What’s the Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing?
Those of us who have worked in public relations for a long time assume (and often pull out our hair) that people know the difference between public relations and marketing. These two terms are often intermingled and used incorrectly. So what is the difference between public relations and marketing?
Well it’s simple (and complicated). Public relations is often focused on the free or earned coverage while marketing is focused on the paid as well as the visual look and feel. Public relations is often about creating a buzz around a specific product, event or story. Marketing is more about selling the product or creating awareness for the overall brand.
For me, public relations is about pulling back the layers and finding the human connection. How does this product or service relate to or benefit people? It’s less about the product’s features, but more about how it impacts a person’s life.
Okay, let me simplify this further. Years ago I worked on overlapping marketing and public relations campaigns for a large children’s attraction that was reopening after extensive renovations (in the millions).
The marketing campaign was responsible for brand creation, signage, user map, visuals throughout the attraction, ad creation, website design and creating the overall look and feel for the user experience. Think of all the different things you see and read when you go to a large attraction. Disneyworld would be the ultimate example, with a clearly defined brand that is executed throughout the park.
While all of the marketing materials were being developed, I was hard at work creating a public relations campaign (which I can proudly say was award winning). In the eight weeks leading up to the reopening of this attraction, I looked at how we could generate excitement in the community, and tell various stories about the park. Instead of issuing one press release listing all the features, week by week we issued press releases, diving into each element (water park, petting zoo, climbing area and more). We offered the media a tour of the feature (which was under construction) and shared some behind the scenes insights on the design, as well as some artist renderings on what the finished product would look like.
Along with the press release, each week the media received one page of a children’s storybook. At the end of the eight-week campaign, the weekly pages were put together to create a storybook that featured the mascot touring the park from beginning to end. The marketing team created the storybook, which was part of my public relations campaign. And I worked closely with them to ensure the brand voice and identity was included in all my public relations materials.
Another part of my public relations campaign were sneak peak tours for politicians, community leaders and the media. These were held at strategic points throughout the construction schedule, as well as a week before the park officially opened to the public. Once again, this was about generating excitement, interest and free media coverage.
Value of public relations
Public relations is often done hand in hand with marketing – either directly or indirectly. The example above is direct involvement. Indirect is working a press conference or event, and making sure the brand is well represented, or protected in the case of issues management.
Public relations has even more value in a digital age. Where we once relied heavily on media outlets to share our stories, companies and individuals can now use their websites, social media sites and email distribution lists. While this has taken some weight off the shoulders of public relations professionals to get (unrealistic) mobs of media showing up, it has also lowered the bar for others. Even though you control your website and social media, you should still look at public relations as storytelling.
Who is your audience? What is the story you are telling? Why should they care? Be inspired? Listen?
I hope this has helped take some of the confusion out of marketing vs. public relations.
Take a few minutes to think about your organization. What are the marketing activities vs. public relations you have underway or could launch? What are the benefits of each? How can they work together?
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