Opinion: Are PR and marketing two sides of the same coin, or completely different currencies?

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PUBLIC relations (PR) and marketing are often confused as being essentially the same, yet while the two disciplines sit comfortably side-by-side in a symbiotic way, they are intrinsically separate. Each works in tandem to achieve an organization’s objectives, writes Guy Woodcock.

Are public relations and marketing really that different?

Whilst PR and marketing might share many of the same aims and features, they are not the same disciplines. At its heart, PR seeks to enhance an organization’s relationships and reputation amongst its many diverse stakeholders, and in the process foster the optimum environment in which it can deliver its value proposition, whether for profit or more altruistic gain. Who would actively choose a product or service over another if the company that delivers it is renowned for paying scant regard to customer experience, quality, the working conditions of its supply chain and workforce through to its environmental policies? In a competitive commercial world, reputation is vital in gaining that all-important edge, and it needs to be nurtured and maintained in winning the hearts and minds of its diverse customers and prospects. 

Every organization, be it a multi-million-pound business or a not-for-profit body, has a reputation, the question is whether it is managed. And its impact is felt beyond its immediate customer group, from workforce to investors, community, government, industry experts through to the media. All are integral to its success. Good public relations practitioners will help safeguard and orchestrate the factors and instruments that shape reputation, from corporate behavior and communications to the media.

Marketing, in contrast, is more transaction-driven, leading ultimately to a sale or a triggered behavior. To do so, it deploys the tools at its disposal – including advertising, packaging, search engine optimization or point of sale design to optimize the value and frequency of the desired transaction, principally, but not always for profit and revenue. An organization’s mission holds as much importance in marketing as in PR; even in not-for-profit such as charity, public sector or NGOs. The ‘transaction’ might be the number of signatures on a petition through to the take up of a service or recruitment of people to a cause.

Where the ‘line’ between PR and marketing begins to blur is in both disciplines operating increasingly within the same realms, such as blogging, SEO and social media. Either discipline can manage and own these spaces. 

Mind the gap 

So, are PR and marketing beginning to ‘merge’? If we accept the differences in purpose that we’ve already highlighted, it is true that tools used in each are converging. An example is the deployment of SEO content writing skills to elevate position and visibility online. I expect SEO to become more intertwined with PR, in line with the continuing growth of e-commerce and digital media that was further accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Given that the value of all digital marketing channels has risen inexorably over the years, it’s likely we will find ourselves increasingly jostling elbows in the same narrow spaces. But rather than seeing a blending of the two disciplines as encroachment on traditional values and practice, it remains as crucial as it ever was for PR and marketing to work together. Inbound marketing deploying email tailored content delivered directly to business prospects can be complemented by ‘earned’ press coverage, ensuring that the organization’s message is amplified and concentrated where it is needed. 

Here is the convergence of ‘earned’ and ‘paid for’ media, and that process of disciplinary interaction is set to continue as the online world becomes ever more dominant in the promotion of ideas and profit.