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The overlap between marketing and public relations

In many of my bios, I say that I’ve been in marketing and PR for 15 years. My first real job was as a graphic production artist in the PR department of a labor union, and after that I became a marketing writer.

In the last few months, however, I’ve had enormous difficulty defining where the line is between marketing and PR. A lot of what I’ve been asked to do as a marketing professional is within some official definitions of “public relations.” I write press releases, for example, and I have been the point of contact for industry analysts and have arranged meetings with industry reporters.

I have usually thought of the defining line as really going out and pushing for publicity, though. Yes, I can call a few of the analysts and reporters I know, but if you really want to make a push to get your product or service reviewed in a national or international publication, that’s not where my strengths are.

However, as I’ve been participating in PR chats on Twitter (#pr20chat and #solopr are two that I try to make every week), I’ve heard from PR professionals that they really don’t like defining themselves as publicists. This has really come to a head over the last couple of weeks when the New York Times let a business owner rant about PR, and several notable PR professionals responded to it (Kellye Crane’s great piece is here, and Gini Dietrich has a great piece here).

Which makes me feel dumb, since I’ve been using “PR” and “publicity” interchangeably, and, jeez, I even worked in a PR department. Unsurprisingly, the experts are vague about the definition of public relations. Grunig and Hunt (1984) define it as the management of communication between an organization and its “publics” (wow, I didn’t think that we were nouning adjectives until 1995!), but that covers advertising and marcom, two areas that are in the realm of marketing, not PR. Analyst relations, media relations, labor relations, and internal communications are other areas that are supposedly covered under the PR umbrella—but it still gets me wondering:

Where is the line between marketing and public relations? And if I don’t know where it is, having worked in the field(s) for over a decade, do both the marketing and PR industries need to reset customer expectations when starting projects?

Categories: Marketing
  1. February 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    I love your “which makes me feel dumb.” LOL!

    Want to know how I define it? Publicity is INK – getting stories about your clients or your company in the paper, on blogs, on TV, or on the radio.

    PR is communication, relationship building, expertise and credibility. It’s helping internal audiences speak with external audiences through different avenues. And, like you’ve pointed out, it sometimes covers advertising and marketing, too.

  2. Angie
    March 1, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Yes the two, marketing and public relations are often grouped together as one in the same. Marketing and public relations technology are both important factors in keeping a brand/ reputation in good standing. However the two can employ quite different tactics. Having everything under one roof could save some frustration, making communication between them much easier.

  3. March 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Nice post, Paul – self-deprecating humor is my fave! To your question, I look at marketing as anything involved in helping an organization sell its products/services, etc. This includes many “push” methods, like advertising and collateral. PR strategies are also under this umbrella, and provide the “pull” — educating the marketplace and other audiences on your organization’s strengths and benefits, which change perceptions and lead to sales. Good discussion!

  4. constanceyyz
    March 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Gotta love a post that tells it like it is, unlike a lot of the talk by so-called gurus that claim to have this all sorted out.

    I’m not clear what you mean by “reset customer expectations”, though. Can you explain?


  5. Scott Smith
    January 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Hey there, Paul. Good to see you on the Web… I think the last time I saw you in person was probably Jollyman Elementary or something like that, but anyway..

    So, I found this post interesting, especially as someone who has been in PR for almost 14 years. We have a lot of the same confusion as well, though admittedly, it is more so in PR crossing over to the media side, than in PR crossing to marketing. Regardless, I am thinking that all of these functions can effectively be placed within the marketing label, because the lines between the disciplines become increasingly blurry as the years pass.

    The major issue I have with this is simply that there are so many hacks entering the field who really have no idea how to be effective marketers or PR practitioners, so the professions are becoming diluted with hacks. Anyway, sorry for the peripheral topic, but I wanted to say hello, and good to see you!


  6. Dez
    February 7, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Marketing leads to a transaction (or a sale from a member of the organisation/product/service’s target market)

    Public Relations leads to an interaction (designed to build trust or open/continue a conversation with a member of the organisation/product/service’s target audience)

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