Answer: Public relations and marketing are related yet separate disciplines, and both are integral to the success of a company. Marketing is defined as the advertising strategies and content initiatives that promote a company’s products or services to is consumers. It also includes areas such as market research and marketing analytics which are used to target specific audiences and determine the success or failure of marketing campaigns. Public relations focuses on a company’s overall brand identity and reputation (both related to and independent of its products or services); it is defined as all the communications that uphold an organization’s relationship with the public, its consumers and investors, and other stakeholders. Depending on the organization, marketing and public relations may be distinct functions or integrated into one group or department.

Recently, there has been a movement towards integrating all external-facing communications, including marketing and public relations, into a multidisciplinary field often referred to as integrated marketing or integrated marketing communications. Another term that is commonly used is relations to marketing and public relations is strategic communication, which often refers to both internal and external-facing communication methods to support an organization’s goals and mission. Furthermore, while marketing is often relegated to the corporate sphere, strategic communications can encompass public relations campaigns and media strategies for political figures and political parties, non-profit community relations and fundraising, and initiatives by local, state, and federal government agencies. In addition, strategic communication if often concerned with organizational communication such as interdepartmental communication, employee training, human resources support, and more.

Despite these distinctions between marketing, public relations, and strategic communication broadly speaking, the core writing, multimedia, and analytical skills required of professionals are nevertheless fairly consistent across each of these disciplines.

What is the difference between Marketing, Public Relations, and Strategic Communication?

Marketing and public relations are related in that both are types of communication between a company or organization and its consumers, investors, and members of the general public. However, while marketing is defined as the promotion of a company’s products or services to current and potential consumers, public relations (as the term implies) is defined as the communications that shape the relationship between an organization and the larger public. Public relations also concerns itself with the public’s perception of an organization’s identity, brand, mission statement, and larger impact.

Marketing and public relations strategies often overlap, and in many ways these two disciplines rely on each other. For example, ethical marketing practices build trust between a company and its consumers, and is therefore good for public relations. On the flip side, excellent public relations communications can build consumers’ and/or investors’ trust in a company’s brand and mission statement, which subsequently supports the company’s marketing initiatives by giving them a foundation of consumer loyalty.

Another example might be the use of a company’s social media channels to both promote their products or services and monitor customer feedback. In this example, marketing professional may create social media campaigns designed to promote products to specific audiences (e.g., targeting specific demographics by age, gender, location, or profession) and then use social media analytics to measure the results of those campaigns. At the same time, public relations professionals may use those same social media channels to reach consumers to promote brand awareness or corporate social responsiblity initiatives, while also monitoring social media for issues or negative feedback related to a company’s products or services.

The interdependence of marketing and public relations in industry settings is the reason why many organizations have begun integrating their public relations and marketing departments, and/or having their marketing and PR professionals work together to create a cohesive strategy for external-facing, cross-channel communications and media. From this movement, the field of integrated marketing communications, or IMC, was established. To meet the needs of the shifting marketing and public relations environments in corporations and other environments, there have been an increasing number of educational programs at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels that combine training in marketing and public relations.

As mentioned previously, marketing, public relations, and integrated marketing communications are all forms of external-facing communication methods, initiatives, and strategies that support the success of an organization. Strategic communication encompasses these three disciplines (marketing, PR, and IMC), but also includes internal communication strategies and optimization. Within an organization, strategic communication is at play in interdepartmental communication, the clarification and dissemination of company mission statements and mandates in internal communications, and human resources and employee development.

In what ways are Marketing, Public Relations, and Strategic Communication similar?

The similarities and distinctions between marketing, public relations, and strategic communication can be confusing, particularly for those who want to enter communication and media for their career. However, it is important to keep in mind that, despite the differences in these three disciplines, there is also a significant degree of overlap in the skills that are necessary to enter and excel in each of them. In other words, marketing, public relations, and strategic communication require similar core tasks and skills, regardless of whether one works at an ad agency, a large corporation, a small startup, a government department, or a local non-profit. Below is a list of responsibilities that are often expected of marketing, public relations, and strategic communication specialists:

  • Consumer/Stakeholder Research: For nearly all communication professionals, research is key to informing communication strategies, whether they be for consumer-facing marketing content, government campaigns, community education, or public relations management such as crisis communication. Employing qualitative and quantitative research methods to determine the needs of one’s target audiences is a critical step in all strategic communication. Research can yield powerful insights on needs, preferences, pain points, and other important data that enables communication specialists to tailor messaging more effectively.
  • Creative Multimedia Messaging: Whether one’s target audience is consumers, voters, vulnerable communities in need of health support, employees of an organization, or potential business partners, the ability to use different media forms to design creative and engaging messaging is a powerful asset. At the end of the day, all communication professionals, regardless of specific field (marketing, PR, IMC, organizational communication, etc.) are required to connect with other human beings through the written word and other form of multimedia (e.g., visuals and images, videos, television commercials, radio advertisemnts…). Media creativity and versatility (and by extension, knowledge of the latest digital communication technologies and how to use them) can therefore go a long way in helping one be competitive in the communication industry.
  • Media Analytics: While often considered to be a marketing-specific practice, quantifying and analyzing the impact of media campaigns and initiatives are also important responsibilities for public relations and other strategic communication professionals. Using analytics software that enables them to measure web traffic and/or audience engagement, for example, can help communication professionals continue to hone their communication strategies.
  • Social Media Management: Social media has become more than a platform for the marketing of products, services, and personal brands. It is now also a way for companies to connect directly with their consumers and other stakeholders (a good PR practice), and has become an incredibly important factor in the design and dissemination of political arguments and messages.
  • Stakeholder Relationship Management: Empathizing with and effectively managing relationships with stakeholders is a responsibility that all communication and media professionals should have. While this responsibility is most explicitly part of the public relations discipline, consumer trust and customer relations is a core part of marketing, while strategic communication specialists in government spheres must establish trust with constituents, political allies, and other players in the political arena. Moreover, for an organization to run effectively, internal/organizational communication specialists need to understand what motivates employees and entire teams, and to leverage that knowledge to support employees’ needs and also create cohesive and motivating internal communications (e.g. mission statements, announcements, training programs, etc.).