What’s the difference between content marketing and PR?

By Posted in - ALL & Content Strategy & Engagement & Examples on January 27th, 2016 0 Comments

I have a confession to make. I haven’t always been a content marketing pro. I have a past. A dark, terrible secret. That’s right…I used to work in PR.


I remember when I made the jump from PR into the content marketing industry, it didn’t seem like such a big jump at all. “It’s just about getting a message across, right?”, I thought, “Maybe with just a few more bells and whistles, some cool digital stuff. How different can it really be?”. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

Like many of my colleagues here at Utterly Content, having been in both worlds gives me a unique perspective. As an agency working with a range of businesses and organisations, we don’t like to pin ourselves down to one service or offering. But it’s a question that comes up pretty frequently – what exactly is the difference is between content marketing and PR? And is one more important than the other?

Content marketing is audience-led

Hands up who else remembers the SEO ‘link-building’ obsession of a few years ago?

In an effort to out-think search engine algorithms, some of the more unscrupulous SEO specialists went to extreme lengths to get web pages to the top of search results. This mainly relied on link-building, often through purchased links, spamming forums and comment sections with random links to such-and-such site, and stuffing pages with high-ranking keywords.

This was pretty helpful to PRs; one way to keep a client happy is to make sure that their positive news is at the top of the search engine results, pushing down the trickier stuff. But with the advent of more sophisticated algorithms such as Google’s Penguin in 2012, suddenly the high-ranked pages weren’t the ones stuffed with keywords or with their links dotted around the web. Now, content was king (you knew I was going to use that cliché sooner or later).

This is when content marketing became more powerful than ever before (though obviously the content marketers themselves – my boss Tracy included – had known this for years). By creating original, interesting content, the kind that people would want to read, share and comment on, you were driving real engagement.

In content marketing, your audience has the power; they know what they find interesting and shareable, and by providing them with the right content you can build trust in – and empathy with – your business or organisation.

PR focuses on the middle man

So now we’ve established that content marketing is about building a community of followers, sharers and advocates of your brand or organisation. Surely that’s what PR does too? Well, yes and no.

PR shares the same end goal – to get people talking about you in a positive way. It’s the tactics that differ. PR will focus on what shapes a reputation; is it the number of positive news articles? What people think about a business or organisation in relation to their competitors? How relevant they feel they are to their life?

Black and white image of newspapers stacked in a pile on a table

CC BY 2.0 – Newspapers B&W (4) by Jon S, Flickr, http://bit.ly/2D2qp90

PR is about relationship-building, usually with journalists, bloggers and other content reputation influencers. Get them talking about your business or organisation positively and publicly, and there’s a trickle-down effect to your broader audience (customers, donors or advocates). The outcome is the same, you just approach the ‘middle man’, rather than the direct audience.

Which is better for me, PR or content marketing?

There’s no right or wrong way. Content marketing isn’t ‘better’ than PR, or vice versa. They are simply different ways to get people talking about you, finding out more about what it is that you do and encouraging them to get involved.

But (and of course there’s a but, because we are a content marketing agency after all), there’s a lot to be said for focusing on great content marketing. Having a good content strategy in place means that, eventually, your audiences will be doing your PR for you.

If you’re a greengrocer who writes a great, informative and useful blog series about fun new recipes to try with your produce, and that gets shared online, you’re getting your business in front of new people. They will instantly see that you do more than just sell fruit and veg – you can help them make their life a bit easier, one ratatouille recipe at a time.

Tomatoes and fennel in baskets on a greengrocers market stall

Photo by Anurag Arora on Unsplash

Great content marketing and great PR can work together in harmony. But to do this, you have to start with two important questions – who do you want to see your name, and what do you want those people to think, feel and do when they see your name? Once you know that, you can get to work on getting fantastic content out, building your reputation with the people you want to be talking to.

Want to know more? Get in touch with us.

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