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A few years ago I was filling out some paperwork and it asked for my job title. I remember asking, “do you want my actual job title? Or just my field of work?” At the time I worked in insurance and my job title was unnecessarily complex. 

Fast forward a few years and I’m filling out paperwork again and it asks me the same question. “Job Title”. I was so happy to concisely write: Marketer. But then I realized, while the title is simpler, the explanation is more complicated.

So you say you are a marketer. But what does that even mean? 

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Marketing, Advertising, & PR OH MY! 

“Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.” -the weird square/rectangle rule

Marketing, Public Relations, and Advertising all exist within the same universe and can have overlapping responsibilities. Yet they are all wildly different fields. I’m going to explain what each of these specialized fields do, and how they all work together under the umbrella of Marketing. 

Definitions: According to Oxford Languages
  • Marketing: the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.
  • Public Relations: the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person.
  • Advertising: the activity or profession of producing advertisements for commercial products or services.

If you look at the definitions, these all seem obviously different. Yet why do people often use these job titles almost interchangeably? Because the three work together to market a person, product, or service. 

Our definition of Marketing can be found in our Small Business Marketing 101 post:

Isn’t it enough to simply create beautiful products and provide delightful services?” Regrettably, the answer to that is no. This is where marketing comes in: it includes everything that makes people care about you and your business.

Marketing covers a wide variety of activities that convince people to buy your products or use your services. More poetically, marketing is an ongoing process that breathes life into everything you do as a small business owner. It begins from the moment you conceive an idea, carries you through manufacturing, and continues with sales and fulfillment.

“The difference between marketing, public relations, and advertising” by Jasmine Roberts and Michael Shiflet is licensed under CC BY 2.0 from Ohio State Press Books

4 Shared Responsibilities of Marketing, Advertising, & PR

Marketing, Public Relations, and Advertising all fall under the broad general term of Marketing. So as you can imagine, they have shared core responsibilities. 

Here are just a few: 

  • Branding: Establish and maintain consistent brand identities that appeal to a specific target audience.
  • Promotion: Increase a business’s odds of being noticed and selling products/services.
  • Sales: Work with the sales team to improve their odds of making sales.
  • User/Customer Experience: Ensure that the customer has the best possible experience

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Branding

It is pretty challenging to write a marketing blog post without mentioning branding. In fact, we wrote an entire blog post just on branding.

Why? Because when branding is done right, the brand becomes part of the product.

A great example is when you see fonts based on brands, such as the Disney D. With a simple glance at a product promotion, a customer should recognize the company or at least feel a sense for the company or product values.

Let’s look at another example: the Kyte Baby clothing line.

If I were to look at this without knowing anything about the company, I would assume it is a baby clothing brand that focuses on using high quality and sustainable products. I draw these conclusions based on the pastel color scheme, quality and simplicity of the photograph, and the fact that there is a rewards program for a baby line.

Now if you are familiar with Kyte Baby, then you would know that it is a family owned and operated business that provides consumers with sustainable bamboo products for babies. At the bottom of their home page, they celebrate the fact that they are an “Official member of the Kidizen Rewear collective, supporting and reuse of quality goods.” If that doesn’t perfectly exemplify Kyte Baby’s branding, then I don’t know what does. 

Crafting brand guidelines is vital to the overall success of a product or service because it elevates a message from being generic words to something more. A successful marketing team leverages the client’s branding guidelines in everything they do, regardless of their role on the team. 

Let’s go back to our Kyte Baby brand example. Marketing took the client’s company mission and crafted meaningful branding guidelines. Advertising created the rewards program ad by following those guidelines. And Public Relations approved both including a rewards program (customer first) and the Kidizen Rewear collaboration as both supporting the Kyte Baby brand values in a way that courts positive press attention.

Marketing Dream Team right there.

Promotion

Oftentimes, a product or service doesn’t sell itself. Like a tree falling in the woods when no one is there to hear it, if you have a product sitting on your desk but no one to see it – will it ever sell? 

No. You have to promote it. 

The three branches of Marketing mentioned in this post are involved in promotion one way or another. Let’s look at the definitions again. Marketing promotes a product or service. Public Relations maintains a public image, which can also be thought of as promoting a specific image. And Advertising produces advertisements to then be shown or promoted to the public. Each branch promotes the client’s product or service,but each in their own unique way. 

