This is a terrific question and a bit more complex than it might seem.
Part of the problem is that we tend to focus on methods and tools. We look at something like social media and ask who should have ownership of it. We divide budgets up among departments and tools; advertising gets a certain bucket of dollars, marketing gets a certain bucket, and PR gets a certain bucket.
What we rarely think about from the beginning are outcomes. There are three core outcomes we’re looking for out of anything we do in the worlds of PR, advertising, and marketing. The first we look for are new people in our audience. As businesses, we need people to be aware of us and to trust that we’re responsible enough to fulfill their needs. If no one’s aware of us, if no one trusts us, then they won’t pay any attention to us, and we can’t ask them to do business with us.
The second core outcome we look for are people from our audience who are actively interested in purchasing something. As businesses, it’s incredibly inefficient and offensive just to ask everyone we meet if they want to buy something. By identifying people who have an actual interest and need for what we sell, we improve our chances of obtaining their business.
The third and final outcome we look for is revenue. As businesses, we look to take as many of those people who are interested in buying something and persuade them to actually buy something. Revenue is the absolute bottom line that lets us continue to do business.
Many of the tools and methods we associate with the field of public relations can be applied for the first outcome of growing audiences. That’s the most important function of public relations and what we are principally measured on. Public relations is about growing audiences’ awareness and trust of our businesses so that they continue to pay attention to us.
Many of the tools and methods we associate with the field of advertising can also be applied to the outcome of growing audiences. Advertising that’s done well gets people to pay attention and to become aware of the business. One of the critical mistakes many businesses make is measuring advertising not on its audience building capabilities, but whether it generates leads as an outcome, which isn’t what advertising strategies, methods, and tools necessarily do best.
Some of the tools and methods we associate with the field of marketing can be applied to the outcome of creating leads. Marketing is very often a catch-all term that wraps audience creation and lead generation together, when they are actually very different outcomes. Marketing, however, is measured most often on lead generation, and that’s a way of understanding what its focus should be.
The final core outcome, revenue generation, is the responsibility of sales. It’s equally important to realize that marketing shouldn’t be measured on revenue generation! While marketing has a responsibility to generate high quality leads, sales has the responsibility to get those leads to sign on the dotted line, and revenue is what sales is principally measured on.
Many tools have more than one use, and thus should be included in your understanding of each area. For example, social media can be used to grow new audiences; PR professionals should thus become experts in it. However, social media can also be used to convert leads out of new audiences, which means it should also be the responsibility of marketing.
At first glance, Google AdWords would appear to be a pure advertising tool, but when you begin to understand its retargeting capabilities, it suddenly becomes a tool that the marketing department should be intimately familiar with as well.
SEO has always traditionally been associated with the marketing department, but when you think about SEO’s measured outcome – attracting new audiences via search – suddenly it becomes clear that PR should play a core role in the SEO process, and forward-thinking businesses might even move the responsibility for SEO from marketing to PR.
Understanding the differences among PR, advertising, and marketing is all about understanding their core outcomes. Measure each field on the outcomes it generates, and use those outcomes to identify what tools, methods, and tactics you should be familiar with as a PR professional.
Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and again in 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing; Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as Social Media Person of the Year. Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is an adjunct professor of Internet marketing and the lead subject matter expert and professor of Advanced Social Media at the University of San Francisco. He’s the author of the best-selling book Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer.
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