When I was transitioning from the public relations world to the marketing world, a question I often faced about my decision was “Wait, aren’t those the same thing?”

The TL;DR (Too long, didn’t read) version of my answer: “Sort of, but not really.”

Because that’s a really vague and confusing answer to give someone, here is a more in-depth explanation of the differences and similarities between PR and marketing, and how they often intertwine each other.

Reputation vs Sales

As a PR practitioner, my job was to pitch the media a story about my client in the hopes of getting page views or print coverage. Then, the coverage would be calculated into a formula that would spit out advertising expenses that were saved by getting the client published for free. It would also give my client positive exposure to potential customers who might recognize them next time they’re out shopping.

Whereas in marketing, our goal is directly sales related. We’re creating content to expose you to our client and their product. No media middle-man required. However, these wires can be crossed when the marketing tool gets the attention of the media. My personal favorite example of this was the legendary smackdown by a Wendy’s social media manager that led to a user deleting his Twitter account. While the episode was written about profusely, that wasn’t its goal.

Ultimately, the goal of public relations is to sell a client or a message in a positive way and generate sales through a positive reputation. Whereas marketing’s main goal is directly related to sales.

Measuring Success

A great way to understand how these two differ and relate to each other is to look at how each measures success.

Success for a marketer might look like:

  • An increase in conversations from current customers, potential customers, and the general public about a product.
  • Did the product being marketed meet or exceed the sales goals?

While success for a public relations pro might look like:

  • An increase in conversations from current customers, potential customers, and the general public about a company.
  • Positive press in relevant top-tier and trade publications and broadcast outlets about a product or the company as a whole.

The Overlap

Social media is the source of the largest overlap between PR and marketing. Ultimately, you need to be able to do a little of both in order to succeed in the other. The end goals—selling products and exposing people to a company—are too intertwined: If the products aren’t good, the client might not have a positive public image, and if people aren’t connecting with the company, they’re probably not going to buy the products. As a social media specialist, I stand between these two goals. On any given day I write content for public consumption with the intention of selling my clients’ products, but with the potential to affect the company’s public perception.


Page and Lorraine spent some time chatting about this topic recently. Listen to the episode now:
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