Content Marketing vs. PR: What's the Difference?


Content Marketing versus Public Relations

I recently spoke with an analyst who had asked me how content marketing is different from traditional PR (public relations). I think this is a question that all marketers and SEOs are having to grapple with as SEO evolves. On the one hand, it’s getting harder and harder to rank in the SERPs with low-quality content and spammy links, making real content marketing much more important; on the other hand, the value of the link as we know it is slowly being devalued relative to social currency and co-citation, which owe a lot to word of mouth and good PR.

So what’s the difference between PR and content marketing? Is there any? The short answer is yes. Here are some thoughts on how these marketing strategies differ.

Content Marketing & PR Evolved from Different Tactics

I see content marketing as an extension of an SEO more than an extension of PR. In the past, links were a huge part of SEO, and SEOs sometimes went to extreme, shady lengths to get them (buying them, spamming forums, etc.). Google has cracked down on thin content and link spam with its ongoing Panda and Penguin updates, forcing SEOs to brush up on their content marketing skills.

(More: 50 Things Every Content Marketer Needs to Know)

Of course, Google maintains that nothing has changed – links were always supposed to be earned, not bought or faked. And they’re getting better at discouraging marketers from trying to game the system. It’s like Matt Cutts said: Don’t try to fake being awesome, just be awesome! Content marketing is about creating awesomeness that people will want to read and share, leading naturally to traffic, links, social signals and media mentions. It’s a legitimate, white-hat link building tactic.

Those natural (AKA organic) signals of awesomeness and mass approval are what Google has always tried to measure with its ranking algorithm and the link graph – based on the insight that the best, most popular sites will, over time, accrue the most links (and likes, tweets, etc.). Public relations is more like advertising – rather than seeking attention indirectly by creating stuff that people will want to read and link to, you pay for attention in a more direct way. With advertising, you’re buying media placements to raise awareness. With PR, you’re (generally) paying a firm to talk to the media about your company and offerings, again to raise awareness. But the goals aren’t exactly the same, which brings us to the next point.

Content Marketing & PR Have Different Success Metrics

Because the goals aren’t exactly the same, content marketing and PR have different success metrics. Generally, PR success is measured in terms of “media placements,” “press mentions” or “impressions.” Some impressions are better than no impressions, but these metrics are less valuable than the KPIs you get with content marketing: page views, referrals, and actual leads driven. With content marketing, you’re generally approaching the end game in one of two ways (and probably both):

  • Placing contributed articles – When placing articles on other sites and blogs, content marketers know it’s key to get some backlinks – not just for their SEO value (links aren’t dead yet!) but for the referral traffic, which is easily measured in analytics. This way, content marketers can know which publishers offer the most value and most relevant readership.
  • Hosting your own awesome content – “Not provided” notwithstanding, the content on your own site is easily measured in terms of all kinds of rich engagement metrics (time on site, social shares, comments, etc.) as well as conversions – you can use tracking codes on any offers within your content to track which blog posts, guides, etc. are driving demos or sales.

In the pre-digital world, impressions were a valid measure of reach – think Superbowl ads or billboard placement. But in the digital world, we have the ability to measure much more effectively. A mention is good, but a mention with a link is better. And a mention with a link that leads back to your site and converts is the real goal.

It’s also worth noting that advertisements and PR differ in their content and angle compared to content marketing. The former is more about directly talking up your own products or services. The latter is more about thought leadership – sharing knowledge and skills or just providing entertainment in such a way that people will want to buy your stuff, because they’re already on your side.

(More: 3 SEO Tactics We're Easing Up On in 2013)

Content Marketing Is Harder Than PR – But Worth It

Good content marketing is hard to execute. It requires specialized skills, a great deal of creativity, huge amounts of effort, and to top it all off, luck. It also has really unpredictable ROI. Sometimes you hit a home run, but more often, your efforts fall flat. And there’s nothing to do but get back on the horse.

All that said, content marketing is worth it. When you do hit a home run, the results are remarkable: spikes in traffic, leads, and sales as well as a lasting life in organic traffic, all directly attributable to amazing content. In my view, if content marketing and PR were in a race, content marketing would be winning.

A Note on Consolidation

I’m seeing a lot of consolidation between SEO, content marketing, content promotion and PR. It’s all turning into just plain “marketing,” similar to how “web marketing” used to be differentiated in the ‘90s, whereas marketing now includes web marketing by default. 

The trend is to bring content marketing and PR back in house, since a lot of the old SEO tricks no longer work and what is required for results is just marketing creativity and solid execution. After many years of having a separate SEO meeting at WordStream, we’re now rolling that stuff into our regular weekly marketing meetings, largely because of the increasing overlap between the two. We want everyone on our team to do a little of everything, or at least understand how integrated these roles really are.

