Despite the confusion, there are important differences between marketing and public relations. Below is a helpful albeit non-exhaustive list.
Focus. At base, marketing focuses on products and services while public relations focuses on relationships. (This is how I explain the concepts to my undergraduate students.)
Function. Both marketing and PR are management functions. The two serve different purposes, however. Marketing is a line function that directly contributes to an organization’s bottom line. Public relations is a staff function that indirectly supports an organization’s goals and objectives.
Target. Marketing’s target is the customer. Marketers strive to meet customer demands in order to move goods and services from producer to consumer. PR targets a range of publics and goals that collectively support an organization’s objectives. Examples of these publics (or stakeholders) include customers, the media, employees, suppliers, the community, investors, political leaders, financial and trade analysts, and more.
Carryover benefits. Public relations contributes to organizational success by building and maintaining a positive social, business and political environment. Studies show a customer’s favorable perception – shaped by positive, well-placed news coverage (likely generated by PR) – benefits and “lifts” an organization’s marketing and price promotion strategy. Interestingly, such carryover benefits are not reciprocated by the other marketing functions (Mark Weiner, “Unleashing the Power of PR”, (2006), p. 8).
Paid, earned and owned media.
Paid media – This marketing mainstay includes print, radio and television advertising. Paid media plays a major role in the marketer’s campaign strategy and consumes the bulk of most marketing budgets. An extreme example is Super Bowl advertisements. According to Alex Konrad’s February 2013 article in Forbes, last year’s Super Bowl generated a record $4 million, on average, for the 30-second ad spot.
Owned media – Examples include websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter profiles. It hasn’t been established which function – marketing or PR – holds the key to social media’s kingdom.
Earned media – Earned or “free” media is part of the PR professional’s playbook. Earned media is published through third parties such as bloggers, journalists and other influencers. It also includes word-of-mouth transmission via social media. Earned media is perceived as more credible than paid media because of third party-endorsements. On the downside, free media is “uncontrolled,” meaning an organization cannot affect a story’s slant. Still, free media offers a cost-effective way to win customers, as illustrated by an AT&T marketing-mix study detailed in Weiner’s book. According to the author, the analysis revealed that PR’s cost-per-customer-won was substantially less than other AT&T marketing-mix agents such as advertising and direct marketing ($17 versus an average $77). PR’s thrifty attributes stem primarily from earned media.
Both marketing and PR play substantive roles in accomplishing corporate goals and objectives. Savvy leaders should learn – and appropriately integrate – marketing and PR into their corporate strategies to better achieve organizational success.