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HMC NEWS: Marketing & PR: get your balance right

During my thirteen years of running a local public relations (PR) agency, time and again we’re asked to help companies develop marketing campaigns.  When I provide our standard response: “We don’t do marketing, we only do PR,” this is usually met with silence on the phone or a blank stare. 

For many, it is difficult to understand the difference between the two disciplines.  So, I thought I’d take the time to demystify it for you.

But first: “Why should you care?”

If you are a business owner, manager or leader, you not only need to understand the difference between marketing and PR, you need to ensure your company is implementing a balance of both.  If you aren’t, unfortunately the reputation of your organisation could be on shaky ground.

So, here are four differences between marketing and PR. 

Building sales vs building reputation

Marketing’s ultimate goal is to sell more.  Whereas the ultimate goal of PR is to solidify your organisation’s reputation to have a long-term impact on your bottom line. 

Of course, how you conduct your marketing campaigns will affect how your brand is viewed by your target audience.  But PR has a much wider audience in mind. 

In PR, we analyse not only your customers and prospects but all the people who have a stake in the success of your business and who influence its success.  Then, we put together mechanisms for developing relationships, creating two-way dialogues, telling stories and encouraging on- and off-line engagement.

While marketing activities are primarily measured through revenue growth, PR is measured through repeated research that measures aspects of your reputation among your wider target audiences. 

At its simplest, marketing is about gaining new customers while PR is about gaining new fans. 

Paid media vs earned and owned

Marketing uses paid media (think: buying an advert), while PR primarily uses what we call earned and owned media. 

‘Earned’ media is about getting stories into news channels, mentioned in respected blogs and posted on third-party, influential social and other channels.

‘Owned’ media is about using your website, social channels, company newsletter, YouTube channel and other media that you control to distribute your company stories (remember, not your sales messages!).

To complicate things, however, the lines are certainly blurring with PR campaigns using more paid media.  For instance, you’ll often see ‘sponsored’ (which means paid) news stories in newspapers such as NZ Herald.

Short-term vs long-term effect

Marketing campaigns are normally implemented in short-term bursts – a product launch or special deal or a push for increased sales.

PR tactics focus on gaining a long-term, upward lift in your company’s reputation.  Each PR tactic works collectively for a sustained effect.  

Of course, we implement PR campaigns for clients that are short-term in duration.  But these campaigns are never done in isolation – they are always part of a 3-5 year PR strategy that is focused on building reputation.

Total vs less control

With your marketing messages, you have 100% control of what you say and how you say it.  You do this through the adverts you place and the messages you provide your sales team.

With PR messages, you have much less control.  If you use media channels to tell your news story, for instance, journalists and editors have complete control in the final story they print, talk about on the radio or show on TV.

The other reason you have less control with PR messages is that PR tactics always invite a two-way dialogue.  Whether you are posting on social media, conducting a public meeting, inviting feedback on a blog post or briefing a politician one-on-one, you never have full control of how your message is received or the reaction you get. 

Because you never have complete control, that’s why its crucial to prepare and plan before you start any PR activity.  An astute PR practitioner will help you prepare for most reactions, so you aren’t caught off-guard as plans play out.

5 Tips for Balancing Marketing & PR

  1. You’ll get best result when you implement both.
  2. Your marketing and PR messages can not mix.  Keep your sales and marketing messages out of all your PR activities.
  3. Remember that PR is so much more than a media release; think about all the relationships you need to foster and influencers you need to reach to maintain your license to operate.
  4. PR’s influence on your bottom line can be measured – ensure you gauge its effects just like you would a marketing campaign.
  5. It’s a rare individual who can do both excellently. A marketing person’s KPIs are normally linked to increased sales which means PR goals get side-lined.  Keep a clear distinction between the two disciplines.

There are probably a lot more ways that marketing differs from PR.  I’d love to hear what you think - drop me an email to discuss: .

- Heather Claycomb