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. 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. Master’s in communication programs in Marketing and Public Relations often have overlapping course concepts, but will also have classes that are unique to their discipline. Consequently, while distinct communication programs do exist for each discipline, there are also master’s in communication programs that offer a single specialization in both marketing and public relations.

What is the difference between Marketing and Public Relations?

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, 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.

The interdependence of marketing and public relations for a company is the reason why many master’s in communication programs in public relations or marketing have similar or overlapping coursework. In fact, some programs even have specific specializations in marketing and public relations.

The Differences Between a Master’s in Communication Program with a Specialization in Marketing versus Public Relations

While there is often substantial overlap in courses and learning outcomes between master’s in communication degrees in public relations versus marketing, these programs are nevertheless distinct. The differences (and similarities) between marketing and public relations are reflected in the coursework of master’s in communication programs that focus on either of these disciplines.

To help illustrate these differences, the table below contains examples of courses that distinguish one type of program from the other, as well as courses that may be found in both types of programs. The following course titles and descriptions should be used as examples only, as actual courses vary by program and institution.

Communication Courses (Common)
Marketing-Specific Courses
PR-Specific Courses
  • Digital Communications Strategy
  • Media Management and Analytics
  • Brand Identity and Reputation Management
  • Marketing Communications Management
  • Marketing and Consumer Research
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Creative Messaging
  • Public Relations Writing
  • Media Relations
  • Corporate Communications Leadership
  • Public Relations Campaigns
  • Crisis Communication

Courses for Master’s in Communication Programs with a Concentration in Marketing Communication:

The Marketing Communication courses below teach students how to achieve the following marketing objectives: identify the value-add of a given product or service, determine target customers or consumers, create content to reach these customers, and analyze the impact of these communications.

  • Marketing Communications Management: How to design and implement different types of marketing initiatives that drive towards the same goal. How to measure the impact of marketing communications on target consumers, and adjust written and multimedia messaging accordingly.
  • Marketing and Consumer Research: How to conduct marketing research, including consumer data collection (ex. purchase behaviors and customer experience surveys) and analysis. How to identify customers’ needs, preferences, and pain points, and leverage these insights through relevant and impactful marketing content.
  • Social Media Marketing: How to use social media as a platform for the marketing of products and services. How to connect with new communities online and interact with influencers and potential customers through channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.
  • Creative Messaging: How to use different types of media to design creative and compelling messaging for current and potential customers. How to plan and implement creative, cross-channel media campaigns to impact a wide audience.

Courses for Master’s in Communication Programs with a Concentration in Public Relations:

The Public Relations courses below all focus on handling communications between an organization and the public, as well as communications within an organization. As the mission of public relations is to optimize an organization’s reputation and its relationship with the public and various stakeholders, courses in this area cover concepts in media relations, crisis management, consumer and public education, and reputation management.

  • Public Relations Writing: How to write effective press releases and other public statements, public service announcements, correspondence with media, newsletters and fact sheets, and white papers. The principles of public relations writing, including upholding an organization’s mission and brand identity, create clear, effective, and ethical messaging to establish public trust, and navigating difficult communications between an organization and stakeholders.
  • Media Relations: How to work with media organizations and reporters to optimize a company’s relationship with these parties. How to develop strategic media plans, generate and control media coverage, handle crisis situations, and respond to consumer and/or media backlash.
  • Corporate Communications Leadership: The types and channels of communication that are important within an organization. How to optimize communications between management and employees, and how to ensure that all employees within an organization are communicating effectively and understand the organization’s mission statement, values, and brand identity.
  • Crisis Communication: How to handle different types of crisis situations that impact an organization and an organization’s relationship with the public. How to develop public service announcements in response to scenarios ranging from natural disasters to product recalls or structural changes in a company.

Common Courses for Master’s in Communication Programs in both Disciplines

Courses common to both Marketing and Public Relations specializations focus on analyzing the impact of media campaigns, leveraging digital technologies and the insights they can provide on audience responsiveness and consumer behavior, and the development and maintenance of an organization’s brand identity.

  • Digital Communications Strategy: The latest digital media technologies and how to incorporate them into strategic communication plans. How to use written, audio, and visual content to create compelling narratives about an organization, its mission, and the products and services it provides.
  • Media Management and Analytics: How to manage traditional and digital media campaigns and ensure that these campaigns remain focused on an organization’s core objectives. How to apply research insights to communication strategies, measure the impact of media campaigns, and adjust an organization’s communication strategy over time according to the needs and concerns of consumers and/or stakeholders.
  • Brand Identity and Reputation Management: The components of a company’s brand identity, and how to create a corporate brand that inspires and maintains the trust of consumers and the public. How to address problems that may arise that impact a company’s image or reputation.

Master’s in Communication Programs in Marketing and PR

Some master’s in communication programs embrace the similarities between the principles and methods of marketing and public relations, and offer specializations that encompass both disciplines. These programs offer a mix of classes in marketing and public relations strategies, and may be suitable for students who wish to have the flexibility of working in either marketing or public relations post-graduation (or for those who wish to work in both fields simultaneously). However, prospective students should also note that completing a master’s degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations does not preclude them from obtaining a role in marketing; likewise, graduates of master’s in marketing communication programs may find that the skills they build in their program translate well into public relations roles, depending on the specific job and company.

Ultimately, students of master’s in communication programs are responsible for what they learning during their program of study. Many master’s in communication programs allow students a degree of autonomy in their course selections after they complete a core set of required courses. Regardless of their concentration, students should research the types of professional communication roles that interest them and the skills and experiences they require, and use this information to shape their program of study in order to build the knowledge, skills, and background they need to succeed post-graduation.