translate into support for an organization down the road. It does this by communicating regularly to key constituencies, increasing visibility through publicity, telling stories that illustrate the value of organizations and their work products, establishing lasting relationships, and responding quickly and truthfully when problems arise.

    Marketing is what takes place down the road. Its goal is more immediate, targeted, and measurable: motivating consumers to act in a way that benefits a company or organization, whether this means buying a car, joining a club, selecting a restaurant, or choosing which college to attend.

    In other words marketing is about generating engagements and transactions, while public relations is about establishing and maintaining relationships. Marketing works backwards from a transactional goal and seeks immediate gratification.

    Public Relations builds reputations from the ground up. It takes a long and expansive view. Its goal is to create and sustain a favorable climate of opinion that will help an organization achieve its goals. Sales and marketing are among those goals, but there are others, such as winning governmental and community support for projects and communicating with investors, customers and other stakeholders.

    There are operational differences as well. Public relations typically uses free or “earned media,” while marketing and advertising typically involve paid media. Both disciplines employ social media.

    I mentioned above that a reputation and a brand are not the same thing. A reputation is what people think of an organization, how it is perceived. A brand is what an organization thinks of itself, how it wants to be perceived. A reputation is earned over a substantial period of time. A brand can be created at any time. It does not have to be earned – it is merely asserted. Public relations builds reputations. Marketing builds brands.

    • Chikodi Chima says:

      Thanks for the great comment, David! I agree with you wholeheartedly about earned vs owned perception. I hadn’t previously thought about how public relations creates reputation, while marketing delivers brand value–largely for an internal audience. I do, however, think that public relations activities can and should be measured just like marketing activities, especially for small businesses and startups. While the metrics may vary, the need to demonstrate ROI is even more acute.

    • David, your analyses was spot on and actually helped bring me some clarity on the issue. I was just talking with a PR colleague of mine last night on this very topic, and your insights (and hers) were in sync. Birds of a feather… 😉

    • Geoffrey says:

      Good work done

  • eilidheclat says:

    Really informative blog. Enjoyed it a lot!

  • Laura Aguiar says:

    “The future of marketing, public relations and advertising is going to be integrated, messy, colorful, chaotic and combustible.”

    NOT the future…the PRESENT! And entrepreneurs are not the only ones wearing all those hats! I work for a regional airport that has been around since 1948 with 200,000+ annual enplanements and four airlines. As manager of public relations and governmental affairs, I also do the marketing, advertising, air service development, economic development of airport property, social media and a lot of the research to back up these initiatives. I know that I am not alone, especially after the recent economic downturn. Many people in all kinds of career fields are wearing many hats these days.

    Communications is just that. I have a meeting with a firm today and we’ll be talking about video for commercial spots, informational video tours for the website and Vine segments for social media…then how our message can be integrated into print collateral. Economics is forcing one to stretch services into more than one realm.

    • Chikodi Chima says:

      Thanks for the comment Laura. Sounds like you have to be remarkably “intrapreneurial” to succeed at what you do. I can imagine it’s both a lot of fun, and whole lot of schedule management and multitasking to get it all done. My “hat” is off to you (;

Leave a Reply