The difference between corporate PR and marketing

As a public relations/corporate communications strategist, I have spent a career working with highly talented marketing communications leaders and always admire the way they look at the world - with creativity and focus that speaks directly to customers, motivating them to act, connecting with them to define and establish substantial brand value.

Today, it’s increasingly common for marketing and communications to fall under a single umbrella within an organization because the skillsets have some overlap, and the work we do together can be complementary. Despite this compatibility, our approaches and the way we see the world are quite different.

As a corporate communications professional, I see myself as being in the business of reputation management. Of course, I want to enhance the brand and promote its positive attributes and benefits. Still, it is also my responsibility to protect the brand by identifying and mitigating risks, managing issues, and navigating potential crises to ensure the brand value remains intact.

Whereas savvy marketers take calculated risks to create an emotional brand connection, attempting to win over customers, build a following, and increase sales. Their focus was (and should) always be about the customers and the brand's experience. Then, when these fantastic brand builders work with me, we bring our worlds together, pooling our efforts to help retain the success they have built, including defining a strategy to overcome an issue or supercharging a campaign to amplify the message to broader audiences.

My time is often spent conducting a 360 analysis to determine how a given situation will be perceived not only by customers but also by employees, partners, shareholders, the community, and the government. Then, I focus on the company’s messaging, turning it inside out to see how it could be perceived, misconstrued, if there are legal implications, and positives to highlight.  Essentially, I pressure test everything the organization shares to ensure it protects or enhances the brand, making changes and improvements to minimize risks.

Most recently, with the convergence of marketing and communications into a single area, the distinction between the capability of a marketing expert and a corporate communications expert has become blurred.  Due to confusion because ‘communications’ is part of the MarComms handle, talented, innovative and trusted marketing communications leaders are expected to flex a rarely or never-used crisis communications muscle. During a global pandemic and a tidal wave of ‘issues’ striking companies, high-performing traditional marketing communications teams face mounting pressure from executive groups to be responsible for crisis management. This skill takes different expertise and years to develop.

I cannot count how many ‘reactive’ media statements I have written “just in case” to be ready for many scenarios and how many times I snuffed out an issue before it became a crisis. That is the unseen work of the corporate communications team. Yes, I have written thousands of news releases, and yes, I have pitched products to media and hosted news conferences and all the traditional public relations activities. Still, it is navigating the rainy-day scenarios where my prompt guidance and tested experience can provide maximum value.  While my skill set may be less recognized and often unseen, I am the one who has the answers when an issue blindsides the organization and can confidently guide the executive team on the best strategy and response.   

While marketing and corporate communications are partners in brand responsibility, our roles, talents, and lens are unique, equally valuable and completely necessary. If you are a marketer being asked to manage an issue and feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone, and it is not your failure. It is a failure to understand the distinction between these two essential crafts. 

While MarComms is a natural convergence, respecting, understanding and valuing the difference is crucial to ensure an organization leans on the right expertise at the right time to flourish.

The difference between corporate PR and marketing