I could spend a lot of time reviewing how to promote a business or product, but fortunately, we have already written loads of posts for your easy consumption. Check out the links below to learn specifics about promotional tactics you can apply to your own small business. 

Sales

Everything comes back to money. How to save it, how to spend it, how to make it, how people perceive the value of it. 

What is interesting about marketing as a whole, is that while marketers don’t sell products themselves, they heavily influence how well a product or service will sell.

The traditional marketing team will work on ensuring that there is a good product-market fit, narrowing down the right audience, and then understanding how that audience makes purchasing decisions

Public Relations will help maintain the relationship with the audience and keep the business looking professional

And lastly, Advertising will be running ads to bring the preferred audience to the product or service. 

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User Experience & Customer Experience

Sales are not just about the exchange of money for a good or service. Sales are also all about experience. Even non-service-based sales. I’m talking about User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX). 

Marketing will focus on what the UX and CX ought to be, and PR and Advertising will need to make sure to reinforce the intent. Think of it this way: Marketers want to make sure that users of a website and customers of a product are having a positive experience. For example, if the website is faulty then the marketer is going to want to quickly implement a fix so as not to permanently damage the user or customer’s experience. 

If you give your customers a good experience, it makes it easier to sell in the first place. Which, in turn, retains customers. And if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, then you know that the cost of retaining customers is way less than the costs associated with gaining a new one. That means retaining customers is much better for profits than customer acquisition. 

In terms of public relations, they are going to want to make sure that customers are happy and stay happy because otherwise, the customer can blast the business on social media resulting in a damaged reputation (and an upset PR team). 

As for advertisers, they want to make sure that their ads are being received positively so as not to have a negative ripple effect on PR or Marketing. 

What exactly is Digital Marketing? 

An excellent question indeed. I work for a digital marketing agency, so I am going to spend a little more time specifically talking about digital marketing.

Telling someone you work in marketing is one thing, but the moment you say digital marketing – they automatically assume you are a social media influencer. And that is just not true.

Yes, digital marketing works with social media, but not the way you think. In fact, that’s actually a fairly small part of the industry.

Social Media/Targeted Ads

Before I started living and breathing marketing, I was guilty of assuming “Digital Marketing” and “Social Media Marketing” were synonymous. NOPE! Here comes that pesky square and rectangle relationship again.

A digital marketer can manage social media accounts, create and schedule content, respond to commenters, and so on. But more often, if a digital marketer is involved in a social media account – the marketer is actually taking the content on the account and targeting specific audiences to see said content through ads. 

Ever wonder why Instagram sends you ads that seem way too accurate borderline creepy? It isn’t actually Instagram listening to you (well…) it is a talented digital marketer making specific audiences to target that ad to and you happened to fall into it. 

Screenshot of an audience from the Facebook Ad Manager, which serves Facebook and Instagram.
SEO 

When I moved to marketing, all I kept hearing about was this magical term “SEO”. It was thrown around a lot but all I could glean was that it was something super-powerful and important in marketing. Now that I know more about it, I can see why it is such a big deal. 

SEO means Search Engine Optimization. You probably understand these words individually, but what they mean put together is essentially how to make your content show up on the first page on Google rather than the elephant graveyard of pages 3+. If you want to learn more about SEO, check out this article

Digital Marketers love their SEO. And creatives or business owners love digital marketers because of that love for SEO. A good digital marketer can go into a client’s webpage or blog and make updates throughout to improve the webpage’s SEO so that it will rank higher within search engines and therefore get more clicks, impressions, and ultimately sales.

Website Design

The third big ticket item a digital marketer often works on is website design. I use the word “design” specifically, as sometimes the marketer is creating the website itself but other times they are making tweaks to the form or function of an existing design.

It is not uncommon for a digital marketing team to build out a client’s website or at least specific landing pages. They will also tweak existing layouts to result in a better user or customer experience. But sometimes a digital marketer will outline what would meet the client’s vision and be user friendly, and outsource actual build to another agency that specifically does website builds – especially appropriate with larger corporate clients. 

