What’s the difference between PR, marketing and advertising?

When it comes to promoting a company or product, there are lots of options available – not just in the mediums used but in the professional services behind them. The differences between PR, marketing and advertising can seem minor – but the services offered in these fields can be incredibly different. Before you commit to a PR or marketing campaign it is worth considering if this is the right choice for your company at this time, and how they can complement one another.

PR: maintaining a good reputation

Public Relations operates in the field of the media, covering tasks such as press releases, tackling crisis situations, preserving (or improving) the overall image of the company and employing strategies to build relationships between the company and the public at large. These services can include representing the company as a spokesperson, and might be used by a range of companies for various purposes, as you can read here.

PR is all about being noticed in a positive light – making an impression that is not directly related to a commercial message. PR does have a strong commercial purpose, however – consumers in all areas are increasingly interested in who they make purchases from and it can greatly harm marketing and advertising campaigns if consumers are unaware of a company’s reputation – or, worse, see the company in a negative light.

Marketing: public awareness and generating action

Marketing departments usually cover promotions through product launches, online and offline marketing and organising conferences, exhibitions and other events. The field of marketing also covers market research and the development of new ideas for promotions.

These campaigns have a tighter and more commercial focus than PR activities. They are typically tied to a particular product, service or event, with an interest in driving sales. Crucially, they are activities geared towards generating a specific result: increasing revenues. While PR looks to promote the company’s overall reputation, marketing therefore promotes a particular aspect of the company – be it a product or service – to a particular audience: potential customers.

Advertising: directly driving sales

Advertising falls into the same field of marketing, covering actions used to grow revenues, but covers the more specific activities of these campaigns. This may include the production and promotion of television and radio adverts, print publications, online adverts, posters and billboards.

Like marketing, the goal of advertising is to directly promote to a consumer, and increase revenues, and is therefore different to PR in the same way. The difference between advertising and marketing, however, comes from what types of media are used in advertising. A marketing campaign may cover the running of events, promotions and advertising itself, while advertising on its own is concerned with specific items of public facing media. While PR has a broad appeal to the entire public, and marketing appeals to the company’s potential customers in potentially wide strokes, advertising often has a very focused market in mind, and will be designed with a measurable impact – for example using a poster to inspire an action when it is seen.

Who is your audience?

While PR, marketing and advertising might be broken down into specific tasks and strategies, the really important difference comes from this final point – to determine the purpose of these activities, ask who your target audience is. If your goal is to appeal to a broad community, to create a positive impression and build relationships with anyone interested in the company, then PR is the place to start. As your goals become more specific, targeting a specific group of people for a particular activity or purpose (such as driving sales), you may move towards marketing and then, in finer focus, to advertising.

It is important, however, to understand this is a chain of complementary activities. Avoid the fallacy that ROI and sales come only from marketing and advertising, as these are where results are most easily measured. The clear crossover between these 3 departments means they should be used together for the best results.