Public relations & marketing – what’s the difference?


By Michele Sobota

Public relations and marketing are often referred to interchangeably. The truth is, while both aim to cultivate thriving companies, the tools and objectives of each discipline are quite different.

The marketplace and the mind

Marketing aims to gain “market share.” Marketing plans are often based on the “Four P’s” — product, price, place, and promotion — and are designed to generate quick sales. Marketing messages are crafted to result in efficient transactions. They seek to build a strong customer base along multiple selling pipelines. Bottom line, marketing is all about getting customers, persuading them to buy more, and increasing a company’s overall market share.

By contrast, public relations seeks to gain “mind share.” PR messages are educational by nature and seek to acquire mental real estate in the minds of consumers. PR is more information- and relationship-oriented and seeks to position products, services, and ideas in a positive light.

An analogy can be made to a garden. PR ensures that the ground is well-tilled and fertilized to promote a healthy root system. When the plant blooms (the product or service), it draws attention and immediately attracts buyers. Marketing ensures that the plant is competitively priced and well-packaged and generates immediate sales.

Different goals and strategies

Public relations efforts prepare the way for successful marketing with informational content sent through a number of channels to target audiences. These channels include newspapers, magazines, television, and online articles, as well as news releases and conferences. The depth of information conveyed through these channels tends to run deeper than traditional marketing messages. The goal is to educate and build credibility for a product or service.

The goal of marketing is short-term: to increase sales. Marketing messages are usually delivered along more direct and promotion-oriented channels of communication like promotional flyers, emails, text messages, and product demonstrations. Customers can usually recognize that a direct appeal is being made to their pocketbooks, but if the product is well-presented and positioned as something they must have, the bait often works.

In contrast, public relations messages are crafted to satisfy longer-term goals like the creation of goodwill and positive relationships. Its audience extends beyond customers; it aims to inform multiple audiences and is capable of reaching important stakeholders like shareholders, journalists, employees, and government officials.

An example: Say your company sells drones. Marketers make sure interested buyers can find a quick way to buy one. PR messaging, however, will help consumers know more about how drones can be used and why they are such a big trend. Because PR messages often result in “assets” like editorial print and broadcast stories (which can be posted on websites and social media platforms for greater audience reach and search engine optimization) they are easily accessed by potential stakeholders, like investors. Moreover, they can help enlighten the public about why these little flying machines may soon be landing on their yards and porches.

Integrated communications

Public relations and marketing work best hand-in-hand. Sales are vital, but so too are messages that build positive brand images. A practice called “integrated marketing communications” continues to gain traction. The idea is to weave messages from both marketing and PR departments to sync seamlessly with corporate goals.

Naturally, this is easier said than done. Because every company is a unique enterprise, each will call for its own mix of marketing and PR. Business owners need to find communications professionals who can create the right “corporate garden” of messaging that synergistically builds positive brands, informs audiences, and grows sales.

Michele Sobota is the founder and owner of Connexions PR, a one-woman shop that specializes in publicity for businesses and professionals. Reach her at [email protected] or


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