Both PR and marketing firms have sold to every exec at some point in their career, but what’s the difference — and do they have to be separated into different disciplines? Furthermore, if they can be combined, does PR now have a permanent place at the marketing and communications table?
Is PR different from marketing?
Historically, public relations and marketing have always been housed in separate camps. Whether internal departments or unaffiliated external agencies, it’s a separation that reflects a widely held industry viewpoint: that the two disciplines are exclusive and, therefore, incompatible. Yet as many trends now suggest, modern marketing and PR differences aren’t quite so set in stone. Not anymore, at least.
A core offering from any well-respected communications firm is quality content. Content that’s easily relatable to the public, relevant to the target audience, and published to influence a reader’s opinion or product consumption trajectory.
The same can be said of the core components in PR. The same quality content is at the center of every pre-planned PR campaign. A story with a strong hook, written in a style that a journalist can quickly adapt and publish for a relevant target audience. Something that will ultimately influence a reader’s opinion and future actions.
The communications strategy behind content marketing helps sell a product. PR content syndication helps sell a product, a person’s opinions, a platform, or a brand. So if the differences between PR and marketing aren’t so clear cut anymore, how can you tell where content marketing begins, and public relations end?
PR vs. Marketing
Despite having similar campaign outcomes, there is still a multitude of differences between PR and Marketing. Ultimately PR is a different animal because it entails a larger proportion of real-time reactivity vs. carefully pre-planned and long-term communication strategies.
PR is crisis management when a corporation destroys an ecosystem with an oil spill. It’s reputation management — and, if necessary — social rehabilitation when a public figure becomes too familiar with an intern. It’s thick-skinned interaction with bulldog journalists hungry for a quotable slip-up. This reactive component of public relations will always exist in a separate sphere from marketing.
However, the proactive elements of public relations blur into what modern marketing and communication have become. PR teams spend weeks, if not months, carefully plotting a campaign to garner quality content coverage. Their client then appears online, on television, on the radio, and in newspapers, in line with that plan.
Marketing and communications agencies spend the same time strategizing campaigns with paid ad placements across those mediums. However, when they then combine this with quality organic content that garners unpaid exposure, their efforts begin to morph into PR.
When does marketing turn into PR?
A good example is when more people read a blog written for a marketing and communications campaign than an article written by a top New York Times columnist. In this instance, you remove the gatekeeper journalist and their publication from the equation, and instead, you engage the public directly. In essence, you become a media outlet in your own right. From here, media inquiries start to pour in, the reactive elements of PR are activated, and you or your communications firm has to be ready to capitalize on direct journalist interaction.
PR & marketing: how can you integrate the two?
Opinions and attitudes on this differ significantly, especially among the goliath old-guard PR firms who prefer to keep the disciplines separate at all costs. However, the more savvy communications strategists have already integrated marketing threads like PPC campaigns, reputation management, and video production with public relations.
The UK firm, Stickyeyes, was one of the first to combine reactive and proactive PR with SEO to deliver marketing and PR campaigns for Hilton Worldwide, MTV, and Hertz Europe on a multinational basis.
On this side of the Atlantic, Allegrow successfully executed the same model of pairing a PR outreach with strategies like long-burn organic SEO content drives and multi-vertical outreach strategies on social media. The average result? Coverage in dozens of national TV outlets, print, and digital column space, thousands of YouTube views, interview requests that continue for years, and surges in web traffic that drive sales conversions.
When should I separate PR & marketing?
Just because you can integrate PR and marketing doesn’t mean you always should. For example, if your client has a stockpile of lifesaving PPE that they want to share with those most in need — for free — during an international emergency, you should absolutely light that PR torch and signal the media to help you identify where to send it. You shouldn’t immediately launch an ad campaign to drive sales of that same product.
On the flip side, no media outlet will ever get excited about a PR pitch detailing a Post-it note resistant to extreme acceleration and zero gravity. However, if you hyper-target aerospace execs on LinkedIn with a video-demo ad campaign, you may end up with a contract to supply the International Space Station with stationery.