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Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations: What's the difference?
We are asked about advertising, marketing and public relations, but not as separate services or categories, but as interchangeable synonyms. The first hint here, they are not! Also, just to silence any rumors that marketing and sales are the same- they are not. Here is an easy breakdown of the difference between the three critical communication tactics.
Most people are familiar with advertising. This is the act of crafting a message, identifying the audience to whom you wish to communicate and purchasing the placement. There is a key phrase there, “purchase the placement.” Advertising brings two strong advantages to the table. First, you can basically say anything you want and second, you can deliver it anytime and anyplace. The drawback, it costs to do so, and ever-savvy consumers understand the message is positioned. Don't give up on advertising, it is a viable tool, especially with the power of targeted digital ads. It is simply important to craft your message carefully, choose the method of delivery wisely and understand the budget needed to convert a consumer.
Marketing is a bit trickier to explain. Marketing is the positioning of a product or service prior to distribution. This can include the creation of a marketing plan, branding and design, social and digital strategy execution or any number or ways to plan and execute a product or service roll-out. Marketing costs, but it is more of a "front-end" solution, rather than at the point of execution. Marketing can generate leads or interest, but sales must close those leads. The upside of a great marketing plan is the forethought and execution of every little piece of the puzzle prior to an offering. Generally, there is not a downside to marketing. It costs, for the planning and execution, but can be measured and adjusted during the life of a campaign.
Awe yes, good ole "PR!" How many things can be bundled under this topic. Customer service, networking, sales - if you are doing some "PR" in the community, you must be moving the needle. The reality is, public relations is a very technical and highly evolving industry. Just as recently as the late 90s, press releases were sent through the U.S. Postal Service using words like "embargo" to ensure timing was just right for announcements and statements. Today, public relations has become an amalgamation of social media, influencers and traditional media outlets. Once again, a variety of other services like media relations, community relations, investor relations, etc. can be found within this category. The key here is true public relations, in our opinion, is the truest form of communicating. A good public relations practitioner can be judged on three very simple measurements. Can that person write well, in AP-style, to convey the message? Is that person able to deliver (pitch) a story well? Do they have the relationships to ensure the message is published and/or posted? If you answer "no" to any of these, then move on. The reality is, there is no guarantee a story will be published (unless you advertise), but if you are paying a public relations practitioner, they should be able to navigate, shape and pitch stories in such a way the propensity for them to be published is very high.
By no means are these the only communication tools used. Not by a long shot. There are subcategories within these and if you want to get even more technical, there are divisions after determining if audiences are internal or external. However, one can gain a sense of the differences and hopefully use them as an advantage the next time a communication strategy, vendor or boss comes knocking on your office door.