What is Public Relations in Marketing?
If you’re new to PR, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that public relations and marketing are the same thing. Like dinner and supper, a lot of people think the words are interchangeable. But the two concepts are different. Yes, they’re both about influencing opinion, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Let’s look at how PR differs from marketing and examine some public relations in marketing examples that you can use as inspiration for your next campaign.
Marketing vs public relations — aren’t they the same?
To answer the question, let’s look at a definition of marketing.
Investopedia defines marketing as ‘activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product or service.’ These activities encompass everything, from advertising, to branding and promotion.
Public relations is one of these activities.
What distinguishes it from other marketing activities is you don’t pay for it – at least, not directly.
So, what is public relations in marketing?
It’s easiest to understand a public relations definition in marketing when you compare it to another marketing subset: advertising. With advertising, you pay to spread positive messages about your company, whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine or online. You’re guaranteed placement, have complete control over the content, and get easily quantifiable results.
There is a downside to advertising however. Around 50% of us, don’t trust ads, according to YouGov.
In contrast to advertising, public relations is earned. In other words, rather than stumping up cash to get your brand in the papers, (if you’ve nailed your PR strategy,) journalists will pick up your story and run it for you, for free.
The downsides of PR are that promotion is not guaranteed, and it’s easy to mess up. We’ve all cringed when a brand’s Twitter account tries to butter up millennials by pretending it’s depressed like drinks brand Sunny D, or by offering vague self-help advice, like fitness wear brand Lululemon.
Let’s now look at why you would want to add public relations into the marketing mix for your next campaign.
What are the benefits of public relations in marketing?
The number one benefit of public relations is it’s way more credible than advertising. You can’t pay The Financial Times to namedrop your start-up. If the publication chooses to do so, the credibility it will give your brand is worth 1,000 times that of you singing your own praises in a paid ad.
There are three other key reasons to bring marketing and public relations together. Namely, PR helps you build professional relationships, keeps you high in Google’s search results long after the campaign ends, and backs up your other marketing efforts.
Let’s explore these in a little more detail.
1. PR can win friends, not just influence people
Most marketing is ‘transactional’, meaning you put money into an advertising pot with the aim of getting something in return – namely new customers and a healthy profit.
PR, however, is more about relationship building. If you treat your dealings with journalists as transactions, you’ll burn your bridges. You need to nurture relationships with them, understand how they work and be as helpful as possible to them on an ongoing basis.
You shouldn’t expect glowing coverage in The Guardian just because you’re on good terms with an editor, of course. But you can expect more trust and familiarity from your sources. Plus, editors and writers will pay more attention when your next pitch hits their inbox.
2. PR isn’t a flash in the pan
Advertising is short-lived. Flashy images and catchy jingles don’t stick in people’s minds for more than a few minutes. That’s why they have to show them over and over again. How many ads do you remember from a year ago?
PR, in contrast, is slow-burn. In fact, slow-burn might as well be part of the public relations definition. Marketing works best when you think beyond the next campaign, and consider how a mention in a prominent magazine will passively expose people to your brand for months to come. And then there’s online coverage. Other media is printed and then thrown away. But nothing online ever gets deleted. So, bag a mention in an online magazine and your name will forever be in lights.
3. PR supercharges existing marketing
It’s easy to think of PR and ‘traditional’ marketing as opposites but they often work hand-in-hand. Imagine your restaurant’s latest marketing campaign focuses on your fantastic fresh seafood. Your ads talk about how you have the most skilled chefs, the best suppliers and ultra-sharp sashimi knives.
That’s all great, but it’s standard sales talk.
You could easily supplement it with an informative blog post on the health benefits of eating seafood. By providing value to your audience, you’re giving them a reason to care about your campaign.
Let’s say your head chef is then invited to give an interview on local radio about the state of the local fishing industry, and how it’s affected business. Now, to the public, your restaurant isn’t some faceless brand. It’s a credible business filled with informed, interesting professionals.
Some marketing campaigns have more budget for PR than others. But using public relations and marketing together is the most effective way to reach your target audience.
Top PR strategies for your next marketing campaign
Here are five core PR strategies you can use to take control of your company image and reputation. There are more out there, of course, from government relations to crisis comms. But these ideas will be enough to get you thinking.
Strategy #1 — Use op-eds to get your voice heard
Getting people to listen to you is the aim of your marketing efforts. Public relations tackles this in a lot of ways, but the tool of choice for many businesses is the humble op-ed.
Op-eds are submissions to newspapers, journals or magazines from outside parties (e.g. you), rather than the regular editors.
The ‘op’ in op-ed stands for ‘opinion’, so you should use them to take a stance on social issues or respond to current events. They’re a simple and direct way to get a statement out to the public in a trusted format, like a respected website or magazine.
