Marketing vs Public Relations: The Difference

Many times people come to us asking for marketing when what they more specifically need is public relations. For instance, a company may be having an annual fundraising concert and ask that we “market the event.” We’d first suggest that the company market to those in its contact database using email marketing campaigns, simple direct mail pieces, and even phone calls. Coming up with a phone script and designing a mail campaign may require some professional input, but this is something that can be handled in-house if the company has the proper staff in place. What we would then tell the company is that we need to develop a public relations campaign for them. To that recommendation, we most often get blank stares or questioning glances. Just ask, “What is the difference between marketing and PR?”

Okay, so here is the difference.

Marketing is communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers, for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand. It includes:

  • Advertising
  • Public Relations
  • Promotions
  • Publicity

In other words, public relations is just one facet of marketing. Most people believe marketing is only about promotion, but it includes everything that one does to effectively identify what customers want, how they want it, and where they will get it. It involves packaging, sales, promotion, and distribution. The four ‘Ps’ of marketing are product, place, price and promotion.

Goals are different.

Marketing: salability, product utility
Public relations: visibility, positive exposure

Channels are different:

Marketing: retail outlets (online or physical stores)
Public relations: media (radio, TV, magazines)

Sales Emphasis is different:

Marketing: directly impacts sales
Focuses on how products are sold, how much they cost, where they are sold, what products look like

Example: changing the price to entice buyers

Public relations: indirectly impact sales
Focuses on how a company or its main representatives interact with target audience, community or stakeholders.

Example: company sponsors a nonprofit initiative


  • Clearly define and identify target audience
  • Seek to appeal to target audience

Public relations is not the same as advertising either. In advertising, companies pay to have their message placed in the media. In public relations, companies seek to have media organizations (radio, TV, magazines) discuss their products, services or staff in a positive manner. While a company’s mention in the media is free publicity, the cost to have a public relations professional get your company mentioned in the media is not free.

Author and humorist S.H. Simmons explains the differences this way:

“If a young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing.  If the young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is, that’s advertising.  If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is, that’s public relations.”

To determine which of these services you need, always begin with a strategic plan that identifies the pros and cons of using a particular marketing activity. For instance, paying for billboard advertising may be more expensive than public relations, but advertising may be more effective in getting the attention of a particular regional audience. Research and planning will save people lots of time and money in identifying the best means to identify and attract a particular audience.

Now that you know the difference in some marketing methods and where to begin your marketing efforts, you can ask better questions and have more realistic expectations of those professionals you hire — like Allwrite.

-Annette Johnson
Allwrite Communications Inc.