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PR v marketing: what can digital marketing learn from public relations?

What’s the difference?

To those working outside the marketing and public relations (PR) industries, it can seem as though these disciplines are synonymous – or at least quite similar. But as those in the business know, marketing and PR usually act as separate functions within a business (and in some cases, each assuming superiority over the other).

The truth is that at their core PR and marketing, have the same purpose: growing the business. PR grows the business by creating positive relationships with the press and other stakeholders. By managing the company’s reputation through internal and external communications strategies, PR sells the company’s brand and values. It’s all about exposure.

“Top funnel, long-term marketing strategies share a crucial principle with PR”

Marketing grows businesses by building positive relationships with consumers to generate sales. However, with the rapid growth of the digital marketing industry, and a new savvy online audience, direct selling as a standalone marketing tactic isn’t enough. Content marketing, influencer outreach, and social media marketing have all grown from a need to create brand awareness and positive brand associations online. These top funnel, long-term marketing strategies share a crucial principle with PR; positive exposure equals business growth.

So, what can digital marketing learn from PR? Here are three PR planning essentials every marketing manager can learn from.


1. Stakeholder mapping

In digital marketing, your target audiences are your consumer groups: the demographic group of people that purchase each product or service offered by the business. Choosing which target audiences to focus on within a strategy is usually based on performance and revenue.

In PR, your target audiences are your stakeholders: a group of people that can affect your business. Choosing which stakeholders to focus on within a strategy is based on the power and interest each stakeholder has in your business. This can be achieved by creating a stakeholder map:

A stakeholder map will be different for each business. It will also vary over time depending on the company’s current activities and campaigns, as well as their reputation. Once the map is complete, you can use it to determine where to focus your efforts.

Groups with a high level of interest and power are key players. They should be fully involved in PR activities. Groups with high power and low interest are also important. By meeting their needs, you can maintain a positive relationship, and may even shift them to the key player box.

So, what can digital marketing learn from this PR planning method?

There are many ways digital marketing can use this PR planning method. As a marketing manager, you could use it to demarcate your current customer groups. Instead of stakeholders, use customer groups or use audience personas for your product range. Power can become current or projected profit or ROI, and interest can become top-funnel engagement and awareness such as product page visits.

This can help you to determine where your marketing budget should be focused, and what activities to use for each product or service. For example, this map may show that Product A, although it has a good profit margin, has low awareness. You may decide to choose content marketing to build brand awareness and link-building to improve your search rankings. You may also want to review your current marketing spend for Products D, F and G. If you’re already running a PPC campaign for these products, you may choose to use conversion optimisation tactics to make your campaign more profitable.

2. Problem statement

A problem statement is a straightforward way of bringing together your research into a clear point of focus for your strategy. The statement should answer these questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • Where is the problem?
  • When is it a problem?
  • How is it a problem?
  • For whom is it a problem?
  • Why is this a problem?

For example, imagine you’re a PR manager for a start-up sewage company that wants to become a thought-leader in technological innovation for developing countries. Your situation analysis has highlighted barriers and opportunities, and your stakeholder map (see above) has helped you to determine your key audience. You could summarise everything you have learned into the following problem statement:

“ImaginaryCompany offers a cost-effective solution to sewer drainage provision in developing countries. Fiscal strain means that charities and NGOs prefer low-cost products that they know and trust. This problem has a direct impact on ImaginaryCompany’s ability to become a thought-leader as it is a new company with low interest.”

Now, let’s say you’re the digital marketing manager at the same company that also wants to increase its number of leads. You’ve completed a situation analysis and you have defined your audience personas. You write the following problem statement:

“ImaginaryCompany offers a cost-effective solution to sewer drainage provision in developing countries. Fiscal strain means that buyers at charities and NGOs prefer low-cost products that they know and trust. This problem has a direct impact on ImaginaryCompany’s ability to increase leads as it a new company with low site traffic and poor search rankings.”

This statement acts as a quick-reference guide from which you can build your strategy. It doesn’t necessarily offer new insight, but it creates focus by highlighting key issues that can act as the starting point of your strategy. In the example above, the strategy should target buyers at charities and NGOs to build trust, improve site traffic and search rankings.

3. Measuring success

The effectiveness of PR is difficult to measure. On one hand, PR success is based on attitudes, which can be difficult to quantify as they are based on personal emotions. On the other hand, there are also many metrics that can provide insight into the performance of a campaign such as the number of attendees at an event or the ratio of positive to negative media coverage.

To address this, an evaluation framework favoured by many PR professionals is to break down metrics into four categories:


This is any internal activity that needs to be completed before you can implement your plan, for example, set up a dedicated email address to field media enquiries, book venue for an event etc.
In digital marketing, this may be fixing a broken link to a shopping cart, completing keyword research, setting up ad managers, etc.
These tasks directly affect the success of your campaign and should, therefore, be recognised in the formal evaluation process.


These are the quantifiable results of the campaign activities, for example, the number of survey respondents, the number of social media posts, number of press releases sent out etc.

In digital marketing, this could be a metric such as the number of survey respondents or number of social media posts. It could also include the number of technical SEO changes made, number/value of external links secured, or the number of PPC bids made.


This is the effect of individual campaign activities, and awareness of key messages eg sentiment of event feedback, the number of social media engagements etc.

In digital marketing, you could include top-funnel metrics such as page views, keyword search volume and search rankings.


This considers the campaign’s success against its objectives and the effect it has had on the target audience. In PR, metrics may include an increase in positive media coverage or number of company speakers booked at market-leading events. That is, metrics that show improved reputation.

In digital marketing, outcomes are likely to include the number of leads, brand search volume and conversion rates. That is, metrics for further down the marketing funnel.

The individual metrics mentioned above will be nothing new to a seasoned marketing manager. But the framework for evaluating the success of a campaign may be. Breaking down an evaluation in this way ensures that you know exactly how each metric relates to your campaign.

If you enjoyed this article on PR v marketing, read our article: what is content marketing and how do you do it?


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  • Steve Abbott / 5 years ago

    Thanks! This has been a helpful and thought-provoking analysis.


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