Online Marketing Blog

Online PR vs. Internet Marketing

As far as Web services for your business go, precious little is more misunderstood than online PR. Many service buyers simply don’t understand the difference between PR and marketing on the Web (if they even understand that “PR” can mean something other than Page Rank). It’s not their fault though.

The PR industry has been notoriously bad at enlightening clients and potential clients about public relations and its value to a business. At the same time, Internet marketing is a flourishing field, where marketing professionals treat PR as a tool under their larger umbrella. That’s the message most potential online PR clients get.

Online public relations and Internet marketing are similar, no doubt, but they’re incredibly different in their most important aspects:

The Message
ShoutIn Internet marketing (as in all areas of marketing) the message is designed to drive sales or directly increase revenue in some way. For example, the marketing message of a large online book store might be that they can offer the largest selection and cheapest prices because of their bulk buying power.

In online PR (and Public Relations as a whole) the message isn’t designed to be directly promotional. PR messages can vary from showing that a company cares about a specific cause (or show core values of the company) to news messages put out by the company.

The Targets
targetIn Internet marketing, you have a “target market.” These are essentially the people your company is selling something to (or if you run a website monetized by advertising, your target market might be potential readers that you’d monetize through those ads).

In online PR, you have a “target audience” instead. A target audience (sometimes called a “key public” or “stakeholder”) can be any group that has influence over the company. The target market is just one target audience. Others might include residents of the area where a company is located, government officials, stockholders, and employees.

The Tactics and Tools
tacticsOne of the reasons many Internet marketers assume they understand online PR is the fact that the two disciplines often use a few of the same tools. However, they use those tools in different ways. Here are tools and tactics used in Internet Marketing and online PR.

Common tactics and tools used in Internet marketing:

  • Paid advertising (banner ads, text link ads, etc.)
  • Link exchanges, free Web directory submissions, blog comments (link-building activities)
  • Affiliates
  • Sales letters (and other sales copy)
  • Article marketing (to drive affiliate sales, traffic, or backlinks)
  • Search engine marketing (paid search placements)
  • Blogs
  • Social bookmarking sites
  • Social networks
  • Podcasts / Internet radio shows
  • Sales, coupons, or other discounts
  • E-books
  • Reports / white papers
  • Direct mail campaigns via email (for promotional purposes)


Common tactics and tools used in online PR:

  • Press releases / news releases
  • Op-eds / letters to the editor (for online publications)
  • Online newsrooms and media kits
  • SEO (to build awareness through organic search engine placements)
  • Interviews
  • Blogs
  • Articles (used to build exposure and expert status more than directly pushing sales or traffic)
  • Podcasts / Internet radio shows (if not purely or mostly promotional)
  • Reports / white papers
  • Email newsletters
  • Social networks

With so much overlap on the tools and tactics used in online PR and Internet marketing, it’s no wonder there’s confusion. The real key is in the way each tool or tactic is used in those different capacities to reach different audiences for different reasons.

Internet marketers rarely look at more than sales, traffic numbers, etc. Online PR professionals look more at the “big picture” of how your company is using those tools to communicate with all groups that may have some influence over you (such as building and maintaining an overall image).

In most cases, one doesn’t really understand how to effectively perform on both fronts, which is why it’s important for business owners and others to understand the difference so they can choose the best service providers to help them reach their goals (or to work towards reaching those goals independently). The best option is always to strike a balance between the two.

  1. Gary Lee Says:
    November 26th, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    wow . . did I chat with you this weekend or something . . . this is exactly the dilemma I’m going through at my company right now . . . I have to learn how to detach myself from the “go get’em” sales mode and be more conscious about the overall message the company is trying to deliver . . .great post!

  2. Seo Design Solutions Says:
    November 26th, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Oftentimes in contrast to Internet Marketing / Branding that the message for PR (Public Relations)can be overshadowed by urgency or the(hey I’m paying 10K to say what I have to say)spam mentality.

    I agree that you should enliven the brand, but not sacrifice the reader to a one time fits all close. Getting the word out is the point, and very few purchase the first time around.

    Great Article Jennifer, Thanks…

  3. Mark Pilatowski Says:
    November 27th, 2007 at 12:37 am

    An enlightening breakdown and something that I am struggling with right now. Luckily I have enough autonomy and authority to have my opinion matter when it comes to how the PR firm we are using proceeds. There is definitely some overlap but their knowledge of the search marketplace is about as extensive as my knowledge of the PR world. We have been able to strike a good balance but I can see how problems could arise if we were unable to work together.

  4. Handsome Rob Says:
    November 27th, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Social Media Marketing is definitely PR’s closest cousin. SMM’s took a tried-and-true page from the PR playbook of TV shows and print publications: Top lists. Having worked in PR before starting in Internet Marketing, I can tell you that one of the biggest reasons magazines put out top lists (10 best this, 20 worst that) is because the lists are picked up and republished by other media outlets. When a major magazine ranks all 50 states by any moderately-interesting metric, they’re all but guaranteed a minimum of 50 mentions in regional news publications.

  5. Jennifer Mattern Says:
    November 28th, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    @Gary – That detachment is something sorely lacking in the “hybrid” group now treating online PR as simply an IM tool, so congrats to you for recognizing it.

    @SDS – That’s precisely why the management function of PR is even more important than ever. PRs have struggled for decades (and still often do) to make traditional management teams understand and effectively use PR. The struggle our industry seems to be having in online PR is that we’re not often able to excite management in the online game, when they’re used to instant gratification and when PR is a continual process.

