Marketing is how a company targets a product or service to its most likely consumers. Marketers create strategies that address what is known as the 4 Ps of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Advertising, public relations and sales promotion activities are all part of the Promotion piece of marketing. The most important thing for business owners to remember is not the differences, but that all of the pieces working together create continuity for your business marketing efforts that is memorable for your customers.


Think of marketing as an umbrella for advertising, public relations and sales promotion. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as, “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Its purpose is to drive sales to generate revenue. Your marketing plan details your product or service, describing features and benefits; justifies your pricing; outlines how and where sales will occur; explains your promotional strategies. This is where advertising, PR and sales promotion fit in.


The characteristic that most distinguishes advertising from public relations is that you pay for advertising. This also allows you to control where, when and how often it is seen or heard. By researching the habits of your customers – what radio station they listen to, for example – advertising is an effective strategic promotional tool under your marketing efforts. It can be used to promote sales by advertising discounts or special offers, for example, but it isn’t always used for sales, and not all sales promotion is advertising.

Public Relations

The Public Relations Society of America, the largest membership group of PR professionals in the U.S., defines PR as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Inside your business, this means employees and sales channels. Outside your business includes media, shareholders, investors and customers. Relationships are key, so you do not pay for PR as you do advertising. Effective PR can boost sales promotion efforts and be a part of its strategy, such as joining forces at a trade show.

Sales Promotion

Sales promotion includes both tangible and intangible activities. For example, direct mail strategies, such as a catalog or coupon, are tangible sales promotion activities, while an offer of “buy 2, get 1 free” is an intangible activity. Other examples include placing a kiosk at a location in a store designed to elicit impulse buying, giving free samples, or creating a contest. Both advertising and PR should be used to leverage sales promotion activities – PR can use media relations to announce them in the press, and advertising promotes them through paid channels. All activities work together to drive your company’s marketing.