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Marketing, Advertising, And Public Relations: What's The Difference?


If you walk into a typical small business with under 50 employees, chances are you'll see a sign on an office door that reads, "VP of Marketing & Advertising," or "Director of Marketing & PR." While combining these roles may seem like a practical solution (after all, many small business owners wear several different hats themselves), they are unique functions, each of which requires different strengths.

Still, many small businesses tend to lump marketing, advertising, and PR into one department or title, as if they were synonymous. For some, the reason is economic, but for most, I think it comes from a basic misunderstanding of how these three very distinct forms of business communication differ from one another.


Marketing is the process of identifying the types of consumers who will benefit from your product or service, and making your offerings attractive to them. This includes researching and gathering information about what your target market wants to gain from doing business with you, and adjusting your product, processes, messaging, and/or prices to accommodate their desires. Marketers need to be great listeners. They must be adept at recognizing patterns of behavior in consumers, and predicting how different factors (economic, social, political) may influence that behavior.


Advertising is the process of conveying your brand message to the public. Once you have done adequate research and developed your product or service to meet the needs of the market, you craft your message in a way that it reflects those marketing efforts, and direct it to those audiences you've identified as benefitting the most from your offerings. Advertisers are storytellers, charged with the responsibility of taking all the information your marketers have gathered, and weaving it into an engaging, entertaining, and pursuasive narrative that opens the door to sales.

Public Relations

Public relations is your brand's bridge to the entire public: the media, community leaders, charities, and other companies. It's a two-way avenue of communication that goes far beyond engineering publicity stunts or performing crisis management. PR professionals need to be excellent communicators, quick thinkers, and socially-responsible individuals who are motivated by a desire to do and say what is best for the brand's overall relationship with the public.


If the budget permits, almost any business would benefit from delegating these duties individually to people who are uniquely suited to handle them. That isn't to say you can't be successful with just one individual overseeing all of these functions. But that individual would need to be extremely adaptive, able to move freely from one role to the other as needed.

These assessments are my own, from my perspective as a communications professional. I'm not a management expert; just an experienced communicator who loves to help brands make an impact on the public. Feel free to agree or disagree with me, and share your opinions, too. As always, whatever path you choose as a small business owner, I wish you the best!

TJ Barranger is a branding and publicity consultant in the Baltimore, Maryland area with a background in graphic design, business communications, and online content management. He specializes in assisting small business and non-profit clients. Agree/disagree with this article? Share your comments via e-mail: