What is public relations and why does it differ from marketing?

There are a lot of elements to a business for entrepreneurs to consider. From managing inventory, to keeping on top of your financial situation, to hiring and training staff, every moving piece of owning a business requires equally important parts of your attention.

Which is why many small business owners don’t fully understand the differences between marketing and public relations, and it’s an important distinction to make. While PR does fall under the larger umbrella of marketing, there are many significant distinctions that set PR apart. And it’s important for PR professionals to think differently than marketers in order to see success.

But what are these differences and why does it matter? Here are the four main ares where PR differs from marketing.

PR builds relationships


That ‘R’ in PR is there for a reason. PR is all about relationships, and that goes beyond your relationships with your customers. Where marketing looks at 4P’s, PR looks at one: people.

A business works with several types of people, or stakeholders. Of course, there’s the customer. But there’s also suppliers, partners, personal networks, and sometimes even government. And, most often related to PR, there’s media. PR tactics are what work to cultivate long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with any and every stakeholder. When those tactics are executed well, PR creates an environment for marketing to thrive.

PR is about brand

While every element of marketing does work to strengthen a brand, PR is laser focused on building and strengthening a brand. Rather than work to generate leads, PR is critical in sharing your brand’s message in a clear, consistent way. PR activities are what hook people into your story and build your business’ community.

Why is this important? A strong, engaging brand is step number one in converting those marketing leads to life-long customers. This is why PR professionals work hand-in-hand with marketers to ultimately grow and strengthen a business’ customer base.

PR can’t think about the sale

When developing content, PR professionals think differently than marketers. No matter the specialty of the marketer, from social media marketing to print advertising, their thoughts are often with where the customer is in the sales funnel and how to get that customer to finalize a sale.

A PR professional looks more at the bigger picture of the brand and asks ‘who cares’ more than ‘how do I move you from point A to point B’. PR professionals look for the bigger story and the significance of the brand/product/person and why the audience would be interested in learning more.

PR is key in saving a business when crisis hits


Though no one wants it to happen, a crisis can hit any and all businesses. You don’t have to be Apple or Nike to encounter a public relations nightmare. If this happens, this is where an experienced PR professional can help, and a marketing professional should step back.

Ideally, a business in crisis would have already been working on strengthening their PR and they’ve entered the crisis with a pre-established clear and consistent message. This is the best foundation to manage a crisis from. A marketing foundation wouldn’t be as strong because of its focus on the sales funnel, rather than the ‘so what’.

So what does my business need, PR or Marketing?

In an ideal world, your business would have both PR professionals and marketing experts supporting you. But let’s be more realistic. Your business needs to look for an experienced professional that understands how to blend PR and marketing to work together, and when you need to focus on one more than the other.

In simpler terms? You need someone who is comfortable working in both worlds. This is even more critical in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.

Need support in figuring out where your business should focus? Book a 30 minute strategy call with us!

Megan te Boekhorst

I brought my West Coast soul to the city of Toronto in order to build the creative empire of my dreams. In 2018, I started Sequoia Content Studio, a boutique PR and content agency that supports lifestyle businesses not only tell their story, but ensure it actually gets heard. Just two weeks before the launch, I was honoured to be named PR in Canada's PR Person of the Year. Life has been non-stop ever since.

I live boldly, believe in raw honesty, and value unapologetic vulnerability. Living with depression, I've always had a voice in my head yelling at me, telling me I'm not enough and my work isn't enough. This voice is all too common for creatives. So I'm dedicated to creating authentic content and experiences that empower young creatives to build meaningful businesses, and meaningful lives.

Isn't it time you start living #thesequoialife?