Rolling into my senior year of college, I have been asked the same question a number of times throughout my studies as an undergraduate. It has been asked by my family, friends, acquaintances, professors and anyone I’ve struck up a conversation with. It is the question I was hesitant to answer until two years ago.

“So, what are you studying?”

There are multiple answers to this question that I have come up with each time it has been asked thus far. Mass Communication, Public Relations (PR), Marketing and just simply Communications. All of these answers are different. What is my major? Mass Communication. What am I really studying? Public Relations. What do people usually answer when I say this? “Oh, so like, marketing and advertising, right?”

Well, not exactly.

The Difference

Anyone studying communications will know the difference between the three, but a large majority of people are still confused by what PR, marketing and advertising professionals really do.

It is common for most to lump public relations, marketing and advertising together. Although they are similar, they are not all the same. Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines Public Relations as: “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” How does this differ from marketing and advertising?

The easiest way to look at it is that marketing is a large umbrella in which public relations and advertising fall under. Paid advertising and PR efforts such as social media are both marketing strategies. However, public relations centers on the public by planning and implementing an organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy, whereas marketing is more specific and looks to add value to customers, clients, and partners before looking to influence and educate the public.

According to, Advertising aims to “call the public’s attention to your business, usually for the purpose of selling products or services, through the use of various forms of media, such as print or broadcast notices.” You can remember it by thinking advertising is paid media and public relations is earned media. Many companies argue that they do not need public relations efforts because they are happy with their advertising agency’s efforts. Michael Levine, author of the book, Guerilla P.R notes: “Depending on how you measure and monitor, an article it is between 10 times and 100 times more valuable than an advertisement.” 

All three fields are unique and often work together but it is important to understand that they are different. For those seeking out a career in PR – don’t be afraid to correct people when they assume all three terms are married. If you’re interested in the profession, check out these blogs and click on the helpful chart included in this post.

PR, Marketing and Advertising Differences