Public Relations and Marketing have always worked closely together to achieve business objectives, but as these industries continue to change and evolve with contemporary business culture, the division between them has become increasingly hazy.
Where do they Differ?
Despite the growing similarities, each industry maintains an individual definition and purpose. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” The American Marketing Association defines marketing as, “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
At a more basic level, PR functions as a communication and outreach industry that builds relationships between a business and its audience, often their customers. On the other hand, marketing typically involves promoting products and/or services to generate sales and value. Although these functions and goals remain central to each industry, changing business values and digital trends have caused the operations of PR and marketing to merge in many capacities.
Perhaps more than anything in the last decade, social media has really changed the relationship between PR and marketing. Unlike traditional media platforms, social media provides a single, interactive platform to share and promote content, advertise, build connections with a targeted audience, and communicate with customers. The variety of social features often are not delegated specifically to marketing or PR departments.
It could seem easy to declare social media a cog in the marketing machine due to the countless opportunities it presents to boost a brand. Indeed, some of the main functions of social media, such as advertising and promotional posts, belong to traditional marketing functions. PR pros, however, can use social media to share information and spread awareness about the company. Additionally, PR departments can respond to customer comments, concerns, or questions to forge stronger relationships via communication.
Throughout the rise of social media, there has been no clear distinction to delegate the duties of this resource. The often overlapping, shared responsibility of social media causes an interconnected relationship that blurs the lines between marketing and PR departments.
Changing Communication Tactics
Similar to social media, online content is now used to communicate a variety of messages. Typically, content geared towards lead generation and promotion involves the work of a marketer, while sharing information and outreach about the company is PR work. Even with these seemingly industry-specific types of content, some content is less dedicated to one specific field.
For example, it can be unclear if a post about a company’s product is the work of marketing or PR. On one hand, it could be promotional to generate sales, which applies more towards marketing. This type of post could also share information about the product as a means of providing knowledge about the company and building greater trust in the brand, which is more related to PR tasks. Due to its versatility, content can complicate the division between marketing and PR.
Shifts in Customer Expectations
Social media and digital technology has not only affected business behavior; it also impacts the way customers behave. Social media, email, and chat helplines allow consumers to instantaneously share impressions and ask questions. Since online outlets offer easy, quick ways to communicate, consumers expect timely, useful responses from businesses.
Social media in particular is used by customers to contact businesses. Theoretically, PR professionals would respond to customer inquiries as a means of sharing information and maintaining relationships, but, as discussed earlier, social media does not exclusively belong to one department. In order to maintain a quick response time, marketers may need to respond to inquiries. Additionally, their tactful responses could lead to high degrees of customer interest in products and/or services, which aligns the effort with marketing roles. The shared responsibility of online customer relations, as well as the potential for both enhanced relationships and lead generation, causes marketing and PR to merge together more closely.
Ultimately, there are a multitude of reasons that influence the blending of marketing and PR industries, but many of these reasons can be traced back to the influx of change caused by digital technology. As social and digital media continue to evolve and shape communication industries, we may see fewer and fewer distinct differences between marketing and public relations.