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Marketing, advertising and PR are not equals

By December 23, 2008July 20th, 20217 Comments

I love and hate this:

The difference between marketing, pr, advertising and branding

I love it because of it’s simple, it’s funny and it’s true.

But I hate it because it perpetuates the myth that marketing, advertising and PR are all in some way equals. They aren’t.

Let me explain:

You meet two people at a holiday party: Beth works in the marketing department of a mid-sized business focusing mostly on public relations, and John is sales rep at the same company.

Here’s how they introduce themselves:

John: “I’m in marketing at ABC Widget.”
Beth: “I’m in marketing and PR at ABC Widget.”

One of introductions above is technically incorrect. Can you guess which one?

Did you guess John?

Sorry. Wrong answer, and here’s why:

The Promotion Mix diagram

Marketing is the interdisciplinary umbrella advertising, public relations, direct marketing, sales promotion and direct selling—the five elements of the promotion mix—all reside under.

So the fact is, John is technically right—Beth isn’t.

John is in sales, and personal selling is one of the elements of the promotion mix. It’s the equivalent of saying “I’m in law,” when someone is an attorney specializing in estate planning. That works.

But when Beth says, “I’m in marketing and PR…” it’s like saying “I’m in law and estate planning,” “I’m in medicine and cardiology,” or “I’m in accounting and auditing.” That doesn’t work.

This is a common practice. When I instructed the IMC course at the UW, I was surprised how many marketing practitioners cobbled together discipline and sub-discipline.

Perhaps from the standpoint of explaining what you do, it’s not that important.

But each element of the promotional mix plays a different role in making marketing work. Without an appreciation of the differences or promotional cost effectiveness of each element, your marketing won’t work—no matter what you call it.

Thoughts on this? Share them below.

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Image courtesy of Neutron, LLC via Ads of the World.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Nice work and an interesting take on something that is often difficult to explain as disciplines split off and get more and more specialized. I find that often in passing it is easier to speak to the work at a higher level of abstraction – the language everyone knows, right? In this case, marketing. Sometimes it is easier to speak from the specifics. Guess it all depends on how a person sees him/herself in the mix. Laying it out in a hierarchy is helpful to see the big picture and if I had big red dot, I could do the “You are Here” thing. :o)

    You’ve piqued my curiosity as well. Where does social media fit?

  • While I agree with you on the redundancy portion of your assertion I believe further clarification is necessary as to what “Marketing” is. The disciplines you outline are all subsets of Marketing Communication and not truly Marketing (i.e. Pragmatic Marketing). Marketing is, and should be about the creation of the product to fill a need. Marketing communications is the means by which we communicate the existence of our newly created product.

  • Poster number five says:

    Mainly i agree. But! Your company’s strategical approach and understanding of the roles of the departments will determine what goes where.

    Some define PR as “every relationship to the the public” including the way people answer the phone, to what they see when they pass the building, to how subcontractors are handled as well as job applicants. Marketing is the sales and distribution part of the company, which includes advertising, but not as much sub contrators or job applicants. Where I work.

    Also: Some organizations may not need a marketing division (or need only a small marketing division), and would slam the two division into one: PR and marketing. Like some volunteer organizations might do.

    Also to Steven: I would really not include R&D in Marketing where i work. But some might, depending on their strategy.

  • Good comments here.

    #5, I live by the rule “all communication is marketing, and all marketing is communication.” So, yes, what they see when the pass the building applies.

    Advertising, PR, Direct Marketing, Sales Promotion and Personal Selling all actually fall under the “Marketing” umbrella. Check out my post on the topic, here:

    Happy marketing,


  • I love they way you have explained something that is sometimes hard to and given it a comical way of looking at it, nice and informative post.

  • These are great but the “Advertising” one should probably have the guy shouting at her face while she holds her ears with her hands.

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