Public Relations vs Marketing vs Advertising

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Communicating a message to a target audience is something people have been doing since the beginning of human civilization. How you deliver the information significantly impacts how the crowd reads it and takes action.

Public Relations, Marketing, and Advertising are three ways companies use media to reach potential consumers, but there are distinctions. How are they different? What is the main difference of each one? This guide will outline what separates the concepts.

What is Public Relations?

Public Relations (PR) is at the “softer” end of the spectrum. It is a practice that entails giving information to the public to guide its perception of different concepts.

Businesses use Public Relations to create a positive image with the public or improve it when negative news arises. Public relations uses more of an informational approach than selling a product or service.

It is often called the “professional maintenance of a favorable public image.”

What that means is PR professionals pay very close attention to the beneficial relationships they have with the media and the general public. It is the relationship that can help raise the visibility of a new product where that visibility may not be possible without it.

Communicating the details of a PR campaign becomes a strategic effort. News stories not only need to share positive information about the company, but they need to communicate effectively to the specific audience.

Public Relations professionals understand the value of a positive reputation. Reputation management always seeks to build and maintain a “mutually-beneficial” relationships. For example, a PR team often has a main goal of making it easy to get the media coverage (simplifying the media professional’s job) by issuing clear Press Releases. Vague or contradictory messaging is never the best way to convey your message.

This strategic communication process helps the sales team of a small business reach a broader audience through media outlets and other channels.

pr vs marketing vs advertising
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History of Public Relations

You can find examples throughout human history where people tried to influence the public. The first examples of public relations date back to ancient times. One of the first occurred in what is now known as Iraq. A clay tablet from about 4,000 years ago showed farmers in Sumer how to improve their crops.

Later, people found public relations as a valuable tool to promote themselves. For example, Julius Caesar of Rome used public relations through a biography campaign. In the bio, Caesar emphasized his military accomplishments to convince the Roman people that he was the best fit for leading the empire.

The printing press was a significant invention and it changed the public relations field. In the 17th century, a civil war broke out in England between parliamentarians and the royalists. Each side in the conflict printed pamphlets and used them to convince the public of their righteousness. These tactics laid the groundwork for modern public relations in World War I and II. The U.S. and other nations used propaganda to rally support for the war efforts.

People label Ivy Lee as the father of modern public relations. Early in his career, Lee wrote “A Declaration of Principles.” Lee says people should conduct public relations work openly. It is a way to supply news but not to advertise. The intention is to speak openly on behalf of a business or a public institution. Lee is famous for his work with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the Rockefeller family, for whom he enhanced public perception.

Today, many companies worldwide use PR to communicate with and listen to their customers. Though Public Relations is a way to enhance brand awareness, businesses use it more for informational purposes.

For example, companies use recent blog posts to teach customers about best practices. A health organization may write about the best diets for people with a specific condition. Or, in the spirit of the first public relations campaign, an agricultural company can teach readers how to improve crop production for their fields.

pr vs marketing vs advertising
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What is Marketing?

Marketing is the term for drawing potential customers and clients to your product or service. Marketing teams use a variety of methods when creating marketing campaigns to draw attention to specific products and services. Marketing is an important component of product launches to maximize the “splash.”

Industry experts use market research as a guide to share their marketing communications. The message must have meaningful information for the potential audience to see themselves actually using the product or service. This is key for the ultimate success of an overall marketing strategy.

Marketing departments often use a variety of channels to reach potential customers. Whether you do it yourself, or hire a professional marketing firm, marketing strategies can include social media marketing (often called digital marketing), special events for the promotion of products, and many other forms of marketing activities.

History of Marketing

As early as 1500 BC, Mesopotamian societies used a stamp on their products to cite quality control. Many believe this was the first use of what we now know as a logo. Later, Marketing benefitted like Public Relations did with the invention of the printing press. Now “logos” could be mass produced and reach of broader audience.

This led to magazines, billboards, radio, television, and to the modern day Internet!

What is Advertising?

PR vs Marketing vs Branding
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Advertising is a concept long used by humans to draw attention to their products or services. There are many forms of advertising, but the one you’re likely most familiar with is commercial in nature, managed often by advertising agencies. Companies use this type of advertising to build a brand. They use their commercials to shape how consumers view the business.

For example, Coca-Cola developed the “Share a Coke” campaign in which consumers bought a bottle of Coke and shared it with someone whose name was on it. Coca-Cola used this advertisement and others to promote its values, including sharing. Think of advertising as a way for companies to reach the consumer directly, once they identify their target market.

History of Advertising

The history of advertising goes beyond TV commercials and radio jingles. To find its origins, go back a few thousand years. The Egyptians used papyrus and ink to make posters and convey sales messages.

One of the first known advertisements in human history is from Thebes, an Egyptian city on the Nile River. In the ad, a fabric vendor asked for information on the whereabouts of his servant. In exchange, he’d pay a piece of gold. He used the same paper to advertise his store, where he tailors the fabrics to each person’s tastes.

Fast forward to the Renaissance, and you start to see the modern forms of advertising take place. In the 16th and 17th centuries, people made gazettes as the early versions of newspapers and magazines. By the 18th century, the British created the first daily newspaper called The Daily Courant. Advertising was essential for The Courant and other newsletters because it mitigated the cost of printing.

Innovations in technology led to broader opportunities for advertising. In the early 1920s, the radio took off as people enjoyed audial entertainment for the first time. Companies were quick to take advantage of newly available marketing tactics. In 1922, the Queensboro Corporation in New York City paid $50 to WEAF to promote its apartment building in Jackson Heights.

pr vs marketing vs advertising
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A couple of decades later, companies took to TV for their advertising. The first paid advertisement happened in July 1941 when WNBT aired a commercial for Bulova, a watchmaker, before a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game. After World War II, TV rose in popularity. In 1950, only 4 million households owned a TV set. However, by 1960, over 45 million households had a TV in their homes.

Communicating a Message

For thousands of years, humans have used various methods to get their message across to audiences. From papyrus to radio and TV airwaves, advertising, marketing, and public relations concepts have come a long way.

These ideas are similar, but they’re different in intention and practice.

About the Author

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Beth Rush

Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor and Content Manager at Body+Mind.

Body+Mind features articles about diet, fitness, mental health, parenting and health care.





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