PR vs Marketing: Is This Still a Thing?In the first week of the new year, I was having a conversation with someone close to me. They were discussing some “team perk approvals.”

A team member wanted to join a “marketing” community and was hoping to get the monthly membership fee covered.

“That’s great,” I said. “It’s nice to know your colleagues can get professional development support subsidized.”

The Burning Question

But I had a burning question: “You’re aware that we have built an amazing Slack community for communications professionals, right?”

To which the person responded: “[So-and-so] doesn’t need PR training, [so-and-so]’s a measurement nut. [So-and-so] wants marketing measurement training.”

Queue head explosion. Really, is this still a thing?

PR Pro vs Marketer: Who Am I?

To be fair, I sympathize.

We call it the PR Dream Team, after all, and if you don’t identify as a PR practitioner, or you think in terms of PR vs marketing, PR vs content strategy, or PR vs whatever-it-is-you-think-you-are-doing-but-it-sure-isn’t-PR, we can see how it would be confusing.

It’s reasonable to assume you might pass over this opportunity to join a community of communicators (including PR pros, marketers, content strategists, web strategists, attorneys, entrepreneurs, and the like).

A group that can help you stay on top of industry trends, provide access to coursework and training, mentorship, strategic oversight, brainstorming, templates and resources, productivity tips, and access to the reports, data, and analytics you need to prove you are achieving business goals (that was a mouthful).

We can see how you could overlook an unparalleled opportunity like that because it is called the PR Dream Team, and not the Marketing Dream Team, or Content Dream Team.

PR vs Marketing: Harumph

I have to admit that I, too, was once in that camp. I was a content strategist (said loftily and with considerable conceit). A writer. I didn’t consider myself [insert appropriate harumph] a PR practitioner.

And then I started working with Spin Sucks, and I had to rethink what PR meant for me, along with how marketing and PR work together.

PR vs Marketing: Definitions

What is public relations? The definition and role have evolved, but here is the most recent definition:

At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.

What is marketing?

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Not so different, to be sure. Not the same, either.

Blurry Lines

And let’s be clear: I’m not trying to argue that they are the same, just that the lines between what one does (and doesn’t), versus what the other does (and doesn’t), aren’t as clear as they used to be.

Before we move on, let’s quickly ask another question: what is storytelling?

In short, it’s a way of communicating.

To paraphrase Stephen King and his thoughts on opening lines, a good story (or more specifically its opening line) is an invitation.

It should say: listen. Come in here. You want to know this.

The Story Behind PR and Marketing

And that’s what I love about PR, marketing, and the content we develop in those disciplines.

If you can invite people in, when you grab their attention and get them to take part in the conversation, it’s amazing. They will care about what you’re talking about if the story resonates with them.

In other words, you can brainstorm, pitch, and craft amazing campaigns, but good storytelling brings it all together.

So, whether we are in PR or marketing, does that mean we are storytellers first and foremost? That’s what I like to call myself. But it’s just a label. It still doesn’t cover all that we do.

The Moral: Different Sides of the Same Coin

If you consider yourself a PR practitioner, does that mean you don’t “do” marketing? Which parts? SEO? Paid search? Content marketing?

Likewise, if you’re a marketer, which PR tactics don’t belong in your strategy? Media relations? Crisis management? Corporate communications? 

Increasingly, each discipline is being considered a different side of the same coin. The goal(s), if not all the tactics themselves, definitely crossover: influence. Engagement. Education. Relationships. Communicating value.

Not to mention: Telling stories. Building trust. Driving conversions.

Enter the PESO Model

Not long ago, Gini Dietrich wrote a post entitled, “PR Pros Must Embrace the PESO Model.”  

In it, she outlines how “the PESO model takes the four media types—paid, earned, shared and owned—and merges them together,” along with how PR (and marketing) professionals can apply the process to their communications programs.

It might be a good idea for you to peruse the post again before reading on. Go ahead. We’ll wait.


It’s good, right? What was your favorite part?

Mine? It’s an easy call, but it might not be what many of you would expect me to call out.

Content is my thing. The strategy behind it. Writing it. But the “owned” in PESO wasn’t what called out to me.


No, for me, the most compelling component in any conversation speaking to PR and marketing comes down to measurement.

However you identify yourself and your role in the PR and marketing mix, and whichever tactics you opt for, in the end, you need to be able to provide attribution. Data. Proof.

It’s not just the realization that a tactic worked, but how and why it did.

And while access to data and our ability to track our efforts continues to improve, if the conversations in our Slack channels are any indication, measurement continues to challenge PR and marketing professionals alike. 

Insider’s Tip: Section three of The Communicator’s Playbook is all about measurement and incorporating it into your plan.

Back to the Burning Question

This all started with a simple, innocent statement: they don’t need PR training, they need marketing measurement training.

There’s nothing wrong with that statement, really. But it is limited. It doesn’t look at the whole strategic picture.

It triggered a response because I knew that the person, the people in question, would benefit from a PR Dream Team membership, regardless of the discipline they identify with.

The truth is, there’s no arguing that marketing and PR are different, but ultimately their goals should align, and practices can converge under a common component: content.

“The core synergy between PR and marketing is content,” confirms Lee Odden, digital marketer and CEO of TopRank Marketing, in a recent CMO post. “From creation to promotion to measurement.”

PR vs Marketing: Stop Wasting Time

In the same CMO post, Georgina Goode, former head of engagement and social media for the U.K.’s Government Digital Services department, makes a good (see what I did there?) point:

Convergence of PR and marketing has been a reality for the last 10 years—be it SEO, influencer marketing, content, or social media engagement.

And the truth is, that even now, many marketers and PR pros are still content with viewing their roles in a silo, typically paid versus earned.

This model simply doesn’t work anymore. More time is wasted on defining who owns what and not on building capability from within great multidisciplinary teams.

So, yes, PR vs marketing is apparently still a thing.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Innovation in both disciplines can only occur if we’re working together.

In fact, if you’re a marketer and lifelong learner looking to improve and differentiate yourself, leaning into the PR perspective will open your eyes to a whole new world of measurement and engagement. It did for me.

And vice-versa. PR practitioners need to align with their marketing counterparts. Learn from each other.

Why don’t you join us in the free Spin Sucks community to see what I mean?

Or, better yet, try out the PR Dream Team.

Marketer or PR pro, you won’t regret it!

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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