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Duncan Hopwood

The difference between public relations and marketing

October 24, 2019

“What is PR?” It’s one of the most common questions people in our sector get asked. Close behind is: “What’s the difference between Public Relations and marketing?” As it turns out, the answer to the second question sheds much light on the first.

Public Relations in its purest form is about reputation – gaining it, building it and protecting it. By contrast, the simplest way to sum up marketing is that it is, in fact, two things: marketing strategy and marketing communications. In other words, what should we try to sell to whom and how do we reach them?

In other words, marketing is all about sales. Proper PR is about more than that because reputation impacts on other areas of the business from customer relations to recruitment. Having said that, PR tactics such as media relations and content creation have a huge role to play in marketing communications.

So let’s look at a couple of examples from the property and construction sector where we specialise in PR and marketing communications (marcoms).

Difference between public relations and marketing Example 1: Stakeholder Engagement

In marcoms, we act as an external marketing resource for clients that either don’t have a marketing team or need additional or specialist support. That’s a business development function, plain and simple, to help to drive sales.

But in PR, it’s a different story. One example is stakeholder engagement. Here, we will be working with a developer or a regeneration agency with a major project to communicate with the public and the local authority. Gaining planning permission or winning public hearts and minds may ultimately lead to projects being delivered that require marketing. And we might use tactics that would be regarded as marketing communications, such as building a website for the engagement process or running events. But at this stage, it’s all about reputation.

Difference between public relations and marketing Example 2: CSR

Let’s look in our second example at Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Here, I’m going to report on a presentation to a London Chamber of Commerce event that gave us some valuable insights.

It’s 8 a.m. Thursday October 24 2019. I’m at the London Chamber of Commerce Property Breakfast Club. Outside it’s half-dark and damp, but inside CBRE’s St Martin’s Court offices, there is a warm glow. Attendees report that construction projects are finally moving forward again after a two-year lull. The prospect of next spring’s MIPIM, that sun-drenched property fest on the beaches of Cannes, is also a common discussion point.

Phil Shortman, Regional MD for London Construction at Wates Group is our speaker, and we are about to learn why organisations should care about their reputation and, even more, doing their duty.

Ambitious

Wates has set an ambitious target of working towards zero waste and zero carbon targets. This is not just in response to public interest in the environment. Phil tells us that the company’s Chairman, James Wates, drives its policies in this and other areas because he believes in them.

Other areas where Wates is helping to take a lead include
– attracting the next generation of contractors to a skills-starved industry
– challenging the adversarial behaviour of the industry
– supporting SMES

As part of its commitment to Build UK, Wates has published its payments to sub contractors to show it pays on time.

Phil describes Wates’ objectives as “changing paradigms” in the industry. And that challenge of changing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours is frequently one of the objectives of any PR campaign. It can often be about something that the Army describes as winning hearts and minds. It’s applicable not just in the field of conduct but in any scenario when getting people on your side will make your job so much easier.

PR, Marketing and CSR

He doesn’t use the terms public relations, marketing or corporate social responsibility (CSR) in his presentation.

It almost sounds as if the company doesn’t need marketing communications. It has a full order book for the rest of this year and the whole of next. Turnover across London has doubled in the last four years to £400 million. The company has £100 million of assets and zero debt.

Clearly, though, it is committed from the top down to corporate social responsibility. Wates even has 250 mental health first aiders targeting stress at work.

Storytelling

I ask Phil what Wates is doing to tell its whole CSR story in order to encourage others in the industry to follow its lead. He confesses that the company has been reticent about doing that, something rooted in its family history dating back to 1897.

This is an obstacle I encounter a lot. Unlike thrusting young entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley moguls, many more modest people and traditional businesses are reticent about putting their head above the parapet in case it gets shot at. There’s a feeling that you could risk damaging your reputation by taking a stand on something such as late payments because it implies criticism of others. My counter to this is that having no reputation can be just as damaging, so it’s important to communicate and to have the courage of your convictions, but it needs to be done well.

Nonetheless, Phil is here talking to property pros about these issues, and this is a first step to getting the story out there.

Thought Leadership 

He may not have mentioned PR, but he has mentioned that phrase ‘thought leadership’ which is a powerful PR tactic in cementing reputation in a particular sector or on a specialist subject. It’s also one that can drive sales by helping to open up new markets, as we explained in our blog on the subject.

Here, a PR tactic is being used to support a strategic marketing objective and is therefore part of the marketing communications armoury. Which just goes to show that while there is a difference between marketing and PR, the line can be blurred.

I hope that helps to answer your questions about the difference between public relations and marketing. I’d love to hear your own ideas on the subject.

The good news for our clients is that we cover both PR and marketing communications with serious in-house expertise in media relations, event management and design among other things. If you are looking to break into a new sector, engage with your stakeholders or tell the world about your CSR initiatives, we’d be delighted to talk. Contact Us here.

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