A Journalist's View of Marketing and PR

Posted on: 2015-06-19 in Opinion   |   Tagged: b2bpr comms journalism marketing pr

Gail Downey, Media Director at Onyx PR, provides a journalist's perspective on the difference between Marketing and PR. 

Say the word PR to a journalist and most will raise their eyes to the heavens and shake their head. PR and journalists don’t make easy bedfellows, but the truth is that in this content-hungry age one can’t do without the other. But if you mention the word marketing to a journalist, most will stare blankly and point you in the direction of the advertising department.
While we dislike PR spin, journalists will go with it if there is a germ of a story in the press release. However marketing, in our view, is nothing but pure advertising and something we want nothing to do with – even though it effectively pays our wages!

So why do so many organisations still insist the two are one and the same? It boils down to budgets and an inherent misunderstanding of a journalist’s role. After all, if your role as CEO is to make money for your shareholders then surely someone, anyone, who can get you publicity – paid for or free – is doing the same job.


One of the best descriptions I have heard of the difference between PR and marketing goes like this:

Marketing  = You saying “I’m great.”
PR = Someone else saying “You’re great.”

For a journalist, this is fundamental because every time someone – be them an individual or organisation – makes a claim, we ask them to prove it. With PR, the proof may be a case study: i.e. someone who has tried the product and is prepared to say they like it. With marketing, it is simply the marketers saying how marvellous it is – or a well-paid endorsement by a celebrity. Sorry, but for a journalist that’s not going to cut it. You’ve paid that person to say that; you haven’t proven anything.

Of course the burden of proof doesn’t have to be that high, but it does have to be true (yes, journalists and the truth – really!). A strong PR agency will know that the trust between themselves and their journalist contacts is crucial. Reputable PRs have resigned when they discovered their bosses lied to them and to the public. A good PR understands the value of the burden of proof.

For marketers they too need to believe in what they are selling. PR is about relationships, which ideally create sales for the brand – but it’s much deeper than that. It’s about trust. When I run media training sessions, I work with PRs to test their clients’ key messages. Basically, if they are claiming x then I will say ‘prove it’. If their client starts to talk in jargon about holistic strategies with beneficial outcomes, I will ask them to explain what they mean by that and the PR team will be generally supportive. After all, they have to get media coverage and if the journalists don’t understand the story then it won’t get used.

When marketers are among my delegates (and this isn’t all of them) there is a tendency to try to push their point forward without taking the trouble to find evidence to back it up. They insist the audience – reader, viewer, listener – understands their jargon and it’s the journalist who is being stupid. Of course, every profession has its quota of people who aren’t that bright, but before you belittle the journalist remember that if they don’t understand what you are saying there is every chance they will get it wrong – or simply won’t use the story.

I don’t have it in for marketers. All I’m saying is that organisations that think marketing and PR are the same are making a potentially costly mistake.

A good PR agency will have spent the time building relationships with journalists. This helps when things go wrong. A journalist will still run with the bad news story – after all, bad news sells. But a good PR agency can help limit the damage and protect the reputation. A marketer can take out a paid advert after the event but who will believe paid versus editorial?

This year we, at Onyx, teamed up with a USA company in Dallas which brands itself as both PR and marketing. Across the pond there is more of a crossover. But in the UK, I would suggest that from a journalist’s point of view:  marketing = advertising while PR = potential source of stories – or in other words free content. Ne’er the twain shall meet!

Gail Downey is a journalist and Media Director at Onyx PR
UK Agency Awards Winner 2016

About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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