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PR vs marketing: how are they different?

February 22, 2023
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Most people understand the distinction between PR and marketing. In the average organization, these are two separate functions run by two different teams. More often than not, publicists and marketers use distinct strategies and approaches to executing their respective goals.

At the same time, sussing out exactly how they diverge from each other can be trickier than it seems. This is especially true for new businesses (or those undergoing renovations) looking to understand which teams they budget for and focus on building out.

The short answer? Typically, marketing is regarded as a way to generate leads for a company, while PR is about influencing consumers’ perceptions of the company as a whole.1 

For those looking for a fuller picture, it’s helpful to see how pr vs. marketing compare in terms of metrics, time frames, and the day-to-day efforts that make each discipline distinct.

Public Relations agency

What is PR?

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”2 

In other words, the goal of a PR specialist is to build brand recognition and help people like and connect with a company more. PR campaigns and efforts might be dedicated to:3

  • Kindling conversation or excitement around a forthcoming new product.
  • Relaying information about an organization’s finances to investors, stockholders and financial stakeholders.
  • Building transparency by communicating information between teams and higher-level executives of an organization.
  • Crisis communications, where publicists help an organization regain public trust in the wake of a crisis or loss of credibility.

With this in mind, consider anything that a company does to influence or shape the public (and sometimes internal) perception of PR. 

What does a PR team do?

Publicists like to say they wear many hats, which is a quippy way of explaining their versatile workload. On any given day, a publicist might be called on to:

  • Write a press release.
  • Arrange a speaking event.
  • Organize a press event.
  • Network with media professionals.
  • Engage with a local community through non-profit work.

Of course, none of this work directly generates sales. Yet, if they’re performing well behind the scenes, when it’s time to make a purchase, PR can help sway a potential customer with the positive sentiment they’ve helped influence through a long-term PR strategy.

What is marketing?

The goal of marketing is to draw on a combination of marketing strategy and creativity to ensure that people who might need a company’s products, or services know about them in the first place. Their overarching goal is to connect a business with its target audience and build an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship with them. 

With that, marketers have the ability to add all kinds of demographic information to better understand their target audience. Some pertinent factors that may influence buying decisions include:

  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Location.
  • Education level.
  • Profession.
  • Interests and hobbies.

The more information you have about your audience, the easier it is to find them and promote products and services to them (easier said than done).

What does a marketing team do?

Like publicists, marketers need to perform a variety of different functions in order to be successful. Some key tasks that a marketing team executes include:

  • Establishing an integrated marketing strategy
  • Web development and CRO
  • Developing a paid and programmatic strategy
  • Organic social
  • Reporting 
  • Etc. 

PR vs marketing: key metrics

Every trade has its tools for measuring performance, and professions PR and marketing, both of which are geared towards storytelling, are no exception. 

Marketing professionals often look towards data on acquisition to gauge their performance, which could include:

  • New leads.
  • Email signups.
  • Conversions.
  • Revenue.

On the other hand, it’s commonly said that success in PR is notoriously difficult to gauge. Even so, those in the field typically focus on:

  • Media outlet mentions and hits.
  • Shares on social media.
  • Website traffic.
  • Digital impressions.

In addition to quantitative measurements, PR professionals assess their work qualitatively by looking at the value of their relationships and contacts in the media landscape. They may also take a look at marketing data to see whether their efforts are registering with marketing ROI.4

PR vs marketing: time frames

There’s an old saying that everything worth having takes time. A publicist probably wrote that. 

In PR, nothing happens overnight. Crafting a PR strategy, networking with journalists, and educating the general public on the nuances of who a company is can take months, if not years. Enduring positive associations with a brand build up over time, in large part thanks to favorable media mentions secured by PR professionals, which are often the result of relationships.

Marketing, on the other hand, can have both a long-term and a more instantaneous quality. Stats on email signups and purchases can be measured instantly, and many types of campaigns operate as sprints with short-term goals that take a few weeks or months to complete. 

