One of the most common questions asked by potential clients is, “What is the difference between public relations and marketing?”

It’s understandable why these two fields are often confused, as they both function under the umbrella of communications – but as a firm with two decades of public relations experience in California, we assure you that they are not the same thing. Here is how each one is defined by their respective professional associations:

  • The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” In English, that means creating materials and processes that represent an organization to its audience, with the ultimate goal of improving sales.
  • The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) says that public relations “helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other. Public relations broadly applies to organizations as a collective group, not just a business; and publics encompass the variety of different stakeholders.” Translation: PR develops messages about the organization and communicates them to the public, normally via the media.

Here’s another way to look at it: While both marketing and PR support sales to some extent, marketing only supports sales while PR also supports brand image, reputation management and crisis mitigation. Where they must be in sync is on the messaging front, so that the same messages are being communicated about the brand consistently.

Here are some other points to consider when it comes to public relations vs. marketing:

  • In part, public relations is the art of establishing an organization’s positions and communicating those positions to the public; this can, and should, be implemented into the overall marketing plan.
  • Marketing and PR are not rivals, nor is one superior to the other. However, some organizations allow their marketing departments to supervise public relations providers. When this happens, it is critical for the two entities to work in simpatico.
  • Public relations is far more involved with the media than marketing is. A marketing department should be largely hands-off with the media, although it can provide input to the public relations arm as to what messages should be communicated through the media.

When it comes to the difference between marketing and PR, here’s the bottom line: While they each have separate responsibilities, they can and should work together for the benefit of a single organization.