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Companies need both marketing and public relations, Part I

Aren’t marketing and PR more or less interchangeable?

Many professionals are unclear about the differences between marketing and public relations (PR). Aren’t they more or less interchangeable? Not really… They are, however, complementary. To build a strong brand, you need both marketing and PR.

The primary difference between the two? Marketing is focused on selling your products/services to targeted customer groups, while PR seeks to build credible third party support for your company’s products/services.

PR and marketing require distinctive skill sets

PR specialists convince the ‘right people,’ e.g., reporters, editors, and bloggers, to write positive stories about a client’s goods or services. — How that has been achieved is highlighted in the obituary of PR revolutionary, Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud:

“Mr. Bernays was one of the first people to expand what had been a narrow concept of press agentry, or working to influence government policy, into a far more ambitious — and controversial — realm of seeking to influence and change public opinion and behavior.”

How did he accomplish this? He recruited opinion leaders like physicians, scientists and celebrities to promote products; created publicity stunts (e.g., women demonstrating for the ‘right to smoke’); hired focus groups to uncover attitudes and biases; and, was a pioneer in political propaganda.

Such PR strategies have often had a much greater impact than advertising. A recent study from 2014 by Nielsen concluded that PR is “almost 90% more effective than advertising: On average, expert content lifted familiarity 88 percent more than (advertising) content…”

Three key differences between public relations and marketing–

  1. Marketing, aka, advertising is paid for communication, often infused with graphics and other visuals to persuade a general audience on the merits of a product or service. PR, by contrast, is ‘free’ (as in being quoted in your local newspaper), and based on third-party validation (think Steve Jobs’ amazing behind-the-scenes clout with the media, even since his death).
  2. Marketing messages are strictly controlled, often visual in content, calculated to persuade a target demographic on the merits of a product or service. PR, by comparison, seeks to build trust via written content through credible ‘independent’ media. Final messaging is surrendered to third party sources of public information–with results that are not entirely predictable.
  3. Marketing is the science and art of packaging products or services in a way that appeals to a mass audience. PR, on the other hand, goes beyond basic product/service information to create newsworthy publicity. If that effort is heavy-handed, it will backfire. If done with skill and finesse, it can result in exponential growth in company revenue.

In Part II of this blog, I plan to discuss the advantages and challenges of Internet-based PR.

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