Most people often find it difficult to distinguish between the fields of marketing and public relations. The line between both professions has only muddled as companies begin to move toward a “one-stop shop” model of communication, complicated through the recent implementation of social media into spreading campaigns and communicating with the public. Despite both fields taking on some similar tasks, there are key differences between public relations and marketing.

Promotion vs. mediation

In a nutshell, marketing involves direction promotion and sale of products or services. Members of the marketing department are focused on targeting current and potential customers, whereas public relations practitioners communicate with just about anyone interested in the organization. This includes news media, stockholders financially vested in the company, as well as the publics an organization influences. PR professionals serve as a bridge of communication between the company and the public, attempting to promote a positive brand image and reputation.

Credibility of messaging

Most consumers will often recognize the advertisements and information expressed through marketing efforts as biased; marketing messaging attempts to influence customers into purchasing a product, which makes itself more apparent compared to messaging delivered through public relations. Customers will perceive press releases published by a journalist or reputable bloggers as more legitimate sources of information; the influence isn’t as overt as it is through marketing efforts. Public relations messaging can focus on positive branding and reputation building, as well as promoting the sale of products or services through more subtle methods than marketing can.

Measures of success

Kay Pinkerton, PR consultant for Pinkerton Communications, states in an article that “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.”

With marketing it’s much easier to track what’s successful based on tangible sales over a short period of time and if they met sales goals. Metrics are easier to track when sales and revenue are involved, compared to public relations, where positive promotion and brand building aren’t as easily definable. Some examples of PR success might include positive press releases being published or garnering interest of the news media, awards won in relevant industries, or positive messages being distributed by social media followers, customers and the general public.

Overlap between the two industries

While there are a few key differences between marketing and public relations, there is quite a lot of collaboration between the two industries. On top of crafting successful campaigns, PR practitioners and marketing professionals overlap in creating promotional materials such as weekly newsletters, brochures, website design, etc… They also dip their hands in the cookie jar that is company messaging through social media, although PR is usually more involved than the marketing department. As organizations continue to move toward a one-stop shop model, the responsibilities that currently differentiate marketing and public relations may overlap even more as time passes.


What do you think are the key differences between public relations and marketing? What about the similarities? Let me know in the comments below!