The Difference Between PR, Marketing and Advertising

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By request, I thought we'd take a step back from all the ‘how to work with PR agencies and brands,” for a quick foundational course in fashion PR 101.With many bloggers coming into the space with dollar signs in their eyes and a growing expectation that brands should pay bloggers for any type of coverage,  bloggers and publicists can get frustrated with one another because of a basic misunderstanding of goals and intent. It is my hope that by clarifying that a PR agency's job is first and foremost to secure editorial (non-paid) coverage on behalf of a client, it can help bloggers understand how to move forward once receiving a pitch or press release. Of course, it helps to understand exactly how public relations differs from marketing and advertising, and to acknowledge that bloggers are a new form of media and that increasingly, publicists are managing paid blogger engagements, as well as more traditional pitching.

The following is an except from Ready to Launch: The PR Couture Guide to Fashion Media Coverage, available on Amazon.

Pick up any public relations textbook and it  will likely define public relations as a management function. This a fancy way of saying that that PR practitioners should  play at the big-kid table with other top-level executives in areas like sales, marketing, and research and development. The textbook will likely also say something about PR being responsible for the communication between an organization (brand, company) and its publics (customers, neighbors, partners, board members). It will tell you that the goal of PR is to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship, so that both the organization and public get something of value out of the exchange.

So, public relations is a a part of business strategy and management, focused on the relationship between the company and the people out there who are in any way connected to that company, with the purpose of making good things happen for all.

Of course, in practice  public relations varies wildly across different industries as well as from agency to agency. Additionally, PR has had to evolve rapidly in the past several years due to the mass adoption of online communication channels (Facebook, Twitter) and the explosion of traditional media’s online publications, online-only publications like virtual magazines, and user-generated publishing tools like blogs, Instagram, and Pinterest. These new communication tools often stand at the intersection of advertising, marketing and even customer service, which has led to an increasingly blurred line between what public relations should manage. In its most optimized form, these communication channels lead to greater, more integrated collaboration and campaign development  with other communication departments.

As Lee Odden of Top Rank Marketing explained on HeidiCohen.com, “Today’s PR professional understands the intersection of content, social technologies and marketing in ways that achieve common PR objectives: credibility, thought leadership and influence. It’s less about managing information flow and pushing content – and more about creating content, networking and engagement.”

Keeping this in mind, it can be most helpful to clarify what public relations is by first examining what it is not.


The difference between marketing and PR can be a bit nebulous. Both require strategic planning and are concerned with achieving business goals. Both focus on the brand image and unique selling point (marketing) or key messages (PR). In fact, there is a longstanding debate about whether or not PR (along with advertising) is a part of the “marketing mix” (traditionally price, product, place, and promotion) or should be treated as its own separate department. The answer to that question often depends on who you are asking – a publicist or a marketer!

If public relations is concerned with driving awareness, building brand reputation and “the story,” marketing is more explicitly concerned with “the sale” and the bottom line. The messaging may be similar, and sales are a component of PR, but the marketing department is most often concerned with tactics to drive immediate purchases like e-mail marketing, coupons and signage. Public relations is still very much focused on securing media coverage. Of course, social media has changed things, and it’s often a toss-up as to which department is in charge of social media contests or negotiating paid blogger partnerships. The times of managing social media with a spreadsheet are long gone. Thanks to  various social tools social media collaboration is much more organized and easier to manage.


The difference between advertising and public relations is pretty straightforward. Essentially, advertising is paid for, meaning that companies purchase ad space in a magazine or a blog or on a billboard and then put the ad they have designed into the space they paid for. By paying for space, the company has total control over what is placed – both the image and message. Offline advertising like magazine ads or billboards are measured by how many impressions (views) the advertisement is projected to get. Online advertising like banner ads on blogs or a dedicated (paid for) email newslwtters are often measured by how much traffic theygenerates to the website, and how many people purchase from that link. Owned vs. Earned Media.

The nature of advertising means that it is often referred to as owned media, because the company essentially owns both the content and the space where the ad is placed. In contrast, the media relations function of public relations, the part where we pitch the media to cover clients in a newspaper, morning show, magazine, and so on, is  referred to as earned media. Companies don’t purchase  a story in the style section of the New York Times. Instead they pitch a reporter, editor, or news producer on the idea that the company or product has enough value or relevancy to merit coverage. And, unlike advertsing, outreach through public relations means that neither the publicist or the brand she represents has control over how the story is written or the product is portrayed.

Of course, implied third-party endorsement by an editor can carry more credibility among potential customers. For example, let’s imagine a young, professional woman flipping through Lucky Magazine.  A full-page advertisement from Diane von Furstenburg featuring a wine-colored wrap dress may have less impact on her than if a fashion editor lists the dress as her “fall must-have,” noting the flattering shape. The idea here is that the editor is a fashionable, industry expert, and as such that editor weilds a greater influence on our young professional friend, flipping through the magazine for a dress she to her job interview next week.

While public relations is often  less expensive than the cost of setting up a photo or video shoot, designing or editing an ad, and then paying thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars for placement, time is still money.  It takes time and skill for a PR professional to develop relationships with media, to create pitches customized to the needs of each individual media professional, and then craft multiple angles and opportunities to ensure ongoing coverage on behalf of clients. It requires creativity, strategy, and an investment of time and resources.

Despite the difference in cost, companies may choose to invest in advertising because it is more straightforward to measure, and there is more control over the message.

Public Relations

Fashion public relations often focuses primarily on securing media coverage for clients, through a variety of strategies and tactics. PR is also the communication function responsible for nurturing the relationship between a company and well, anybody who is interested. For practitioners, this may mean interfacing directly with customers or shareholders, performing crisis communication (the actions a company takes when something goes wrong), social media management, community outreach, and planning events, in addition to working with the media.

There are several blog posts here on IFB that will help you negotiate paid engagements, monetize your blog, build relationships with brands and grow your PR relationships, I hope this post gives you helpful background as you attempt each!

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8 Responses

  1. Tayler

    Great post! I definitely set up a better PR/Marketing plan for my blog. My downfall? Consistency. I need to take it more seriously because I really think it could do some good with my blog. I spend so much time on it, but don’t market it properly.



  2. Onianwah

    Wow! I work in Advertising Crosby and I must confess that the difference between all 3 (especially the difference between PR & Media) eludes me most of the time …. especially with the advent of Social Media – lol, we always have fights in the office over who should develop the online media plan for Clients; the media manager or I, the digital media manager.
    Thank you for this very indepth definition and I must say that it has thrown a whole new light for me.

    Lagos, Nigeria

  3. Lyndon Johnson

    While it is what most offer, the purpose of a PR agency is NOT to deliver media coverage. It SHOULD be to help companies build relationships with audiences. The media should be just one of them.


  4. Jonathan Goudy

    Crosby, I like your angle on this because most sub contracted agencies really struggle with the communication with the client. The client at the end of the day specializes in their field, while the agency specializes in their field and if the communication is not sound it will hurt the clients brand.

  5. linda

    This article just came at the right time! An online store just inboxed me wanting me to feature it on my blog. Problem is l don’t know if that’s public relations or marketing. Please help!

  6. Shabina

    Amazing. You solved my decision of shifting from being a PR to getting into outdoor ads. You really have a clarity. Amazing article I’ve come across. Thumps up. Lots of love.