The Blurred Line between PR and Marketing

blurred line of PR and Marketing
photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Where does marketing end and PR start?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself on the daily while doing PR at an inbound marketing agency. Is content creation a PR move or is it a marketing tool? Who gets credit for leads, free attention or visibility?

In order to solve this, I took a look at the worldly definitions of each.

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” according to the PRSA. And then there’s this definition: “Public relations is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.” The latter is a 1984 explanation from a “Managing Public Relations” book by James E. Grunning, otherwise found as the first sentence on PR’s Wikipedia page.

So PR is about relationship building, but it’s also about spreading information between a business and its audience. You can’t expect to build relationships and share information without material to work with, so therefore PR must also encompass some form of creative delivery system.

But wait, that sounds eerily familiar.

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” – American Marketing Association

So PR is how information is spread, while marketing is the actual content. Right?

Maybe. But what about inbound marketing? That has a similar focus too.

In its most publicized form, inbound marketing is a spin on traditional marketing techniques that looks to earn the attention and interest of consumers by designing and providing alluring content. Traditional marketing techniques (often referred to as outbound marketing) are things such as paper mail, cold-calling, radio, TV advertisements, spamming and telemarketing that buy attention from consumers. In contrast, inbound marketing employs things such as blogs, videos, enewsletters, SEO, podcasts and social media marketing to capture and retain the attention of consumers.

But doesn’t that almost sound like relationship building?

Inbound marketing wants to show you something it thinks you’re interested in, and it’s willing to do some research on you in order to pull it off. Therefore, isn’t inbound marketing intrinsically wining and dining its consumer base to warm them up for its ultimate goal: getting a lead?

Take for instance a charity organization wanting more donations in order to install a water well in a developing community. If it were to use more traditional marketing techniques such as TV advertisements or cold-calling simply asking for donations, chances are it’s going to face difficulty in meeting financial obligations.

However, what if it enacted a tracking system to show donors exactly where their money is going to? Donors could log online and look at interactive videos and pictures of the equipment used to drill the well, and also see the people whom the well is helping. The charity company creates a working and direct relationship between business and consumer, and it’s because of inbound marketing techniques.

(P.S. That awesome charity business analogy sounded cool right? Well it’s actually a thing, and that thing is called Charity: Water.)

So now a new, more defined question has arisen: Where do inbound marketing methods end and PR methods start?

This is where I’ve come to believe that neither one can work effectively without the other. How does a sales team get leads? Marketing. How does the sales team keep leads? Public relations.

Public relations still relies heavily on media relations and media attention. Just like traditional media sources such as newspapers evolved into websites and online articles, traditional marketing techniques evolved into using more technology-based tools such as emails and websites.

Both marketing and public relations are keeping up with the times. Because of the technological advancements in how we receive our news updates of today, how that content is delivered, and even the content itself, the way that PR specialists and marketing experts perform their jobs can appear mirrored at times.

In example, let’s compare public relations to a telephone. The telephone started as a household appliance, wired and connected within a home, serving as one communication resource. It could relay phone calls from across the nation if you were home to grab it on the ring. If you missed a call, you wouldn’t realize instantly as there was no voicemail or missed calls list.

Public relations began as an image builder and public opinion creator. Often referenced back to times of war and political advancements, it served as a way for leaders to create a political image of themselves and work towards diplomatic resolutions or even just influence the public. It was primarily media focused at its start, generating results from coverage in newspapers.

Each creation started off with a distinct purpose, but a need for advancement and efficiency would recreate the original standards. The telephone needed to be wireless and transportable; public relations needed a wider range of communicative methods and strategies to reach different audiences.

Bring it forth to today. Look at how many applications we have on our cell phones (notice the name change too?). A calculator, flashlight, and GPS are all standard on a once simple two-way communicator. Public relations can be seen through online, video, pictures and advertisements in multitudes of channels and sources. They each matured over time in order to adapt to the changing environment.

The same concept can be used for marketing. How effective is that roadside billboard in comparison to a Facebook ad? The where of traditional marketing standards has changed. Contemporary marketing now focuses more on reaching direct audiences instead of scattered designs to reach as many as possible, and it does it with the increased application of technology.

While inbound marketing is something that some accept and some don’t, it would be superfluous to argue that marketing hasn’t evolved in the last couple of decades with ‘inbound’ as simply a new version. The same can be said for public relations and the methods and channels it uses.

Modern marketing tools such SEO, social media or blogs can all be used in either a PR or marketing way. Search engine optimization establishes what the perceived image and related topics of a company can be; so it’s an image builder while also directing precise traffic to a place of accurate results. A simple Facebook post can introduce a new product/ service or it can establish a company opinion. Blogs can be informative in either a marketing tone of “here’s what we offer” or a PR angle of “why this product is good for consumers”.

Technology. That’s why I (and likely you by now) have questioned where the line is drawn between PR and marketing. It’s all about the tools used. We may have a similar message to share, but we are looking for different results. How we get those results will overlap, but it’s how we interpret and analyze that information that defines the difference between public relations and marketing.

*This is a guest article by April Stratemeyer”

April Stratemeyer
April is a recent college graduate and currently working for a marketing agency in Tampa, FL, that focuses on Inbound Marketing. She is a junior account manager where she writes blog posts, monitors social media, and creates and designs content for multiple clients. She has loved writing her entire academic career and is ecstatic to bring her skills into a chosen career path of public relations. While inbound marketing may sound a little separated from a PR background, April came to realize that the two interlace together more than she ever expected. She loves PR and establishing the best image and direction possible for clients and understands none of it would mean anything if not delivered in the right way. Her growing field of expertise lies in the areas of SEO, social media, blogging, content design, and of course marketing and public relations. She writes about what she knows best and shares her take on what new or upcoming trends means for the industry and consumers alike.
April Stratemeyer
April Stratemeyer

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