    @Mark – I’m glad to hear you’re striking a workable balance. :) I think sometimes that the issues are less about IMs and PRs being able to “work together” on the Web (when many work virtually to begin with and never interact with one another), but instead that many in both industries truly don’t understand their own role – they think they can “do it all,” and they poorly educate their clients because of it. Heck, even in PR alone we have major issues lately with people not knowing what they do – like corporate communications folks thinking they can speak for the larger PR industry, and those who still mistakenly believe that public relations is nothing more than media relations.

    @Rob – Social media is a tool that crosses the divide, that’s for sure. Social media has plenty of marketing functionality, but PR value as well (like the example you mentioned). I wouldn’t say that “social media marketing” is “PR’s closest cousin” exactly though. I’d say that social media is just a new collection of tools applicable to both disciplines, and by trying to encompass it all under a term like SMM, we actually add to the problem and confusion. Social media marketing certainly exists. I just think that perhaps most of us define it far too broadly.

  6. Mark Dykeman Says:
    November 30th, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Great overview of the broader possibilities of public relations! I like the fact that you encourage social media users to look beyond web-specific (read: Google specific) metrics.

  7. danielle Says:
    December 17th, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    this is a great article, i’ve forwarded it to my team members. i’m helping manage my client’s online marketing efforts alongside a team of print publishers and editors, so finding that balance between online sales and branding may take awhile but definitely do-able with our combined knowledge. great article! i especially like the breakdown of tools for each industry

  8. Dave Davis Says:
    December 17th, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    @Mark, thanks for stopping by. You’re dead on and make a great point. The web is not all about clickstream metrics.

    @Danielle, I think in 2008 we are going to see a lot of larger companies embrace the web for their PR efforts and hopefully see it happening in a more conversational way.

  9. Professional SEO Consultant Says:
    January 26th, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Great post, and I agree that Internet marketing and online PR (real online PR) have differences. But I would say that the two have many more things in common than not, and the two are getting more intertwined each day. Just look at the booming online reputation management industry!

    I wonder why you would not include SEO under the Internet marketing tactics, along with articles, blogs, and social networks? Any professional Internet marketer can, and should, be using all of these things effectively.

    Real SEO professionals understand the online PR field and are able to successfully achieve the goals of both in utilizing all of their tactics. It is not easy to find firms or individuals that can pull this off effectively but it can be done. I work for eVisibility Internet marketing agency and I feel that we have a pretty good crew that understands this. I guess that it really all stems from our President’s approach because he has always been very aware of the differences of the two and that effectively inter meshing the two gives you great benefits. That and the fact that we have worked with some large traditional ad agencies and they are always aware of PR.

  10. Online marketing advertising Says:
    February 9th, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I like the fact that you encourage social media users to look beyond web-specific (read: Google specific) metrics.

  11. Dave Brown Says:
    February 18th, 2008 at 3:44 am

    One area of overlap is replacing negative search engine results about a company with positive ones and/or getting the negative results moved further down the list. Lots of internet marketing and search engine optimization companies have considered themselves to be PR firms because they offer such services. I see this as a very small component of PR that a real PR firm might contract out to a search engine optimization firm.

  12. Marc Says:
    February 29th, 2008 at 5:15 am

    Thanks for the information and suggestions. For best marketing we need some tactics to be followed in the internet so that we can get the desired results.

  13. Affiliate marketing Says:
    March 17th, 2008 at 9:03 am

    It’s awesome, your post has described a enough information on the marketing tools of Internet marketing and online PR. Really it shows quite differences I too agree with you.

  14. Jason Pearson Says:
    March 23rd, 2008 at 1:13 am

    Great article. I must admit that I am one who uses PR and online marketing interchangably. Thanks for pointing out the differences.

  15. Website Business Broker Says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 4:15 am

    I think most of the points you make are valid but I don’t see such a clear division in my business consulting. SEO is as much a Internet marketing function if not more than PR. Most of these points can be under one list.

  16. VestRite Says:
    July 9th, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    I’m confused now. So online PR is about stability and longevity while internet marketing is more like sales tactics on amphetamines? That’s what I’m gathering. One makes a connection with people while the other one cares more about opportunities to make money for the here and now…

    They seem synonymous. Both should be concerned about making good money now and more tomorrow. Both should be concerned with making an image and sales.

  17. paul Says:
    November 26th, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Internet marketing & PR are basicly the same thing, I would still consider online PR as a part of internet marketing.

  18. Yellow SEO Says:
    December 24th, 2008 at 6:10 pm


    Excellent points you have here, PR and Internet marketing need go hand in hand and good PR is a must to enhance your internet marketing or branding effective on the internet.

  19. Karthik S Says:
    January 9th, 2009 at 7:33 am

    My comment may be pretty late, now that this article is more than an year old. But Jennifer, your post was very relevant since I was grappling with such a situation myself with some of our clients who posed this question. Have penned my thoughts and have linked your post too, since its very relevant.

  20. Manan Pandya Says:
    October 21st, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    I think that whether you’re talking of the online world or the offline one – PR and Marketing are always going to be two distinct things.

    If I can get a reporter in Huffington Post to write about my company or quote me somewhere, it obviously worth more than 1 month’s advertising at (whatever the website).com.

    PR is uncontrolled – and bloggers are more notorious than journalists to say. You might end up with a wannabe trump who just fires you all over the place in his blog.

    Ultimately, it’s what you can manage better. PR is always more subtle and a confidence builder. Advertising will get you the money today.


  21. Joel @ internet marketing consulting Says:
    December 13th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    First of all I would like to say that this post highlights a point that is often overlooked by internet marketers. By replacing bad pr in the search engine results about a company with positive ones many SEO service providers are already playing the part of a PR firm with out realizing it.

  22. Gayle Pearson Says:
    April 22nd, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Thought provoking article. Both marketing and PR have there benefits and I agree that the two should be used simultaneously.