Stephanie is a native New Yorker and the founder of Orchard and Broome, a public relations company that selectively represents ethical or sustainable brands.
Whether you’re a small brand or a blogger, you should know the difference between PR and marketing.
First thing’s first: They are completely different. (Despite how many people confuse the two!)
Rather than thinking of PR and marketing as an either/or proposition – since they work well in tandem – think of them as two different disciplines under the same umbrella of communications. In fact, they are often handled by two completely different people, teams or even companies.
The simplest way to differentiate between marketing and PR is the exchange (or lack thereof) of money.
Marketing involves paying for media placements, either advertising, advertorials, sponsored posts, or sponsorships. With digital marketing comes metrics to track and measure the return on investment (ROI) for some of your initiatives or campaigns. Print advertising is less concrete, since you can only know a publication’s circulation and potential impressions based on paid subscriptions.
On the flip side, public relations is typically a service for which you pay a monthly fee in order to get featured within earned media coverage. There is no “pay-for-play” with PR, and so consumers tend to trust earned media coverage more. But it’s even more difficult to track direct ROI. This is especially true with print ads, billboards, and sponsorships, but it still holds true for even digital articles.
Consider this scenario: Someone reads about your brand in an article online, opens up a separate tab to search for said brand, and maybe even makes a purchase from the site. How would you know that they first read about you on Marie Claire?
At Orchard and Broome, we do put together monthly performance reports for our clients, which include as much information as possible on the press we’ve secured: Google website traffic rankings, unique monthly visitors (ergo, impressions), and/or circulation quantities. But it never captures the full picture. But digital ads and newsletter marketing, however, you get a very fine breakdown of click-through rates, A/B testing (when you compare two ads to see which one does better), demographics, spending, and more.
So, which is best for your business?
First, consider doing a market- or brand analysis (something that we do with and for each company we represent) in order to determine who your target consumer is and how you can reach him/her in the media.
Opt for Marketing if you simply produce a good or service without a strong backstory. If the goal is strictly widespread visibility to convert sales, focus on creating content – may it be advertisements on social media, Google, websites, or blogs – that will gain views, clicks and sales. Unless you’re paying for branded content or an advertorial, marketing opportunities don’t offer as much space for written copy. Rather, they’re usually visually-driven and somewhat click-baity. They may convert, but don’t necessarily build brand loyalty or lead to repeat customers.
For example, while sifting through Amazon in search of a new bath mat last week, my purchase motivators were: color, price, and Prime delivery. I didn’t pay any mind to the make or manufacturer, quite honestly. And, ultimately, my purchase came after a retargeting ad popped up on the sidebar with some narrowed options that actually fit the bill. Good going Amazon marketing team!
Opt for PR if you have a compelling narrative that goes beyond the actual product or service. PR, by way of full features or placements within stories, is the opportunity to not only highlight a brand story, but communicate values and/or a lifestyle. Along the way, you’ll convert sales, but also build brand loyalty and repeat customers.
PR placements, print or digital, also have a long shelf-life (how long they’ve available on newsstands or in your doctor’s waiting room or in Google search results) which is valuable, especially when considering the “snowball effect” of PR. That is, when one article is read by someone else, who’s then interested in featuring your brand for their site, and so on and so forth. Then, not only are you doing outreach to get coverage, but fielding inbound media requests, too.
Brand features are not the only types of placement a publicist should aim for, either. Media relations also includes those coveted shopping roundups and gift guides, which are also possible to be included in if you’ve spent money to advertise with a site (which would be considered marketing).
Here’s an example: one of our clients, Fair Harbor, makes swimwear out of post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Beyond their really high-quality and sustainably made suits, it was started by two siblings who witnessed an increase of plastic waste on the shores of Fair Harbor, Fire Island, where they spent their childhood summers. Founder Jake Danehy studied the negative effects of single use plastic on the ocean during school, and decided to make a change by way of creating swimwear that is functional, stylish, sustainable, and embodies the island lifestyle. This is an interesting story that should be told, so that consumers think of Fair Harbour when they’re aiming to for a laid-back yet sustainable beach lifestyle and want to shop from a brand they trust.
Should you hire PR in-house or a third party PR firm?
There are certainly pros and cons to hiring or outsourcing your PR, but the most important aspect is finding a representative who genuinely cares enough about your company to put in the time and effort to give it the attention it deserves to garner results. They should also be transparent about how much time they’re putting in and what they are doing to lay the foundation, to give you peace of mind during what can be a fairly slow start.
If you choose to hire in-house, consider that s/he will live and breathe the brand the same way you do, which can be great, or limiting. An in-house PR person is spending all their time working on getting your brand out there. But a PR rep who deals with multiple brands might have a more unbiased perspective and more creative ideas. So, again, the sweet spot is someone who really cares about your brand (or, has ‘skin in the game’), and is agile, smart, experienced, and creative.
(I’ve written before on the trouble with hiring large firms, which I encourage you to read if you’re thinking about outsourcing your PR.)
All in all, brands should first determine what their goals are, both short- and long-term. In doing so, you’ll get a clearer picture of whether marketing or public relations is your best bet… to start. And, hopefully, in time, you’ll have the budget to hire both to work alongside one another.
A hot tip for bloggers…
That’s where this becomes most relevant to any blogger or influencers reading this. Knowing the difference between a PR pitch and marketing request is a crucial part of being a successful blogger.
Sometimes are PR representative will have an influencer marketing budget that they can spend on sponsored content, but that is rare, and they will often make that clear at the beginning. More often, the PR representative is on a completely separate team from the influencer marketing manager, and if they have a budget, it’s to cover free product or travel expenses, not to pay influencers directly.
If you read the above advice, you could also see that a small brand might have chosen to spend their whole budget on a PR rep instead of influencer partnerships. You may not agree with that decision, but yelling at the PR representative won’t get you anywhere.
So, if you receive a pitch from a publicist about a brand or product, it can go one of two ways:
1. You love what you hear, it fits within your editorial plan, and you’re grateful for that piece of information to include in a larger story, or it leads to a full-blown story idea. In that case, the PR person has done their job well by merely telling you about the existence of this brand or or product.
2. You don’t see it working editorially at present, but there’s potentially an opportunity to feature on social media or in a featured sponsored post – for a price. If that’s the case, respond and be clear about your intentions, and ask if there is an influencer budget and/or to speak to the person or team who handles influencer marketing.
Both marketing and PR are important roles – separate, but equal. It’s such a fast-changing scene, so it’s easy to get confused. But if more people in the natural and sustainable lifestyle space would understand the difference, small ethical brands could get the most bang for their buck, and bloggers would be able to better leverage their opportunities and create compelling, useful content for their readers.