Public Relations

Is it just me, or does it seem like the Public Relations person in movies is always made out to be the bad guy?

In reality, a PR representative is literally just doing their job to make you – the client – look good. They have to constantly be ready to spin any media so that the client always comes out looking rosy. Like makeup, a good public relations team can enhance your existing qualities and make you look great, or it can make you look like a clown. 

“Show me the money”

A great PR team will work not only to keep the client’s image on brand and squeaky clean, but will also look for media opportunities. Most of the media opportunities are more on the PR side through the form of earned media, but some are more on the advertising side, in the form of paid media. But the act of getting the client themselves involved in speaking to the consumer is all public relations. 

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Earned Media vs. Paid Media

So what is Earned Media? Or Paid Media for that matter? 

Earned Media: Earned media is publicity or exposure gained from methods other than paid advertising. (Titan Growth)

A good example of earned media is a podcast interviewing a product creator to learn more about how the creator came up with the idea for the product. Sure, the product will be discussed, but the main topic of discussion is the creator and their story. Additionally, the podcast is most likely not paying the creator to be a guest as it is a mutually beneficial exchange. The podcast has a guest, and the guest has a platform to share their story. 

Paid Media: Simply put, paid media is marketing you pay for. Holistically, it is used to promote content in order to drive earned media, as well as direct traffic to owned media properties. (Titan Growth)

A good example of Paid Media is booking a virtual book tour or to pay influencers to represent your product or service. 

Public Relations mainly will focus on earned media as it more closely relates to the client’s story rather than the selling features of a product or service. What the PR team is doing is selling the client as a person (or company). 

Landing paid media slots is certainly something that a PR agency can and will do, but there’s a lot of overlap between PR and Advertising when it comes to paid media. 

How PR is distinct from marketing in general

Public Relations representatives are highly specialized workers within the broader field of marketing. There are still opportunities for overlap between dedicated PR work and general marketing, especially when it comes to press releases and/or social media crisis management. In fact, for a smaller client, it is not uncommon for a marketing firm to take on PR tasks in lieu of hiring another agency. 

Another way to look at it is: most marketers are behind the scenes working on the computer. Public Relations are out in front, the face on the screen, organizing the press conferences. But in a small enough team, a general marketer can put on their PR hat.

Just for fun, here is the Business Insider’s Top 10 Best PR Movies of All Time.

Advertising

One specialized field of marketing that gets a lot of attention is advertising. So much so that people often conflate marketing and advertising! But they’re not entirely the same.

The idea behind advertising is very simple. You buy or pay for a space on some kind of medium – billboards, TV, radio, social media – and broadcast your messages there. Marketing involves crafting messages and figuring out how to spread them and Advertising is strictly concerned with getting them displayed publicly through some paid medium.

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Traditional Advertising Methods

According to the all knowing Wikipedia, modern advertising began in the 16th century with the start of newspapers and magazines. Over the last 500 years or so, it has grown and adapted to our ever changing way of consuming information. 

First came print advertising. Billboards started popping up in the 1830s (think Barnum & Bailey in The Greatest Showman) and became popular by the 1860s, later exploding with the invention of cars. Opportunities to advertise only increased when radio and television captured the population’s attention. After all, who watches the Super Bowl for football? Perhaps now you don’t even watch the Super Bowl, as mainstream media showcases top dollar ads and commercials weeks in advance. 

Various types of Advertising Media, ℅ MBASkool.com

To go into a little more detail on forms of traditional advertising…

Print Advertising: advertisements that are printed in physical form, such as newspapers, magazines, brochures. These advertisements can be for products or services, and are meant to engage the consumer in the product or service. 

Billboards: a form of outdoor print advertising, billboards are most often found on high traffic roads and highways. The best way to utilize billboards is to keep the message simple as it is being directed towards drivers who may only have a few glances at it before passing the advertisement. Up-and-coming convenience store chain, Buc-ee’s, is great at utilizing billboards for the modern age. 

Radio & TV: advertisers pay for air time, or spots, on the radio, television, or even podcasts to advertise a product or service. Most recognizable ads are prerecorded spots that can be played multiple times and across multiple channels, depending on what the advertisers have purchased. With podcasts, and some radio shows, there are live reads where the hosts will actually read from a script the ad right then and there. 

