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:
In 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.
In 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
One 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)
- Sales letters (and other sales copy)
- Article marketing (to drive affiliate sales, traffic, or backlinks)
- Search engine marketing (paid search placements)
- Social bookmarking sites
- Social networks
- Podcasts / Internet radio shows
- Sales, coupons, or other discounts
- 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)
- 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.