Public Relations, Marketing, Advertising: What’s The Difference?

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Written by: Marissa Black-Smith

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It’s not uncommon for businesses to hire a public relations firm and expect to see results that coincide with advertising or marketing services. While all are great channels to get your business more well known, they all serve different purposes and one should not be used in place of another. Let’s break down the differences between them, and which one is best for your goals and objectives. 

Public Relations

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” So how does that fit into it as a service?

As a service, public relations is used to increase brand awareness, enhance public image, inform the public of company news, and overall generate positive publicity. It’s all about utilizing the media and building relationships with prominent journalists to tell others why your business is great. 

Public relations in essence is a type of persuasion, and the magic happens in the form of earned media. Earned media happens when public relations professionals are able to convince media professionals (i.e. journalists, reporters, reviewers, bloggers, etc.) why they should feature their client(s) in their content without paying for it. This leads to increased credibility in the eyes of the consumer, who trust the reporters who share the news. 

As a result of working with the media to generate coverage, seeing results can be instantaneous, but sometimes take weeks or months to see placement being that you’re working with someone else’s timeline and they control when to feature you, not you. 

Three things that are important to understand when it comes to PR –

  • Earned media ≠ guaranteed placement. 
  • It takes time and requires patience to see results.
  • Just one media mention won’t always “move the needle” of your goals – it often takes a strategic “drumbeat” of coverage over time to create momentum

Choose PR if you have these goals: 

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Build and maintain the company’s reputation
  • Be seen as thought leaders/industry experts
  • Promote new products/services/partnerships, etc.
  • Inform publics on company news/events 


Simply put, marketing is strategically communicating the value of your goods, services, or ideas to people who can buy it by focusing on market trends and revenue. The purpose of marketing is to promote your products and services so people become interested in them. 

When it comes to marketing as a service, marketers use content, which is created based on the demographics of the target market, to promote products or services. They must continuously research trends and consumer behavior to make sure that all marketing collateral is relevant and continues to resonate with the target audience. 

The thing about marketing that makes it so favorable is that it’s all about you and you control the narrative and own your media. As a company, you decide what you want your audiences to know or think about your brand through the content you create and how you distribute it. Unlike PR, you’re in control of your own timeline, not to mention marketing efforts produce quicker results and therefore a quicker return on investment (ROI). 

An umbrella term, there are several different types of marketing methods to choose from – content marketing, influencer marketing, search engine marketing, print media marketing, and many more. The method you choose depends entirely on what your goals and objectives are, as well as your target audience. Whether in-house or choosing to work with Digital Marketing Agencies it’s helpful to do your research and find the right fit. It’s also important to note that successful marketing initiatives often involve public relations and advertising efforts as well. 

Choose marketing if you have these goals: 

  • Boost awareness of a product or service
  • Increase website traffic
  • Gain more social media followers
  • Improve conversion rates
  • Generate leads
  • Share your story in your own words
  • Activate and energize consumers


Advertising is a marketing tactic that involves paying to promote a product or service. As stated by Shopify, “the goal of advertising is to reach people most likely to be willing to pay for a company’s products or services and entice them to buy.” We can view advertising as the final touchpoint that drives consumers to make a purchase.

When looking at the marketing dynamic, advertising fits in as a component of marketing that is used to inform, persuade, and remind consumers and is more “in your face” than other marketing tactics. The best part about using ads as part of your marketing mix is that you have total control over the process, and depending on how you advertise, you can reach very specific audiences using targets such as geographical location, job position, buying habits, and more. 

Not only do advertisers have control over who they want to see the ad, but they also have power over where the ad is placed and how long it runs for. Ads can serve many different purposes for companies, such as convincing consumers that they’re better than another brand, announcing new products and services, or reminding people about the benefits of their product or service and the value they will gain from it. Overall, regardless of the objective, successful advertising will increase sales and boost customer acquisition. 

Choose marketing if you have these goals: 

  • Increase sales
  • Acquire new customers 
  • Promote new products or services 
  • Convince consumers to switch to your brand
  • Encourage brand loyalty 

We hope this breakdown helps you better understand the difference between public relations, marketing, and advertising. Interested in getting started in any of them? Reach out to us today to discuss our marketing, advertising, and public relations services, and how they can help you achieve your business goals.

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