Selling the dream

PR, marketing, publicity, social media, digital marketing, SEO, advertising…they’re all the same thing, right?

Wrong. Actually, one of the only commonalities between these disciplines is the fact they’re so darn hard to differentiate between. We’re all guilty of it – just last month a friend of mine started a publicity role, and my first question was “So, do we do the same job now?”

In fact, I would wager that many a young grad has mistakenly entered into the world of PR with a Mad Men box-set under their arm, a briefcase full of Scotch and eagerness to start quoting Don Draper

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.

Don Draper, season one, Mad Men

Note to self: PR is not advertising. Nor is it marketing. And it’s definitely not SEO. Yet a day-to-day battle for people across all these job titles, is clarifying these subtle but important differences to their clients, to journalists, advertising departments – not to mention our poor parents, who have no idea what we do.

So when I was invited last week to an Angel Academe* mentoring session focusing on PR, marketing and sales, I was confident that I had the answer to the inevitable question: ‘What is the difference between PR and marketing?”

(For any one interested, my prepared answer was fantastic.)

But as I cleared my throat, Garry Felgate, a former IBM salesman spoke up: PR gets people to start thinking about your product or business; marketing gives people a direct call to action to do something about your product or business; and both are just tools for getting people into the sales pipeline, ready for the sales team to convert to customers.

And with that, Garry clarified something that is so often forgotten in the daily stresses and deadlines of modern day PR – to paraphrase the James Carville quote, “It’s sales, stupid”.

PR is only important and helpful if it’s seen within the whole toolbox of business planning. So often it is sidelined as fluffy, ego-boosting, coverage creation. But ultimately PR needs to have a business purpose, whether that is to drive sales, or to build interest from investors, grow brand awareness or attract talent. One technology start-up told me recently that TechCrunch coverage is essential if they are to attract and retain developers – because if TechCrunch isn’t covering a startup, developers can quite easily get a job with another ‘hotter’ business.

And this is where marketing, PR, SEO and advertising departments can offer real value-add to their businesses – by always taking a step back to consider the wider business picture. It might be sales, but it might just as easily be investor community reputation or talent attraction. 

*Many thanks to Sarah Turner and the fantastic team at the Angel Academe and Entrepreneur Academe, a 12-month programme for women entrepreneurs. I had a great afternoon in a room of hugely talented mentors and inspiring business founders.