Five differences between content marketing and PR (and one important similarity)

Content marketing magazines

Some people think of content marketing as the hip and trendy cousin of public relations, but there are important differences between the two – and one key similarity.

Before we begin: content marketing is actually not as new as you might think. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, it’s been around since 1732, when Benjamin Franklin published the first Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business. The modern version of content marketing is now well and truly established.

So how does content marketing compare to PR?

  1. Direct versus indirect customer approach

Both content marketing and public relations are all about distributing valuable information. With content marketing, you’re trying to build a direct relationship with your audience. You build trust by providing the quality information your clients need.

Public relations is more about forging an indirect relationship with your audience. You approach the right journalists in the most effective way, so they’ll want to write a story about your organisation, its views, services or employees.

  1. Media: owned versus earned

This is a pretty easy one. With content marketing, you publish your content on your own media – a website, newsletter, YouTube channel, podcast, custom magazine or any combination of such channels. By offering your customers the information they really need or actively search for, you’re building a long-term relationship. You are a media owner – hence ‘owned media’.

Public relations ‘earns’ its coverage. Your organisation gains credibility because established newspapers or large news sites are writing about it. It’s the free kudos of third-party endorsement. Basically, you want other people saying you’re doing a great job. That also means you can’t control the message that will eventually be distributed.

  1. Broad versus niche message

With PR, you pitch your story – selling the mass media a good reason why they should write about your topic. You have to convince them of the value of your news – it has to serve more than your agenda alone. It has to have wider value and purpose.

As for content marketing, you’re directly focusing on your clients. You give them the useful (and often rather niche) information they’re seeking. In fact, it’s often very individualised copy, for just a small group of people who have a particular question, at each stage of their customer journey – from the awareness of a need to the after-sales service.

The content you produce should address the issues your clients are encountering. So your answers can be highly relevant for existing or potential customers, but uninteresting for a wider audience. In fact, you’re building a dedicated online or print magazine for your customers.

  1. Timing of message

For content marketing, it matters less when exactly you publish your blog post or video. That’s because you’re building a long-term relationship with your reader (and the search engines and social media). You’re sharing tips and tricks, or useful information, that have a longer shelf life.

In PR, careful timing is crucial. Your press release has a far greater chance of being covered when it plays into the news of the day. And every minute counts when you’re working to meet the deadline of a journalist.

  1. Measuring success

Tracking the success of a PR campaign is mostly done by measuring the number of earned media clippings and impressions. Content marketing, so much of which is digital, tends to be measured more in terms of clicks through to other web pages, how engaged people are with the content, and – ultimately – conversion metrics.

Similarity: journalistic mindset

With oceans of content distributed across multiple channels, the competition for attention has increased hugely. This boosts the importance of delivering valuable and consistent information. You want trustworthy content that stands out and serves a real purpose – it should never just be spam designed to sell.

This is where a journalistic mindset comes in, using editorial standards, practices and a journalistic mindset. For both PR people and content marketers, it’s essential to find and write the relevant stories for the right channels, and to give the clear and concise information their audience is looking for.

Looking for more PR insights?

Read some of other posts about public relations, such as There is no such thing as ‘off the record’, or look at our various training offerings.

Go to overview