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What’s the Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing?

By University Staff

What’s the Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing?

It’s not uncommon to confuse public relations and marketing. Both are essential to an organization’s overall communication and customer engagement strategies, but with noticeable differences, especially in the way those strategies are put into action.

What Is Public Relations?

The answer to the question, “What does PR mean?” is much more than simply, “It’s short for ‘Public Relations.’” As defined by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” 

It’s All About Positivity

In public relations, public image is everything, and positivity is at the core of the message. Public relations professionals, employed in-house or under the direction of a client, work to portray a brand, organization, individual, campaign, or product in a positive light. 

For example, a company that decides to take itself public would employ its public relations team to develop a messaging campaign to communicate its intentions. The team would begin to draft a “story” surrounding the move that might involve elevating the profile of the company’s founder or executive team, while drafting press materials and fielding media inquiries about the transition from private to public. The messaging, shared in press releases, on social media, or face-to-face with journalists, would highlight the successes of the company and why it’s a good move for all involved. 

General functions of public relations, according to the PRSA, include:

  • Corporate Communications
  • Crisis Communications
  • Executive Communications
  • Internal Communications
  • Investor Relations Communications
  • Marketing Communications
  • Integrated Marketing/Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Media Relations
  • Content Creation
  • Events
  • Social Media
  • Multimedia
  • Reputation Management
  • Speechwriting
  • Brand Journalism

Dealing With Negative Press

Another essential public relations function is dealing with negative press, i.e., damage control. When a negative story impacts a client, a public relations professional or agency must take a very delicate approach in the way they attempt to put a “positive spin” on things or communicate an apology on behalf of the brand.

What Is Marketing?

Marketing, as defined by the American Marketing Association (AMA), is “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.” Like public relations, marketing is essential to brand-building, and can be found in every business, public or private, and even in government and military. 

There are many types of marketing and marketing strategies, including: 

  • Content marketing
  • Inbound marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Relationship marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Viral marketing
  • Guerilla marketing 

The purpose of marketing is to form a connection between a brand and its audience of consumers. Through the AMA-defined processes, and using a variety of marketing channels, the consumer is introduced to the value of the brand (a product, company, etc.), and a relationship is formed with the intent of influencing the consumer’s behavior. Traditionally, we think of that as converting the consumer into a loyal customer and brand advocate, but it doesn’t have to be about the sale of a physical good. Marketing can also transform attitudes about a brand, and someone can become an advocate without ever having made a purchase. 

Similarities Between Public Relations and Marketing

PR and marketing professionals often describe themselves as storytellers, as they are both tasked with telling the story of a brand, person, product, or idea. The similarities do not end there.

Creating Awareness. When it comes to PR and marketing, it’s all about spreading the word and creating awareness, although the target audiences are not always the same.
 
Tools of the Trade. Many of the same tools and distribution channels, such as social media, are used by PR and marketing professionals, although their end goals are often different.

Content Creation. As storytellers, both PR and marketing professionals must have exceptional content creation skills, as they are the “voice” of the client. 

Relationship Building. Both disciplines aim at building a relationship with a target audience. PR professionals, for example, often want to build positive relationships with the media covering their clients; while marketers want to form a similar connection with consumers.

Differences Between Public Relations and Marketing

While the primary difference between the two could be construed as “selling vs. promotion,” that’s not the only difference when it comes to marketing vs. PR. 
 
Target Audiences. Both sides will speak positively of their client, but often to different audiences. Marketers, for example, will employ meticulous research strategies to identify their target consumers. 

Measurement. PR and marketing professionals will measure success by different metrics. In marketing, that often means sales figures, while PR will measure success by how many people are receiving and responding positively to their messaging. 

Call to Action. Also known as the CTA, the motivation to take some sort of action – usually “buy” – is ingrained in every marketing campaign, whereas PR is more focused on generating positive mentions and discussion. 

Case Study: Cyberpunk 2077

Public relations and marketing strategies are often employed in tandem, with adjustments to both depending on consumer reaction. One notable example is the late 2020 launch of video game maker CD Projekt Red’s highly anticipated action game “Cyberpunk 2077.”

The Buildup

Announced in May 2012, the game had a long development process, during which time its public relations team worked to generate positive press through updates and interviews with the game’s creators, while the marketing side sought to create greater excitement among consumers by releasing screenshots of the game and showcasing actor and brand ambassador Keanu Reeves (one of the game’s stars) as one of the core elements of its advertising campaign.

The Crisis

Following numerous delays, Cyberpunk 2077 was released in December 2020, and its rollout was hampered by negative press stemming from bugs within the game and complaints of poor quality on older video game consoles.

The Response

With a full-blown public relations crisis threatening to permanently damage its reputation, CD Projekt Red tasked its PR team with responding to negative press, issuing apologies to players, and communicating messages about refunds as the company pushed out patches designed to fix flaws in the game. The fallout from its launch prompted a shift in marketing strategy, with CD Projekt Red promoting its game patches alongside its game content.

Despite the setbacks, Cyberpunk 2077 sold more than 13 million copies immediately following its release. However, the damage had been done, and CD Projekt Red was forced to rethink its PR/marketing strategy as public perception of the game shifted from “in-demand” to “suspect.” 

Two Disciplines In Demand

Organizations will always need to adapt their public relations and marketing strategies to reach new audiences, so there will always be a demand for PR and marketing professionals. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the hiring of public relations specialists will grow at a faster than average pace through 2029, driven by the “need for organizations to maintain their public image.” 

Likewise, the agency predicts similar growth for marketing, advertising, and promotions managers, as organizations “seek to maintain and expand their share of the market.”

Becoming a Public Relations or Marketing Professional

As the demand for innovative professionals grows, employers will be looking carefully for qualified and educated candidates. There are several paths you can take on your way to becoming a public relations or marketing professional, beginning with your degree. Programs to consider include:

Bachelor of Arts in Marketing

The online marketing degree from the Forbes School of Business and Technology® at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) was created to develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in the marketing field, including public relations.

A bachelor’s degree will give you a foundational understanding of marketing principles and strategies, with courses including BUS 339 Marketing Research, BUS 340 Business Communications, BUS 410 Digital Marketing Essentials, and BUS 350 Consumer Behavior, to name a few.

Master of Business Administration

Many of today’s top PR and marketing professionals hold MBAs. Relevant courses in the MBA program include BUS 622 Global Marketing, and BUS 633 Project & Operations Management

Public Relations Emphasis

UAGC offers a Public Relations emphasis that allows you to focus your studies, with courses that include BUS 317 Introduction to Advertising, BUS 336 Marketing Strategy, and BUS 339 Marketing Research.

Though public relations and marketing are different in many ways, they both involve some form of promotion, and it’s imperative that the two are aligned as part of a company’s overall communications strategy. If you’re interested in a career as a “professional storyteller” with the flexibility to work with multiple brands and experiences, take the first step and contact a student advisor about your degree today.

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Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.


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