Explaining strategic communications to an Engineer: the difference between public relations and marketing

Being in the communications industry, sometimes we do a terrible job at explaining what we really do. And some engineers don’t really understand it at all.

An engineering firm needs PR and marketing just like any other business. Whether to attract top talent to your company or generate leads, engineers should learn a little about how internal and external communications can set their company apart from the rest. And most people may not be familiar with all public relations and marketing entails.

First, it’s important to note the difference between public relations and marketing.

Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.

Marketing is the management function that identifies human needs and wants, offers products and services to satisfy those demands, and causes transactions that deliver products and services in exchange for something of value to the provider.

Marketing promotes a company’s services or products. PR is the perception of an organization’s identity, brand, reputation, mission statement and larger impact.

Public relations and marketing are related but separate. They can be distinct or integrated. However, the smaller the company, the more those lines overlap.

Marketing builds trust and, therefore, is good for public relations. Excellent public relations communications can build consumers’ trust in the company brand, which supports the company’s marketing initiatives.

On any given day, a public relations professional could be writing a news release about an upcoming company initiative, pitching stories, securing speaking engagements for executives at industry events, managing and updating company messaging, creating talking points, managing internal communications, networking, managing sponsorships, corporate events, community awareness and education, creating videos or even managing a potential crisis with stakeholders.

A marketing professional could be creating an advertising campaign (digital, radio, tv, print or billboard), creating online buzz, creating supporting materials such as website pages, brochures, flyers, FAQs for the sales team, or conducting research to support a company initiative.

Digital communications (web and social) falls somewhere into overall communications. Those campaigns can be PR or marketing related.

In addition, there’s the creative element of graphic design within communications.

And it all begins with research, planning, implementation, and evaluation through analytics.

The truth is you need both for a company to function properly. You can’t market without a little PR, and you can’t PR without a little marketing. Selling products and people are too intertwined. Add to that the digital aspect and connecting with your overall brand is important. Social media can comfortably sit within either department.

Professional Designations

No matter marketing or public relations, there are ways you can show you are committed to the career. Engineers have the Professional Engineer (P.E.) designation. Marketing and Public Relations have their own.

Public Relations professionals can earn an APR credential – Accredited Public Relations Professional. To qualify a professional must have 10 years of experience and fill out a lengthy application. After approved, a candidate must present a PR plan in front of a panel of 3 APR’s who determine if you can move forward and study for the exam that covers real-life scenarios on topics from ethics, legal, financial, and crisis. The whole process takes at least a year. And you must continue to get CEU’s to maintain an APR.

In marketing, there is the CPSM, Certified Professional Services Marketer. The process is similar, you apply and then sit for an exam.

Any designation helps you continue to learn, signifies a commitment, and helps you stand out as a leader.