Online Advertising

A lot of advertising platforms do not fit neatly into the categories outlined by traditional advertising. Think YouTube and social media, SMS (text) messaging, and so on.

Of particular importance to digital advertisers are social media advertising and pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. Social media ads use specialized tools like Facebook Ad Manager to advertise on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. PPC ads use tools like Google Ads to advertise in the search results of Google or on videos on YouTube.

If you’re curious about where the idea of PPC came from, check out this definition from the Corporate Finance Institute: “Pay-Per-Click” is an online advertising model in which an advertiser pays a publisher every time an advertisement link is “clicked” on.

All Together Now – How they work together on a team 

Obviously, there is a lot of overlap between Marketing, Advertising, and PR. But let’s assume that you have dedicated staff for all three on your team. Here’s what life might look like if your general marketer is in charge versus your advertiser or your PR rep. After all, in a cohesive team, someone inevitably is going to be in charge and responsible for delegating to others.

Marketer is in charge

If the general marketer is running your team, then they are going to be the one coming up with the brand guidelines (that includes colors, font, brand archetype, and other identity-forming parts of a brand). They will take your end goals, and determine who should be in charge of various aspects of the whole marketing plan. 

All forms of advertising would most likely be delegated to Advertising and public image management to PR. The general marketer and their team would likely handle project management, brand guidelines, content creation, SEO, and every other marketing task that doesn’t fall into a neat category. 

If the company is brand new, the general marketer would make sure the company has product-market-fit, because otherwise the products/services won’t sell at all! All promotions, ads, and press outreach would be done with Marketing’s sign-off because ensuring consistent messaging is so critical. Then as the business matured, more and more elements of marketing would be standardized and delegated entirely to dedicated advertisers and PR reps.

Companies that can benefit from having general marketers in charge would be SMBs, startups, crowdfunders (Kickstarter, Indiegogo), and even authors.

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PR is in charge

Some companies need to put PR in charge, because managing media appearances makes up the bulk of the marketing work. When PR is in charge, priority is placed on booking both earned and paid media opportunities.

General marketing staff and advertisers would be responsible for making sure the PR reps have what they need to make the most of media appearances. Marketers make sure PR have things like branded materials, a good online presence, and so on so that PR can make the business look professional. Advertisers make sure that media apperances are seen by as many people as possible.

Companies that can benefit from a PR focus would be celebrities and influencers. However, there are some situations where companies need to temporarily focus on PR. Companies looking to make a big change (like Old Spice in 2010) or who are in super hot water (oops), can benefit from having PR in charge for at least a little while.

Advertising is in charge

If Advertising is the head honcho of the marketing team, then the business has a really high ad budget (just saying). That means the company is most likely very well established in its market and it knows exactly what it is. The brand is consistent and established, the market position is well known, and the target audience is well-aware of the company’s existence. We’re talking about companies like Colgate-Palmolive.

When Advertising is in charge, it’s because advertising is the company’s main lever for success. In this scenario, the advertising team would be in charge of all methods of advertising, including targeted ads on social media.

General marketing staff would focus on maintaining a good customer/user experience, keep the website SEO and design up-to-date, and other maintenance tasks. The name of the game is ensuring that whatever is working does not change. Additionally, marketing would be the stickler for reinforcing brand guidelines across the board.

Meanwhile, Public Relations would continue to maintain the public image and earned media, but Advertising would most likely be in charge of booking paid media. PR might need to take a more active role if the company has a round of bad press.

Conclusion

There is a lot of overlap between marketing, advertising, and PR. This is great for having a cohesive marketing team, but it can be confusing if you need to learn the definitions in the first place!

If you work in the marketing industry, then my advice to you is to always keep in mind who is “in charge” so that everyone working on a project has clear role expectations. If you do not work in marketing but just want to learn more, then good for you!

Resource Links

I threw a lot of resources at you throughout this post, so here they are again in a nice orderly bulleted list. 

Want to experiment with marketing, but don't know where to start?

Tired of the DIY approach and want more hands-on help with marketing?



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