Defining the Terms: The Differences Between PR, Marketing and Advertising

If you’re a small- to medium-sized business, I bet you’ve asked yourself, “What is the difference between PR, Marketing and Advertising, anyway?” The idea of integrated communications is simple: use a variety of communications methodologies which complement each other in order to meet business objectives. But if you’re not quite sure which direction to follow, here’s an elementary rundown of the differences between these main three areas of communications.

In businesses big and small, generally the marketing dept. is the dept. that allocates resources, a.k.a budget, to communications programs that will help sell products and services. PR and advertising programs almost always fall under the marketing umbrella. Other areas of marketing include promotions (contests and giveaways), events, trade shows, webinars, social media, sponsorships and more. When you think “marketing” think of any activity or process designed to help sell!

According to, Marketing is defined as: The activities of a company associated with buying and selling a product or service. It includes advertising, selling and delivering products to people. People who work in marketing departments of companies try to get the attention of target audiences by using slogans, packaging design, celebrity endorsements and general media exposure. The four ‘Ps’ of marketing are product, place, price and promotion.

Investopedia Commentary

Many people believe that marketing is just about advertising or sales. However, marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Even the small tasks like writing thank-you letters, playing golf with a prospective client, returning calls promptly and meeting with a past client for coffee can be thought of as marketing. The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company’s products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensure profitability

Advertising is bought media. Simply, ad agencies or depts. create ads and campaigns to sell products, ideas, services, candidates, etc. Media planners figure out (through extensive demographic research) where and when these ads should run– in print, on the radio or telvision, in the form of internet banner ads, billboards, flyers and more. Media buyers then purchase ad space in the right outlets in order to achieve the greatest success for a client. says that Advertising is:

1. the act or practice of calling public attention to one’s product, service, need, etc., esp. by paid announcements in newspapers and magazines, over radio or television, on billboards, etc.: to get more customers by advertising.
2. paid announcements; advertisements.
3. the profession of planning, designing, and writing advertisements.
There are many areas of public relations including media relations and publicity, crisis management, public affairs and more. On the whole, public relations deals with earned media as opposed to media exposure that is bought through advertising. PR is about building positive relationships with the public primarily through exposure and coverage in the media, i.e. interviews in newspapers, on the radio on or a TV newscast. PR people work closely with marketing people in order to support publicity efforts for promotional events and any other activities that encourage participation from the public. For Fortune 500 companies, Corporate PR is an intregral part of the communications machine. One false statement, however, can send a company into automatic spin. says Public Relations is:
  1. (used with a sing. verb) The art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public.
  2. (used with a pl. verb) The methods and activities employed to establish and promote a favorable relationship with the public.
  3. (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The degree of success obtained in achieving a favorable relationship with the public.


Filed under crisis communications, integrated communications, marcom, marketing communications, media, media relations, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity

5 responses to “Defining the Terms: The Differences Between PR, Marketing and Advertising

  1. Thanks for the concise information. It’s amazing how much money people spend of “marketing” or “PR” or “advertizing” when they don’t even know one from the other!

  2. Ashworth – You hit the nail right on the head! As a past Public Relations Officer for Toastmasters District 42. The first thing we learnt was that the difference between PR & advertising is that PR is free. PR is also about letting people know you’re doing a good job – and.. any action or acitivity that yields a positive response.

  3. Pingback: PR: Where does it rank? « Rkerkenbrack's Blog

  4. Pingback: Whose Umbrella Covers Who? The Rank of Public Relations, Advertising, and Marketing « Jillian's Blog

  5. rico razon

    thank you. you’ve been very helpful.

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