The Public Relations and Marketing tug of war

As PR students, we are always quick to defend our field to those who throw public relations into the same pile as marketing.

Marketing involves the process of selling and promoting a product by via direct (and often one-way) messages to a target audience, whereas PR practitioners base their campaigns around relationship building.

With marketing, your agenda is to get some kind of action from your customers. For example, you may send a letter asking people to send off for a free sample or even place a coupon in magazine with a tear-off section, while PR focuses on creating and maintaining relationships. It could be relationship between the chief executive officer and his employees or even an organization and its investors. Whoever the relationship is with, PR is still about maintaining those positive relationships with a multitude of publics.

The post titled, “Shift Your PR From Push to Pull” by Adam Singer, says that marketing and PR are complete opposites as PR is far more than publicity and the “push” of traditional marketing. The new PR is about reforming itself away from the conventional marketing push and into the “pull.”

The traditional way of PR is failing and here’s why.

  • Traditional media- they are much more concerned in today’s economy about if they will have a job tomorrow then about reading the mass daily emails of pitches they receive. “While just a decade ago, traditional media and PR shared a symbiotic relationship, that relationship is currently on the rocks.” 
  • Blogging– bloggers don’t want to be seen as marketers. Technorati’s 2009 state of the blogosphere showed that 72% of bloggers are more interested in sharing their personal experiences. Furthermore, more than 75% of bloggers post in order to share their thoughts and opinions.  

PR is melding itself into a new realm, one that offers sustainable growth. Adam says that the “pull” strategy allows enormous potential because PR professionals can include tactics like content marketing, which will build your digital presence over period of time. Therefore, you bring the publics to you, which is where the terminology “pull” comes into play. You’re placing little “digital hooks in the water.”

Another positive to the “pull” strategy is that it’s far more strategic. By implementing a PR strategy that brings people to you, instead of you out there badgering and marketing them, you are going to create a different kind of reputation. People are bombarded with hundreds of marketing tactics daily, and many people don’t even bother listening  because they don’t want to be sold. With the “pull” PR strategy the relationship you build will be one based on permission, as people want to actually know more about it.

The “pull” method will also make PR professionals less reliant on traditional mass media because “it’s more powerful to be found by influencers than seeking them out.”

What would you say is the biggest difference between marketing and PR? What do you think of the PR concept the “pull”? Do you think it’s better to let the publics come to you or is it best to find them? Why or why not? What if your client’s company is small and they don’t have the same magnitude of “pull”?

This entry was posted in Four Minus One and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Public Relations and Marketing tug of war

  1. bgansar says:

    I would say the biggest difference between marketing and PR is the making and maintaining of two-way symmetrical relationships in PR. We aren’t just sending out a message or product, we are implementing a message and listening and responding to the reply. The pull method seems like a good concept, however I’m skeptical of having people come to us because of the misperception of PR… who knows what people who come to a PR person for.

  2. bjohnson says:

    I personally like the pull strategy. I think that as content is so easily spread these days it is easy (relatively) to get people to find it and then possibly share it with others. The trick of it all is developing a relationships with the person that found your content in the first place.

    I do think PR and marketing differ on many levels but they are also very much related in that both want to share messages or ideas and capture a certain audience. PR is just more concerned with establishing the relationships, in my opinion.

  3. sferrer says:


    I absolutely am fond of the “tug of war” analogy used to describe marketing and PR. To me, the “push” is symbolic for marketing and PR is the “pull.” Marketers push their messages to their target audiences while PR professionals pull their relationships. A public coming to PR specialists and PR specialists seeking a public have to co-exist with each other. I think the comparison of top-notch PR agencies/departments versus PR agencies/departments is another example. More established PR agencies and corporations with reputable PR departments have better opportunities for clients to come to them. Those agencies and corporations that are smaller and less recognized do not have the same magnitude of “pull” and actively seek their clients more.

  4. ekozak says:

    As a marketing student, my instructors have always explained the difference in terms of the marketing communications mix. The mix includes multiple aspects of marketing communications such as PR, advertising, sales, internal communication, etc. Although the functions of PR and other marketing activities may be fundamentally different, they must share consistent messaging in order to be successful. For example, if a hotel is positioning itself as a luxury resort to members of the press, but is also advertising big discounts, the disconnect will break down the trust established by the PR department and will confuse the hotel’s stakeholders.

