Marketing is the entire system of developing products or services and communicating their benefits to customers to entice them to make purchases. Public relations is a component of a company's marketing plan which emphasizes the promotion of goodwill with the public and support of the company image.
Companies typically develop marketing plans every three to five years and review them on at least an annual basis. They include strategic planning, such as formulation of the company's marketing mix and developments of research and communication plans. Within the marketing plan, each component of the promotional system is laid out, including advertising, public relations, personal selling and other forms of promotion used by the company.
A shared trait of public relations and the broader umbrella of marketing is the importance of building and maintaining a brand image. Market research is used to design and develop products that suit target customer needs, and subsequent messaging is used to communicate benefits to the customers. Public relations includes unpaid marketing for media exposure, feature stories, press releases and other efforts to contribute to the company's image. A family-friendly company, for instance, often participates in community events and family-related activities to strengthen its reputation.
One key distinction between public relations and advertising as two prominent marketing tools is that PR is unpaid, while ads are paid messages. Companies use both to convey brand image and to promote products. However, they have more control over advertising, since media are paid to place those messages. Companies use PR tools to share information and to put forth positive messages, but they don't have as much authority over how media take and present the information.
Marketing as an entire umbrella of activities typically emphasizes proactive methods to understand and meet the desires of customers. Companies plan research and creative messaging to convey product or service benefits. PR has both proactive and reactive strategies. The proactive strategy is aligned with marketing in that it includes an assessment of company strengths that should come out in PR activities. A reactive strategy is a thoughtful plan on how to address potential criticisms that may come from media or the public. This reactive strategy is a key distinction of PR in the marketing system.