Marketing vs PR- Cat and dog fight, chicken or egg?

As someone who has had the opportunity to be both a marketing director and a PR director- and once, both at the same time!- I have the battle scars to prove that this is not an easy one to resolve. Is PR a subset of marketing or an entirely different kettle of fish? I like Craig Pearce’s take on this- monologic vs dialogic- with PR about two way customer engagement, and marketing about one way promotion. But…sometimes the dividing lines blur, especially when companies get more sophisticated about their client relationship management.

The one difference I would stress is that marketing is about customers, and PR is about stakeholders, of which only one subset is customers. Does that mean PR is “superior” to marketing? That all depends on whether customers are the most important stakeholder group. And that depends on the culture (and financing) of the organisation. As a corporate strategist myself, I’ve always said shareholders come first. Without them there is no company to sell anything to a customer. Mind you…to win investor support, you need to convince them that you are a viable business able to sell to customers. The relationship may better be described as chicken AND egg!


About catherinesweet
Academic, professional, communicator, stakeholder in a dozen different disguises

7 Responses to Marketing vs PR- Cat and dog fight, chicken or egg?

  1. That’s a useful summary.

    You’re right in identifying the stakeholder-customer issue as central to this. My hunch is that the long-term trend is towards stakeholders and away from a marketing-centric view. At least, that’s what I sense from observation and reading.

    Sadly, within university faculties, the picture looks rather different. Marketing is big (and widely taught); public relations is niche (and rather specialist). I wonder which will be cut first?

    • Oh Richard- you have opened such a can of worms with this one! I could not agree more, alas. Marketing seems to be pulling in students, where PR struggles. And yet, the content of the marketing courses seems to be so weak. All we can do is point to employability differentials (PR graduates from SSU get jobs at a MUCH better rate, and higher than the national average) and hope the message gets through. And keep pointing to comments like that of Bill Gates’ “if I only had $2 left, I’d spend $1 on PR”. That’s the whole point of PR’s strategic approach and demonstrating return on investment.

  2. If the Stockholm Accords attempted a PR programme for public relations, we should begin a PR programme for public relations degree courses.

    It starts, of course, with your point about skills and employability. It’s invidious to name names, but Bethany Ansell stood out for me from your students graduating this year (and I’ve never even met her. That’s PR!)

    When I alerted her to a possible graduate opening, she declined because she’d already accepted another offer. That’s good, given the state of the economy.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I am surprised by your post Catherine in looking for the divide between marketing and PR rather than recognising that both are essential functions for any organisation to succeed.

    The monologic vs dialogic dichotomy is spurious as much PR is one-way promotion (the majority of media relations work) and much marketing involves two way customer engagement (product development and so forth). Indeed, there are times when organisations are correct to utilise one-way methods and times when two-way are more appropriate – or required by the stakeholder.

    Likewise saying that marketing is about customers and PR is about stakeholders seems rather simplistic. Just consider the level of overlap between any segmentation of stakeholders (employees may be customers, and local residents and shareholders as one example) and the reach of communications across any artificial boundary.

    The fact that these are disciplines that need to work together is something that is recognised at Bournemouth University (and I’m sure at many others) where PR, marketing and advertising students study similar foundation Units. This not only increases the understanding of specialists in each discipline, but ensures greater solidity of knowledge of how organisations work holistically.

    I certainly wouldn’t say the content of marketing (or advertising) courses are weak – they are generally underpinned by a wider body of theory than some PR courses which seem to be primarily vocationally-oriented and/or focused on the dominant theory from Grunig et al.

    The calibre of the PR graduates from Bournemouth, Leeds and Southampton (plus many other estabishments of course) should be its own best recruitment tool. I agree with Richard that there certainly needs to be a wide-reaching campaign to champion rather than criticise PR graduates and ensure recognition and funding (as I recently argued in a post). It is now 20 years since the first UK degree courses in PR (plus a decade since the CIPR qualifications first ran) – surely time to start ensuring those who are qualified in the subject had the loudest voices not those who have relied on what they’ve learned on the job? Indeed, it is most likely those practitioners who don’t know the difference between marketing and PR as they continue to pitch press releases that are little more than spam.

    • Heather- your robust defence of marketing made me re-read my post to see if I was guilty of suggesting that marketing and PR shouldn’t/couldn’t work together. If that’s what you read into my comments, then I need to work on my own communication skills! What I was trying to capture is the difference between motivations of the two disciplines. You are dead rioght that GOOD marketing is about customer engagement just as GOOD PR is about stakeholder engagement. Both should be dialogic, two way flows. I loathe PR that is spamming media releases, and I don’t dignify the profession by calling it PR. The difference, however, between marketing and PR is that marketing looks at customers- people that buy- and PR looks broader, at stakeholders. That makes them different. Of course, employees can be customers, as can investors – and even activists and politicians- but the basic fact is that marketing is about sales.

      When it comes to different universities’ approach to teaching, I wasn’t trying to denigrate marketing courses per se- just to point out those that teach “marketing and PR” courses tend to demote PR into a subset (poor relation?) of marketing, when it could be argued that it needs to be seen as its own discipline. But thanks for the contribution- it is what makes blogging intellectually stimulating. You made me stop and think!

  4. Pushing Heather’s logic further and taking an organisational, not functional, view – should we not be teaching on different courses? Here’s my proposal:
    BA Marketing Communications
    MA Corporate Communications

    Of course, this loss of public relations displeases the professional body but this may have to be the price we pay for commercial logic (and helping our students).

  5. Catherine – happy to have made you think, but I do still feel that you are seeing marketing more narrowly than is the case in the field itself in respect to seeing it only in terms of customers. The “encroachment” as we PR folk would have it is evident in lots of areas – from social marketing and cause related marketing (which arguably are looking at community relations, not just customers, although they may seek to motivate customers with the CSR message) to internal and even financial marketing.

    And, I’m sorry but surely sales is about sales and marketing is about marketing. I am a huge fan of professional sales as a separate discipline and although marketing can (and often does) contribute to sales objectives, so also can PR (as well as contributing to marketing objectives). What about marketing that is primarily used to build brands or change behaviour other than purchasing? How about charities that use marketing to gain volunteers – or indeed, Universities to attract the best quality students (or are we calling that sales now?)

    I do appreciate that some marketing qualifications take a reductionist perspective of PR (to cite Kitchen), but I’ve found that conversations with marketing lecturers increasingly look towards more enlightened authors such as Hutton rather than Kotler.

    Richard – to an extent, I think your suggestion has merit – although I prefer to ensure that undergraduates are educated beyond marketing communications at least for their future strategic career development. Mind you, if we could encourage both professionals and graduates to study for masters level qualifications – as part of their lifelong professional development, then that would be good both from the University marketing perspective and for PR itself (whatever we choose to call it!)

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