The Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing

My fellow PR Pros out there have inevitably had a variation of this conversation at some point during their career:

“Yes, I know my client was just on TV… I’m literally standing behind the camera operator… No, it’s not a happy coincidence. I developed this story idea and had to beg the producer to schedule the interview… I know they did a great job talking about their company, I wrote the talking points… No, I didn’t have to pay to have them there… No, these things don’t typically just happen on their own, it’s not magic.”

Working in public relations for the past 10 years has taught me that most people don’t totally understand PR. One of my favorite ways to describe my profession is using an SAT-esque question: All PR is marketing, but not all marketing is PR.

And maybe it is a little bit of PR Magic.

Show Me the Money

The first differentiator that comes to mind is money. A lot of marketing falls into the advertising bucket: promotions (like passing out branded swag during events) and paid ads of any kind – print, digital, online or broadcast.

In public relations, we focus on earned media, meaning we don’t pay for coverage, we fight for it.

Our job is to be the champion of a brand and create messaging that convinces media that our clients’ brand/product/story is important, worthy of endorsement and of value to their audience.

Fun fact: when you buy an ad, you know exactly what it will say, look like and where it will appear. With earned media, we can never guarantee coverage or be 100 percent in control of the final product.

Voice of The Brand

The creative team (they fall into the marketing but not PR category) are often the ones that spearhead comprehensive branding efforts and polish a company’s voice and tone. From there, the PR team works with the larger marketing team to be the keeper of this brand.

Take social media, for example. Organic social posts are brand messages communicated on a digital platform. Note – only organic content counts as public relations; once you pay for a Facebook ad you walk over to the advertising side of team marketing.

Another distinction to note in the PR vs. advertising sector is best shared through a quote from an excellent Forbes article by author and PR Pro Robert Wynne:

Because it’s in their best interest to sell you more ads, advertising folks tell clients what you WANT to hear. “Baby you’re the best! You just need to pay for a few months more for billboards and TV spots!” Because PR people deal with crises, image enhancement and creation of long-term relationships where your story often must be accepted by others (the media) before you obtain recognition, PR people tell you what you NEED to hear.

At times, we will have difficult conversations. We will tell you if you need media training, that you’re wrong in a crisis, long-standing brand messages or that something you think is newsworthy, really isn’t, and we won’t include it in our pitching.

Our job is to protect your brand. Let us do it, even when it hurts a little.

More Than Media

A lot of people imagine press releases, media junkets and managing red carpet paparazzi when they think about public relations. And it’s true, media relations is a big part of the job, but it’s only one piece of the PR puzzle.

At its core, public relations is about communication. Our efforts can include social media content and platform management, identifying relevant networking opportunities for clients and helping manage those relationships, research, script writing, internal messaging such as drafting company-wide memos or newsletters, external communication like blogs or byline articles…and other duties as assigned.


Advertising and other forms of marketing typically work to generate direct sales. PR certainly helps this crusade but will have a less direct, and sadly less trackable result.

Common public relations goals include reputation management and brand awareness. We track things like the number of media hits, changes in a brand’s public perception, website traffic, social media analytics and the overall effectiveness of messaging.

Public Relations in Arizona

You can learn more about our Scottsdale-based agency’s PR/Social capabilities by checking out this video on our website (in case you haven’t fully figured it out yet, video content and websites are marketing tools, but not PR)

If you’re ready for a strategic communications plan or want to learn more about PR, marketing or social media and what your company really needs, contact us today.