    I think PR campaigns that try to implement a pull strategy will receive more “qualified” traffic, but they might also miss out on a valuable audience that needs more push in order to hear the message, understand it and act on it.

  5. wwillis says:

    I think this is a great post and very interesting to me. At my internship, there is a communications and a marketing department. It is always cool to see how the two interact, differ and coincide. For example, an event is always worked on by both teams in cooperation with one another. PR usually focuses on getting writers in for the event, pitching ideas for a story on the event and sending out a release on the event. We also put up the event on online calendars. Marketing will focus on getting direct action from those involved or people they want to attend.

  6. kinoshita says:

    I agree with you, Ashley. The biggest difference between marketing and PR is that marketing uses communication that is one-way. The whole point to marketing is to “push” something. Public relations requires two-way conversation. There are times when we are pushing for something, but ultimately, it’s about doing what is necessary to foster the best relationship(s) possible between parties. That can look like many things: push, pull and who knows what else.

    I don’t think one way is better than the other. I think it’s easier when people are pulled in. It can be daunting and frustrating to pitch and seek out people. Also, if you are pulling people in then they want to be there. If you seek people they don’t always want to participate. However, I feel like there will always be a time and place for “push.” There will always be people who would be interested but aren’t aware- sleepers.

  7. ecain says:

    In my opinion the biggest difference between marketing and PR is that we are not necessarily trying to “sell” anything but build effective relationships. Unfortunately, when going about the conventional way of pitching to media outlets, we can sometimes sound like we are in fact are trying to sell something. I think that ideally it would be nice if the publics would come to you, but in most instances that is not going to be the case. Even if you do let the publics come to you, if they are not the publics you are necessarily targeting, then you will still need to go find them. I think that the pull method is great in theory, however I do not think that the “push” will be eliminated anytime soon. In PR you cannot just sit back and wait for people to come to you, because in the majority of cases that is not going to work. Overall, I think that it would be ideal if you could eventually get to a place where you are practicing a good balance of both “push” and “pull.”

  8. astrazzara says:

    Brittany: I agree with your skepticism about the “pull” method because you don’t necessarily know who is going to come to you. As when you reach “push” out to someone you know the reasoning behind why you are contacting them.

    Britnee: Yes, that seems like the most important aspect: maintaining the relationship when people reach out to you. Content is so fluid that it’s easy for people to share positive/negative experiences about an organization.

    Stephanie: That’s a great point, Stephanie about larger corporations having a larger “pull.” More people know about the large corporations, therefore, they will reach out more to them. It may be harder for smaller agencies to experience the benefits of the “pull.”

    Erin: Marketing and PR of a company cannot be fundamentally different. I think the Dove vs. Axe example Dr. Gilpin showed us in class is a great example of what happens when the marketing and PR go awry. It’s important to remember you cannot contradict what the marketing is doing.

    Whitney: I think it’s vital that the PR and marketing teams work together. This way everyone is on the same page and can worked in coordination to make the message and relationships even stronger.

    Kim: The “pull” isn’t going to work for everyone, as you said some people are “sleepers.” They just don’t pay attention, and if you want to reach them you’re probably going to have to “push” them. There’s not one way to reach every audience.

    Elizabeth: I agree there’s definitely not one way to build effective relationships with your publics. As PR professionals we should be willing to try new ways of building and maintaining our relationships, and we may find that a combination of “push” and “pull” is most effective.

  9. ndapplegate says:

    Great blog. I see it as marketing companies push their information and ideas to their clients and target audiences while PR practitioners pull relationships together. I believe that there is not one particular way to build relationships with your publics, whether you allow them to find you or you find them both ways are effective. I think that with PR though it is more based on trust and which ever way the client can easily be trusted is the best way for the target audiences.

  10. astrazzara says:

    Nicole-That’s interesting that you mention trust in regards to PR. Some people generally don’t trust marketing campaigns because they think they are just being sold.

Comments are closed.