The Blurred Lines Between PR, Marketing and Advertising

There’s a raging — and quite interesting — debate that I continue to see taking place in various online forums about the relationship between PR and marketing. I’ve found it especially interesting because I recently was engaged in the same debate while teaching PR courses at a local university. Surprisingly to me, there is a group that believes quite strongly that PR is not part of marketing: that it is a separate and distinctly different function within an organization.

Frankly, that’s just “crazy talk” to me. I tend to be a marketing purist; my marketing paradigm has always placed PR under the promotion “P” of the 4P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion), along with advertising, sales, etc. Many agree — but not all.

For example, here’s a representative comment from a LinkedIn forum I participate in:

“… companies need to remember there is a difference between PR and marketing. The departments within companies are separate. There is a PR department and a marketing department. The reason they are separate is because they have different purposes.”

And the rebuttal:

“These are very interesting arguments and opinions. Someone who thinks PR is not marketing needs to have his head read.”

I tend to agree with the latter (although I would probably have tempered my comments just a bit …).

Having been fortunate to be responsible for all elements of communication (internal, external, PR, advertising, etc.) as director of corporate communications in the energy and healthcare industries, I can’t imagine separating the two. They’re simply two tools that organizations can use to forward their overall marketing strategies.

Seems like common sense to me. And, in fact, I’d go even further than trying to tie just these two communication methodologies together — I think allcommunication efforts within an organization (internal and external) need to be carefully aligned, implemented and measured as part of a unified effort.

Our publics converge more often than we realize — and more and more every day. Without coordination and consistency, we’re at risk of sending mixed — and even misleading — messages.

Regardless of the definitions and the professional sensitivities on both sides, depending on which academic path or which profession you currently work in, I think we’d all serve our clients and companies most effectively if we crossed the line (especially in organizations where these functions are in separate departments/divisions) and learned to work together toward mutual communication goals.

Still, it’s a question that comes up in many venues: on Twitter, in LinkedIn groups, in business meetings and in university classes. What is the difference between PR, advertising, marketing, branding, etc.?

This is the answer I generally provide:

  • Marketing is a broad organizational function that encompasses the traditional “4P’s” (price, product, place and promotion).
  • Under the category of promotion are a number of elements that go into what is often called the “promotional mix.” These include both advertising and PR, as well as social media. As previously discussed, advertising involves paying for your messages to reach desired audiences; PR involves influencing others to share messages about you.
  • Branding is a process that involves establishing a “personality” for a company or product/service in the minds of some target group — generally customers.

As with marketing, branding is impacted not only by promotional activities, but also by:

  • price (a “high-end” brand will generally have a high-end price point and vice versa)
  • product (e.g., quality and service attributes and experiences customers have with the product or the service they receive)
  • place (which also includes access/availability — exclusive products are often difficult to access/in limited supply, adding to their “allure”)
  • promotion.

Many people wrongly assume that brand is about logos, taglines and corporate colors; they are an element of the brand but, as explained previously, just a part of it.

  • Advertising is not marketing.
  • PR is not marketing.
  • Branding is not marketing.

Marketing is everything a company does to deliver a product/service to its target markets. That means product development. It means pricing strategies. It means customer service. Marketing communications generally refers to the promotional elements of the marketing mix that take place in support of the company’s overall marketing goals/objectives. What is usually called a “marketing department” is, in reality, actually a “marketing communications” department. In most organizations, this department is not responsible for product development (although the product obviously affects marketing effectiveness), pricing (although pricing certainly affects marketing effectiveness) or service.

Do these distinctions matter? In most cases, no.

As long as an organization’s communication activities are being well coordinated and are consistent with the desired brand image, what you call things is probably irrelevant. It’s just, as they say, “semantics.” Problems can arise, though, when these activities are not well coordinated, and that generally occurs because of organizational turf battles that place responsibility for various communication activities under different leaders.

These would include the elements of the promotional mix mentioned earlier: advertising, PR or media relations, and branding.

The bottom line: what matters most is that the organization is able to effectively communicate with its key audiences to achieve its goals. Whether PR reports to marketing or marketing reports to PR is really irrelevant as long as those communication objectives can be achieved. It may be an important issue to the leaders of those individual functions, but, in the big scheme of things, this ongoing discussion and debate is a huge distraction — and detraction — to the organization’s overall marketing effectiveness.

(Excerpted from: 21st Century Secrets to Effective PR)


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21st Century Secrets to Effective PR: Tips and Best Practices for Gaining Media Exposure

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