What’s the difference between PR and Marketing?

22 March 2023 | 5 min read | PR
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

Specifically, we’re talking advertising and in truth, we could end this in two sentences…

  • Advertising happens when you pay money to tell your customers and target audience how great you are.
  • Public relations happens when your customers and target audience tell each other how great you are without you having to tell them.

… but if we did, this wouldn’t be much of an article. So, let’s flesh this out wee bit more by answering some commonly asked questions on the subject.

If PR is all about word of mouth, does that mean it is cheaper than advertising or even free to do?

No, on both counts. Key to any successful PR strategy is repetition of activity. The more you communicate your message, and the frequency at which you do so, the greater the awareness of your organisation builds.

And with that, word about who you are, what you do, and why your customers should engage and do business with you spreads.

Is PR expensive by comparison to advertising?

Define ‘expensive’? Sorry, that such a typical avoidance question. To me, ‘expensive’ only comes into the equation if it doesn’t work for you (NB In almost 10 years of running Clearly, we’ve never had a client say the investment they made in us was ‘expsensive’).

Chances are that your organisation has run advertising campaigns in the past. Some of those campaigns may have generated new business enquiries and subsequent sales, whilst others were done more as a brand building exercise and yielded less of a return.

You most likely will say that they were both successful in their own way and you can justify the cost because for every £1 you spent on your advertising you got £4 back in subsequent sales.

But the results were likely short-lived and limited only to the period during which the campaign ran. Public relations has a different impact.

Rather than generate the hits in short-term bursts that coincide with the timings of the campaign itself, PR’s impact is felt long after the party. Its effects are felt over the mid to long-term.

Sounds like a load of fluff, can you prove it?

Here’s a real-life case study.

We worked on a campaign for a client in 2019 that sought to challenge perceptions of their industry, whilst seeking to appeal to the customers they wanted to work with and the talent they needed to hire to meet future demand.

The campaign we launched ran for just six months. Yet the impact is still being felt today – more than four years afterwards.

And by ‘being felt’, I mean in terms of new business leads being generated, ongoing requests by the media for commentary, and a steady flow of speculative applications from hopeful future employees. You can read the full case study here.

Can PR and advertising ever be bedfellows?

They should be. I would never advocate for a business to sacrifice one for the other. They can and should be aligned.

I mentioned above that advertising delivers outcomes (new business enquiries, requests for information, sales conversions) almost immediately, whereas the impact that PR has is more sustained over time.

Where I believe – and my 17 years in this space confirms – PR has the upper hand on its advertising cousin is that it delivers the same tangibles as its oppositive number but of a type that have a greater benefit to the business in three prime ways:

  1. Impacton your market. You may have upwards of 10, 100 or 1,000 competitors, and PR makes it easier for your business to stand out and reach the customers you need.
  2. Influenceon customer buying decisions. Your prospective customers have a choice of who they do business with, and PR shapes their perception of – and positions – you as a go-to.
  3. Incomethe bottom line. When it is your voice that is consistently heard above the increasingly audible noise and it is your business who customers regard as holding the key to help them overcome the challenges they face, the financial benefit to the business then becomes a simple formality.

Specifically, then, what falls under the banner ‘public relations’?

Public relations is all about sales. PR people don’t like to admit to this and will try and dress up another way, but this is what it is. So, the tactics that PR agencies like Clearly PR deploy can include:

  • Getting the organisation’s key people quoted in the media that your target audience consumes the most, whether in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and online.
  • Securing speaker opportunities on podcasts, webinars, conferences, and networking events.
  • Positioning your key people as true industry thought leaders – individuals who really do know their arses from their elbows when it comes to their area of expertise (and can demonstrate it!).
  • Creating digital content that elevates the organisation’s online presence above the rising level of ‘noise’ and driving engagement with audiences.

There is lot more to it than that, of course. Essentially, the role of PR is to get your organisation seen, read and heard by the right people, in the right way and at the right time in a way that increases its impact, influence, and income.

Need any help? Email me any time to chat through what you are looking to achieve with your PR: paul@clearlypr.co.uk