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I recently met with a new business prospect who quickly reminded me how blurred the lines haveDSC_6195 copy become between marketing and communications: public relations, branding, advertising, etc. Going into the meeting, I thought the prospective client was looking for a public relations partner for his growing company. As the meeting went on, he also discussed branding and advertising needs, desire to build more awareness for his company, develop a logo and get a one day shipping signage done from a good banner printing company, and the list went on. While I was intrigued about his passion, I realized that he wasn’t sure about what he needed and how to prioritize those needs.

My colleague recently blogged about How to choose (and work with) a PR firm, which is very helpful in selecting the right PR partner. But what do you do if you don’t know what type of firm your company or organization needs? First and foremost, it’s critical to understand the differences between what the various disciplines do and don’t do, where their core competencies lie and how to select the right partner.  The following are some basic explanations of the three primary disciplines to get the wheels turning.

 Public Relations Agency:

A public relations (PR) firm, also sometimes referred to as a marketing communications agency, will work with an organization or business to build brand awareness, thought leadership and credibility among target audiences (consumers, employees, shareholders, communities, etc.). One of the key strategies used in PR is media relations, or proactive outreach to reporters, bloggers and other influencers to secure their interest in covering a product, service, trend, industry or person. This is referred to as earned media as opposed to paid media (advertising). While I come from a PR background and am slightly jaded, there have been numerous books and articles written on the added value of third-party credibility that earned media provides (a reporter or blogger covering your company) over paid media (buying an ad to describe your company). Other strategies that fall under PR include employee communications, crisis communication and reputation management, social and digital media engagement, cause marketing and analyst relations, to name a few. PR is about engaging target audiences to develop authentic relationships across various mediums.

Marketing Agency:

A marketing agency, also referred to as an advertising agency, works with a company or organization to create, plan and execute an advertising or promotion campaign, usually involving paid media, including: radio, TV, print advertising, website or social media advertising, billboards and bus signs. Full-service marketing firms may also develop logos, taglines and websites.

Branding Firm:

A branding agency typically focuses on a company’s or organization’s brand identity or how it portrays itself to internal and external audiences:  the name, logo, custom decals, tagline, sales and marketing collateral, and website. I found the following blog post particularly useful in how it defines the differences between advertising and branding firms.

And today there are specialized agencies that focus exclusively on digital media, website design, search engine marketing and mobile marketing. While all these terms and tools can be confusing to most people, before you go down the path of interviewing and selecting any PR, advertising or branding firm, make sure you know the answers to the following key questions:

  • What are my business goals?
  • What is my timeline for achieving my goals?
  • Who am I trying to reach and what am I asking them to do?
  • What are my critical business priorities?
  • What am I trying to achieve with hiring a firm?
  • What is my budget?

Once you have solid answers, you’ll have a much better idea of your needs and can more effectively interview and select the right partner for your business.

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