At the same time, marketing teams’ “micro-goals” ideally foster an enduring foundation of trust and mutual benefit between brand and consumer. In this way, PR and marketing work in lockstep towards a common goal.

Common misconceptions about PR vs marketing

Does a day in the life of a marketer resemble Don Draper’s charming his way through mid-century Manhattan? Can publicists who “know the right people” snap their fingers and reword the news marquee in the time it takes to down a martini?

Sadly, no. Below, we take a closer look at both industries for a mini-round of marketing vs. PR Mythbusters.

Myth #1: Marketing matters more than PR

The perception that marketing is superior to PR arises from the fact that marketing spend corresponds with leads, sales, and conversions—money in the bank. Marketers have the luxury of being able to literally point to a dashboard and show just how and when they brought home the bacon.

But not so fast: exceptional PR can help contextualize who a brand is in the world, in the eyes of the general public. They help answer the “why” question, where marketing efforts tend to focus on the discrete—the reach of a new series of TikTok campaign videos, or per-segment open rates on the latest broadcast email sequence.

In other words, PR’s strengths aren’t always observable in the here and now—and often, it’s this invisibility that’s precisely the mark of “good PR.”

Myth #2: All press is good press

Speaking of good PR—is “all press good press,” as the famous adage goes? Most of the time, publicists will say:

  • It depends on how established a business is – Many say that for startups and fresh businesses, building up recognition—whatever the quality—is important, while positive reputation can be sculpted later. Established enterprises, conversely, may be best off maintaining their positive reputation (which can often mean staying away from the limelight).
  • Not since social media came around – The “all press is good press” idiom showcases the tremendous shifts in PR since the dawn of digital media like no other. Today, virtually anyone has a shot at entering the public conversation, and choosing which media channels to gain airtime can be much more important than reaching a broad, general audience.

However you spin it, marketing data can be a tremendous boon to public relations professionals when determining how and where to translate a story to the public. It’s data acquired through marketing analyses that helps map precisely where online target audiences lie, as well as the types of stories they’re inclined to listen to.

Myth #3: Marketing and PR are Easy 

In a word, no. 

For budding businesses and big-name brands alike, marketing or PR can be a considerable expense, and selecting a partner is a deeply considered process. Good publicists and marketers have developed refined systems for demonstrating their impact, as well as planning and executing their programs.

Both marketing and PR rely on equal parts data/analytics and evaluation to support planning and measuring campaigns. Likewise, marketers must keep pace with constantly shifting industry trends and tools (not to mention a lot of creativity). PR professionals, on the other hand, need to keep track of a revolving door of contacts to stay ahead.

The bottom line is this: Neither PR nor marketing is rocket science. Any business that is serious about scaling, however, needs to understand seriously what goes into each.

Power Digital: Where marketing and PR storytelling join forces

Understanding the differences between what PR and marketing can deliver is crucial for making informed decisions about funds, company goals, and the story you’re telling as an organization. But when budgets are tight, brands are often forced to choose between the two—or are they?

If you’re trying to decide between resourcing your PR or marketing engines, we can help. A growth marketing firm with years of experience, Power Digital helps offers specialized digital marketing services to furnish brands with the data they need to know where to reach their public and the types of messages that resonate most. Whether you already know your angles or you’re searching for a story that sets you apart, reach out today—Power Digital wants to tell it with you.



  1. Forbes. The Difference Between Marketing And PR — And Why It Matters. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/03/10/the-difference-between-marketing-and-pr—and-why-it-matters/?sh=349bf6451552 
  2. Public Relations Society of America. Public Relations Defined: A Modern Definition For The New Era Of Public Relations. http://prdefinition.prsa.org/ 
  3.  Inc. Public Relations. https://www.inc.com/encyclopedia/public-relations.html
  4. Forbes. 5 Measurements for PR ROI. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ilyapozin/2014/05/29/5-measurements-for-pr-roi/?sh=5d8e48f077d1


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