A great corporate op-ed is this 2019 example in Time magazine from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.
It’s a strong statement that condemns the digital invasion of people’s privacy. This is Apple’s stance on the issue. But note how Cook explains ways to fight against it: this demonstrates his knowledge on the topic and a commitment to take action.
This example throws up a key point: Talk is cheap. Backing up your company’s values is key to good PR.
For example, if environmental sustainability is one of your brand’s values, find ways to cut back on your own pollution. According to Business Wire, nearly half of all customers ‘pay close attention to a brand’s social responsibility efforts’ — and that number is growing all the time.
Interested? Read more here: The PR Benefits of Cause Related Marketing.
Strategy #2 — Give the audience something useful
Let’s face it. Ads are no longer effective. Why? Because they don’t give the audience any value: they’re solely for the company’s benefit. PR flips that on its head. It focuses on creating genuinely useful content that your audience will appreciate.
A gold standard for value-added content is Microsoft. They’ve released dozens of white papers detailing new advances in the cloud-computing world, many of which are picked up by the media. Not only that, many developers also use their documentation site as a high-quality source for guides, tutorials, and reference material. It makes it much easier for new developers to learn Microsoft’s products.
This is a great example of how public relations, marketing and your content strategy can feed into each other.
Sometimes, of course, you don’t know what your audience would find useful. To find out, I recommend using sites like Answer The Public or Google’s search recommendation to find what questions people are asking online. You’re bound to find some inspiration for an informative article or ebook.
Strategy #3 — Bring people together with events
Handshakes beat banner ads any day of the week.
Attending events, from trade shows, to networking events is a great opportunity to find potential business partners, and nurture existing relationships. They also give your brand a human face and personality.
Take Apple. The brand may be associated with sleek, innovative technology, but equally as iconic is former CEO Steve Jobs on stage in his classic black turtleneck. He was the face of Apple, appearing at every launch event and keynote talk. He was as synonymous with the brand as its products.
However, it’s not just about trade shows and exhibitions. Hosting your own events is another great way to make a splash, especially to promote a new product line.
Unless you’re as big as Apple, you’ll need to work hard to get people in seats. The best way to do this is with a killer press release. Need some pointers? Read: How to Write a Press Release for an Event.
Strategy #4 — Join forces with other brands
Some business owners think that building their audience is a winner-takes-all game. If someone else profits, you’re losing out, whether it’s in advertising, public relations, marketing. This is short-sighted, however.
When you partner with another brand, you get the obvious advantage of pooling your resources. Much more important, however, is that a partnership ties your public image together.
You’ll often see competing brands team up for mutual gain. It can help you reach new audiences that your marketing otherwise wouldn’t reach. For example, established, old-school make-up companies like Esteé Lauder and Unilever have bought or joined up with smaller brands like Drunk Elephant and True Botanicals to target millennials, for instance.
Partnerships are also an opportunity to put a different spin on your public image.
In a 2020 collaboration with Manchester United and Age UK, for example, Cadbury’s positioned themselves against elderly loneliness, which isn’t something you naturally associate with a chocolate company.
While many partnerships only last for a campaign or two, some of the most effective ones last long-term.
When GoPro and Red Bull partnered in 2016, for example, GoPro became the exclusive content partner for over a thousand of the energy drink company’s sporting events. This was a major win for both brand’s public visibility. Read more about their partnership here: The PR Power of Brand Partnerships.
Strategy #5 — Get influencers on your side
It’s vital to get journalists on side if you’re looking for positive PR, but there’s another way to promote your brand. Enter the influencer. Savvy brands focus on cultivating support among bloggers, YouTubers and celebrities, as well as traditional media. Why? Online influencers have thousands or millions of followers. Your brand can reach massive, untapped audiences that traditional marketing can’t.
Influencer marketing is particularly effective in the make-up and fashion world. For example, brands regularly send Instagram models like Nyané Lebajoa their products. If she chooses to wear/demonstrate/endorse a product, that’s 1.5 million captive millennial and Gen-Z followers reached.
Want that kind of exposure? All it takes is some savvy PR relationship building.
If you offer experiences instead of products, this kind of marketing works even better. Consider this video. Gravity Industries’ PR consultant deserves a pay rise. Reaching out to Tom Scott was a stroke of genius. He may not be a typical influencer, but Scott has built up a decade of credibility as an informative, no-nonsense science educator. This, combined with Scott’s failure to actually fly, let Gravity Industries show off their unique tech without it feeling like an ad. Their choice of influencer made many more viewers book a session for themselves than otherwise would have.
Interested in influencer relations? Learn more here: How to use influencers to supercharge your PR campaign.
Ready to reap the rewards of public relations in marketing?
Putting public relations in the marketing mix is a great way to enhance your brand image and reach audiences that are jaded by traditional advertising.