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The difference between public relations and marketing

“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.


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.


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.


Property brand marketing and the daring fox

Firms who back up their property brand marketing by walking the talk will be more successful than those who peddle empty promises.

Strolling mid-morning near St Paul’s. Suddenly and in broad daylight, a fox darts across my path and into the road. He shimmies to avoid an advancing vehicle and disappears around the corner. Some nearby construction work has disturbed him from his lair.

My mind had been mulling over the property industry breakfast I’d just left. But the sight of Reynard in full flight conjures up images of Leicester City FC, the rags-to-riches football club whose badge is a fox.

Property brand marketing

Leicester’s remarkable feat in soaring from obscurity to world fame by winning the Premier League against all the odds is a lesson in building brand awareness by action. Let’s be clear here. You absolutely must have good marketing communications and PR as well as a professional property brand marketing identity to back up your deeds. But here’s the point. Those things will be so much more powerful when you walk the talk. Or to put it another way, in property brand marketing, nothing succeeds like success. Or to put it another way, in property brand marketing, quality marcoms should be shouting about your success, not making empty promises.

Which leads me back to this morning’s talk.

Ronan Murphy, CEO of Durkan begins by asking the busy room of property pros how many of us have heard of his company. Only a smattering of hands go up. Surprising, perhaps, given that this is a business of 200 people, £165 million turnover and £11 million operating profit. It plies its trade in the audience’s sector and works in and around their home patch, London.

Changing perceptions

Standout projects include a 272-apartment complex at Elephant and Castle (built around a live train line, illustrating the challenges of developing in London) and the first phase of a massive 7,000-unit project for housing association Peabody.

When Ronan meets people who have heard of Durkan, he confides that they think of the company as a contractor. But its strategy now is to position itself as a developer, rather than a construction firm. That’s a common marketing and PR challenge – changing perceptions of a target audience that has you pigeon-holed as one thing when you can do much more.

Strategic direction

With his finance background, he is well placed to explain the reason for the change in strategic direction – potential margins of 15 per cent compared with three per cent for contractors. And Durkan is well placed to deliver. Unlike many cash-strapped property businesses, the family firm has £350 million of its own resources to invest.

He has a warning for developers. Thinking that you can still just hire a contractor at will and screw them down on price to bolster your margins is wrong. The skills shortage will change all that in five years. Such is his distaste for race-to-the-bottom contract tendering, he says Durkan company won’t even countenance taking on a construction-only project nowadays unless there is an element of partnership.

Ambitious goals

There is no shortage of ambition. The goal is to double turnover and triple profitability in five years as Durkan shifts to being more of a developer. Ronan tells us he’d like to think when he returns to the breakfast club after then, he’ll see a lot more hands raised. He’s taken the first step in raising Durkan’s brand profile by speaking to this audience. If the company meets its targets and backs that up with effective property brand marketing communications and PR, his hope should be realised.

Do you have a success story to tell? Get in touch to discuss how we could make more of it.