The 4 (Big) Differences Between Marketing and Public Relations
You’ve heard it many times: the term “marketing” used interchangeably with “public relations.” But are they really the same thing?
While they may support one another and can be used to drive a similar outcome, marketing and public relations are very different.
The differences lie primarily in the ways marketing and public relations contribute to an organization’s success through strategic tactics, segmented audiences, message development and organization-wide goals.
Difference #1: Tactics
When it comes to marketing in the public sector, the primary tactic is using promotional material to target a specific audience. Marketing leverages promotional content on various channels including email, social media, blogs, billboards (like this example from MnDOT.gov) or television ads.
Public relations tactics in the public sector generally include a targeted media strategy including sending press releases and pitches to media to garner coverage in publications. Stakeholder communication is also valuable to any PR strategy, which can be accomplished in various platforms including social media.
While the platforms may overlap (sending an email to your audience with a recent published article, for example), the tactics vary because they are meant to connect with different audiences: marketing is geared towards citizen action, whereas public relations focuses more on stakeholders.
Difference #2: Segmented Audiences
Marketing and public relations are used to target different audiences. Marketing is typically used to reach an audience in the hopes that they will engage or participate in some way. In the public sector, this would be your citizen-based audience — whether they are new to your organization or have been interested in your information for years, marketing can be used to engage and re-engage your audience to help impact your outcomes.
Public relations is primarily about reputation building, and so targeted audiences include key stakeholders (legislators, event sponsors, employees, community partners, for example). A solid PR campaign includes at least some segmentation by audience, and uses paid or earned media to connect with them.
The screenshot to the side is a recent example of press coverage based on a public relations strategy from the U.S. Department of Education that used a press release to announce Green Ribbon Schools.
Difference #3: Message Development
Marketing messaging is typically recognized as material with an actionable tone. Think about the last email you received from your favorite clothing brand — they probably used messages like “50% off sale” or “Hurry before they’re all gone!” In the public sector, we use a similar tone and use Calls to Action (CTAs) to encourage our audience to click on a resource (like the example below) that are all outcome-driven.
In Public relations, messaging is typically reinforced with a positive, but factual tone — articles, speakers or bloggers are telling a story and public relations is used to develop that story in a way that builds a reputation for the better. Credible sources — no matter if they are local, statewide, national or international outlets — can greatly impact the visibility of your message.
Difference #4: Organization-Wide Goals
Ultimately, we use marketing and public relations to accomplish different goals in the public sector.
Marketing targets current and potential members of your audience, but seeks an outcome in return. In other words, marketing works in a way to expand audience reach and ultimately drive a specific metric. In the private sector, that is most often to increase sales. In the public sector, that might be license renewals, downloads of a vaccination guide, or volunteer recruitment.
Public relations is focused on maintaining or enhancing an organization’s reputation, and uses external platforms to tell a story, establish credibility or influence the public’s perspective on a topic. The goal here is to garner earned media that will increase your audience and stakeholders’ awareness of your program, service or campaign to maintain a certain view or perspective.
Both marketing and public relations play substantive roles in accomplishing public sector goals. While they can support one another in an integrated strategy, it’s important to understand the differences so you can track success.
Looking for more information on communications tactics? Check the blog next week for a post on “The Three ‘T’s to Communications: Tools, Tone and Timing.” Have questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.