Is that Marketing, Advertising or PR? A Primer.

One of the most common questions my friends and family ask me is, “what is the difference between marketing, advertising and PR?” A close second is, “what exactly do you do?”

So with that in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at these three connected, but distinct, disciplines and how they work together to support business development.

The best way to look at marketing, advertising and PR is as three parts of a single engine designed to propel your business forward. Each one serves a distinct purpose and the engine works best when all three are running in sync.

Marketing is all about reaching well-primed audiences with targeted messages at the exact moment they need to hear them. An important concept in marketing that you have likely heard before is the “customer journey,” the path your prospect takes from the time they discover you or your company to the time they become a client. On that journey, they will face points of conflict or decision when they either advance to the next stage or drop off the path. The idea is to identify those natural moments and strategically engage with them to help them stay on the path, guiding them through the journey so they make it to conversion.

But marketing is only successful if you have well-primed audiences. So where do you find these audiences and how do you prime them? That’s where PR and advertising come in.

Interestingly, advertising and PR are both designed to drive awareness and exposure. What’s different is how they do it.

Advertising focuses on creating an emotional response to a product or service. It creates a feeling that the product or service will in some way improve your life. Good advertising is not just about the content, but also the placement. It finds you over, and over, and over again, reminding you about this product or service that will improve your life.

A unique feature of advertising compared to PR is that the content is completely controlled. The images, text and sounds, as well as when and where it appears are all completely determined by the brand.

With PR, the brand sacrifices control to the news outlet, who decides what story to write, who to interview and what clips or quotes to include in the final story. But in return, the brand earns third-party validation from a trusted source.

So how do you choose which to invest in? The fact is, marketing, advertising and PR work best together.

Consider this example:

Mary oversees a small team that is struggling to stay organized, and she keeps coming across a digital ad for “” a (made-up) collaboration software that seems like it will solve all of her problems. She’s curious, but she knows that these tools are a dime-a-dozen. She’s not convinced this one is any better than the others.

Then, one morning, she is reading her favorite Axios newsletter and there’s an interesting story about remote working. It features an interview with the founder of discussing the measurable improvement in productivity that companies report when they use digital collaboration tools. He’s quoted on the rise in popularity of the tools and offers some advice on how companies can optimize their use.

Mary goes to the website, where they have an online quiz to evaluate her own team’s productivity. All she has to do is sign up for a free trial (no credit card needed!). She does and begins using the software. After about a week, Mary finds that it’s going well, but she she can’t quite figure out all of the features. She’s not sure it would be worth the full cost to subscribe. That morning she gets an email from with the subject, “Tips for optimizing your experience…”

The best marketing, advertising and PR partners are those who recognize that the sum is greater than the parts.

If you want to learn more about how to incorporate marketing, advertising and PR into your business, reach out. We can help!