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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Lam

PR vs. marketing: What’s the difference?

As technology continues to advance, the lines between marketing and public relations have blurred. One of the main reasons that help explain this increasing connection between both functions is social media. Social media can serve numerous purposes that are often not delegated specifically to public relations or marketing departments. As noted by Rebecca Nee, an associate professor at San Diego State University, the increasing use of social media among public relations and marketing professionals is increasing the overlap between the two fields.

Despite these similarities, the purpose of each discipline remains distinct. To better understand the differences, it can be helpful to begin by looking at their definitions.

What is public relations?

“Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.” This well-known definition from Cutlip, Center and Broom’s Effective Public Relations portrays public relations as relationship management. To achieve goals, organizations must cultivate effective relationships with several different publics, such as employees, customers, local communities, or shareholders.

PR practitioners focus on changing their public’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Kay Seiden, associate director of marketing at Colorescience, a specialty skincare and cosmetics company, says that “public relations is thinking more about the insights that drive product development and driving awareness. It’s sharing the message and maintaining the relationships with people.”

What is marketing?

Marketing can be defined as a management function that identifies human needs and wants to deliver products and services to users in exchange for something of value to the provider. Marketing handles product, prize, distribution, and publicity. Marketing focuses on customer needs and wants, and is an element of exchange.

Seiden states that marketing is spending more time on consumer insight, such as “what’s driving the person to want to buy your products?” It’s about crafting the message to the right people and positioning it to them.

What’s the difference?

Overall, marketers are focused on securing market share by attracting customers. In other words, they are predominantly concerned about satisfying the needs and demands of current and potential customers. They do this by communicating, delivering and exchanging products or services that are valuable to customers. Public relations practitioners, on the other hand, are focused on building relationships with their publics. Relationships are not exchangeable products. They are developed over time by building trust and commitment with a wide range of publics.

Why do Public Relations and Marketing overlap?

Marketing and public relations practitioners have distinct roles within an organization. However, smaller organizations will often have the same person executing both PR and marketing. According to Nee, small companies most likely won’t invest in two different work positions. Our current use of the latest social media apps makes it easier for smaller companies to combine the two. However, organizations need to be able to distinguish the purpose and role of public relations and marketing.

By Britanny Lam

Brittany, a senior student at San Diego State University, is studying Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations. Lam is double minoring in Communications and Counseling & Social Change. Currently, she is a Marketing Intern at Colorescience and hopes to work in the beauty or fashion industry after graduation.

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