“We need PR and marketing.”

Here at Hinge, we hear this a lot from prospects who sometimes think these are interchangeable disciplines – similar to sales and marketing getting lumped together.

To be certain, the lines have blurred between PR and marketing.  Advances in web technology have accelerated this change and led to innovative ways of presenting a value proposition.  Among professional services firms, one example is the use of educational content on blogs and video sites – content that is fast becoming more popular than promotional content.  In other words, a press release on your website about an award you won is one thing, but blogging about how customers can handle an industry challenge is another.  Both meet the awareness threshold that defines PR – hence the merging of PR and marketing – but the blog post is a more relevant way of showing your expertise.

What are the differences?

There are still differences between PR and marketing.  Most notably, marketing incorporates a wider umbrella under which programs drive new business leads, establish positioning and differentiators, and more comprehensively build a brand. The marketing tool kit includes websites, premium content, email, webinars, advertising and more. These elements do more than generate awareness by compelling audiences to take an action, such as downloading content, filling out a form, or picking up the phone.  

On the other hand, PR focuses on awareness, building relationships with stakeholders, and having a presence in social media and in the traditional press. PR can certainly have a call to action, although it often has more of a marketing support role in that it entices audiences to learn more and then take action.

Another key difference between PR and marketing is from the audience perspective: they need to know that what they consume is authentic. Corporate bloggers have a marketing agenda, for example. They want to get you into their business development funnel, adjust your way of thinking about how to address issues (so that it is in line with theirs), and ultimately sell you something. Along the way these bloggers deliver valuable content that educates audiences on issues and topics – a great way to showcase their expertise and build credibility. With a planned, consistent presence they can become an authentic source of information in their industry. 

However, corporate bloggers won’t blog about their company problems the same way a journalist would. That makes traditional PR even more important to have in your marketing mix.  Get your firm’s case studies, thought leadership articles and other news covered by traditional journalists – with the same messages evident in your other marketing efforts – and you will magnify your authenticity. Audiences will give even more preference to what you say when others validate it. 

What’s the right approach?

So, how should firms approach PR, marketing, or both?

Start by having marketing plan in place with clear objectives. Are you trying to generate new business leads? Launch a new service line? Prepare a firm for M&A? Call attention to a firm’s expertise in a niche?

You must be certain on your strategy for achieving the objectives. Great strategies are often brief, giving overall guidance on how to proceed, such as  “develop influencer audiences” or “establish expertise in the new market through hiring and marketing.”  Knowing the big picture allows you to build an effective program with marketing and PR campaigns where you can assemble your call-to-action marketing materials (websites, email and webinars) and your visibility-focused PR (case studies, trend stories, press releases and even speaking opportunities).

Sure, PR and marketing will continue to have some convergence, but the best practitioners know the difference, when to emphasize one over the other, and how to use both together. It’s their keen awareness of audiences’ needs that determines how to proceed, which requires another two marketing tools that are always in demand: ears.

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