As President of a public relations firm for the past decade, potential clients always come to me and ask the same question: “Do I need PR or marketing?” Before I can answer, the next question is: “What is the difference between PR and marketing?”
I appreciate the follow-up question because it’s the best way to breakdown the answer to the precursor.
When it comes to marketing, think of it as paying to play; you hire someone to place your company, brand, or product in an ad. Whether that ad is on Facebook or Instagram, on a billboard or in a newspaper, the marketer can provide you with a tangible number of returns. So, say you allot $10,000 for a marketing budget, the firm will be able to estimate your exact impressions / targets, which gives brands a lot of confidence. Whereas with PR, you can’t really put a price (beyond a retainer amount) on it, and the exact impressions/targets can be a mix of both instant and long term.
PR, or public relations, is all about brand awareness, or in the case of a campaign like a marketing ad, the story behind the actual ad; It is what engages and turns potential customers into a long-term following through brand awareness and brand engagement. Think about it logically, what do you do when you see an ad? For most of us, we’re exposed to ads when we’re using social media; if the ad stands out enough in the monotony of our daily scroll, we click on it. What happens next? We seek out the story — What is this brand? Who is this brand? Why is this brand different? What’s the background? How does this connect/relate to me? This information can be the difference in turning a curious consumer into an active customer, leading me to my next point: an ad is relatively worthless without context or credibility behind it.
This is why I will often say there are pros and cons to both marketing and public relations, and if you have the budget, both of them can work together. However, if you don’t have the budget, it’s always better to spend money on public relations first because you need to create your brand (story) before spending your dollars on marketing. I’ll say it again if you don’t have a good, yet alone, compelling story, then you have nothing to market that will bring you a reasonable return.
In a recent conversation I had with Jordan Belfort, aka the Wolf of Wall Street, he echoed this sentiment when he described the power of using PR and marketing in tandem.
“The two are very powerful when they’re used together — PR to help build your brand, position you the right way as an expert, a leader, an influencer in your field and then follow that up by aggressive marketing tactics to really get your message in front of the right people and have them do something with that, whether that’s click on a link or opt-in.”
In this conversation, Belfort also mentioned how “PR is free” while “marketing is something that you pay for.” To break this down, a client still pays for PR, but the exposure is free, and this can sometimes complicate a PR firm’s ability to place a hard number on the returns of your spending. Sure, someone can learn about your product through an article. They might buy the product causing immediate gratification, but if it’s a digital article, we’re also increasing SEO, which increases traffic to your website, and in the long run, will provide more returns as people search keywords, your brand’s credibility, etc., etc..
Related: Are You Wasting Your Money on PR?
Marketing, on the other hand, has a time frame on it. It’s almost qualitative. If an established company came to me and already had the exposure and is known publicly, I’d recommend a marketing campaign for a quick boost to whatever they want to push out, rather than a whole PR campaign.
To summarize this all, I’ll leave you with the differences between PR and marketing at a very basic level:
Marketing is a quick spend for a direct result that is more easily measured. PR is an investment for a mixture of both short and long-term success.