Marketing versus PR: Is one better than the other?

- July 10, 2023 3 MIN READ


For many startups and small business owners, it is key to understand the difference between marketing and public relations (PR) so you can determine if your objectives require investment in both services, or if to begin with, you just want to focus on getting one right first, write Kathryn Van Kuyk and Anthony Caruana, co-founders of Media-Wize.

What is marketing?

Marketing is about being seen and recognised. If sales says ‘buy me’, marketing says ‘see me’.

Marketing covers any activity that builds positive recognition for your brand and service. It can include promotional activities, sponsored content, direct marketing or advertising. Marketing is focused on generating customer awareness and acquisition.

Marketers aim to reach target customers and encourage them to take an action that will lead to a sale. Marketers spend their time planning product launches, creating marketing campaigns, buying and placing advertising, overseeing social media, conducting customer research, examining market trends and measuring sales performance and conversions.

Marketing is often a short-term activity or designed around a specific campaign, to drive an instant uplift in sales.

What is PR?

PR asks the market a different question. Effective PR asks your target audience to ‘trust me’.

The ‘R’ in PR is the key. Public relations concentrates on fostering and maintaining positive relationships with anyone who has an interest in the organisation or brand. PR is focused on reputation management by generating positive media coverage and through stakeholder communication. This covers a much broader audience than just customers and expands to journalists, the media, shareholders, government, partners and employees.

PR is about building trust in your products and services, presenting you as a credible authority and aims to build a positive reputation. PRs spend their days writing media releases, crafting messaging, preparing spokespeople for interviews, pitching stories, liaising with journalists, and ghost-writing thought leadership articles for senior leaders. PR is an investment the company makes over a longer haul.

Sales, marketing and PR are complementary. You can’t close a sale if you’re invisible in the market. And you can’t close a sale unless you’re trusted and seen as a credible supplier of goods and services.

Public relations diagram explainer

Key differences between marketing and PR

People are savvier than ever and can clearly recognise when a marketing effort is made to influence them to buy something. They are sceptical of advertising or block/ignore it entirely, and, increasingly, they are aware of influencers trying to plug brands and services.

PR activities and messages delivered through news coverage, journalists writing about the organisation, thought leadership through bylines from your senior leaders, and speaking at conferences and on podcasts are subconsciously regarded by consumers and your target audiences as more legitimate. That coverage has not been bought. It has been earned on merit because your company is in some way special, a leader, innovative or different.

Independent media coverage brings a credible source to back up your organisation’s claims in its marketing efforts. People will only believe so much of what you say, but they will believe it more when a third-party (i.e. your customer) says it or the media writes about it.

Marketing and PR complement each other, and if you can afford to invest in both and streamline communications across all platforms and touch points, you can reap faster ROI on both. But, they can be engaged independently of each other. Many startups have invested only in PR to drive awareness in the early stages and decided not to spend money on advertising.

Both marketing and PR functions have become more complex in modern business and require specific expertise in each discipline to maximise success. A jack-of-all-trades approach rarely works.

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Now read this:

Why PR isn’t the best strategy if you just want quick sales