What do you think? How different are content marketing and PR really?

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Marko Saric
Mar 18, 2013

Good article. I think the line is getting blurred and PR, social, content and SEO are merging and becoming pretty ismilar to each other with similar targets and similar tools and strategies of reaching them. I actually wrote about this earlier this month. Definitely something to keep an eye on!

Barry Adams
Mar 18, 2013

Seriously, anyone who asks what the difference is between content marketing and PR doesn't understand either, and probably sucks at both.

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 18, 2013


Long Island Marketing
Mar 18, 2013

Because of the devaluation of back links content marketing and PR are becoming more and more neccessary for online marketing success. Links are not dead but links on low quality sites very may well be. I wouldn't say one is harder then the other, both PR and content marketing are important.

Lucas Coe
Mar 18, 2013

Good article - but completely disagree. Look at any PR agency worth their salt and they will have been doing something called 'Digital PR' for the past decade. Guess what this is? That's right - content marketing.

PR is very much a content driven profession anyway - and the metrics of measurement, especially online, are exactly what content marketers measure too.

We're all doing the same thing really.

Gladys Fernandez
Mar 18, 2013

 I agree .....nice and keep sharing...

Mar 18, 2013

Thanks Larry! What a fantastic article. It really clarifies the distinctions clearly.Thank you for taking the time to help educate. Happy I found your blog!

Larry Kim
Mar 19, 2013

thanks for reading!

Eilidh MacRae
Mar 19, 2013

Great post! There are certainly some similarities between content marketing and PR, and SEO and PR, but of course there are great differences too. This makes for an interesting read.

Sprink Digital
Mar 20, 2013

Nice post. helped  me to understand what exactly is the difference between content marketing and PR. From the top we can not find much distinction between them, but this post shows  your efforts which resultant this detailed post. Thank you for sharing

Rob Burns
Mar 20, 2013

Great article - clearly explains the differences in ways that people not in the industry can understand. I'll be sending this article to a few of my clients.

Richard L
Mar 20, 2013

I think neither PR nor content marketing can be said as harder than the other though. How easy or how hard the job is still depends on the skills of those carrying it out.

Chris Parente
Mar 22, 2013

You post, and you're really onto something. However, you miss the mark a bit b/c you equate PR with media outreach only.My firm has morphed in the past five years from a more traditional PR shop to only almost exclusively focused on content marketing,with integration into sales enablement at the back end. So its definitely thought leadership, but my B2B and B2G clients need to seehow the content is contributing to the sales funnel. As an ex-PR shop, we're well equipped to tell a client's story in a high quality, non-promotionalway that established credibility. No warmed over marketing slides, in other words. 

Brian Schwartz
Mar 22, 2013

Over the years, there have been many debates about the definition of PR.  I suspect that this may start to happen with content marketing.  In my view, content marketing is a tactic in support of some business goal/strategy.  PR is a broad but also generic term that includes tactics such as content marketing and some aspects of media relations. Perhaps the only practical value in differentiating PR versus content marketing is to denote someone’s job function.

Mar 24, 2013

Good post. I see where you made the connection between content marketing and backlinks.

Lisa Collins
Mar 27, 2013

One of the best post.  Though SEO and Marketing, Marketing and PR are terms that sound to be similar there are things that make them to be different

Bruce Hoag
Mar 27, 2013

This is an insightful article.The idea that the boundaries between SEO, PR, and Content Marketing are blurring under the umbrella of "general" marketing shows just how much the Web is challenging everything we thought that we knew about it.I'd just like to add my thoughts to this discussion.The essence of content marketing, it seems to me, is content, and it's communicated on to its readers on the basis of the relationships they have with the marketers.Traditional marketing taught us to just market, and I think that that has carried over into the idea of content marketing.What I mean is that for many the marketing leads the content. This is to put the cart before the horse. The right way is for the content to lead the marketing. How often have we had this experience? You search on a phrase, read the first 10 or 20 results, and still come up with nothing..You can optimize for keywords all day long, but if the traffic that you attract isn't interested in your content, then you've wasted your efforts. So I think that it's essential that we focus on creating high quality content and then distributing it widely.If we do that, then our prospects will notice us, and so will Google.Cheers, Bruce 

Mar 31, 2013

Hi,thanks for this fantestic article, now I can clearly dinstinguish content markrtting and PR's .

Apr 12, 2013

i'm sorry but i don't think your definition of PR is correcti come across this a lot from people who dont work in the fieldPR is first and foremost about persuading a journalist of the attractiveness of your product, service or idea to the readership of their publicationBecause news stories, features etc are storytelling, your message is surrounded by content. Indeed, it is contextualisedIf you can persuade the journo, you're highly likely to persuade the audience - so you're already a long way down the sales funnel than an advertiser isPR/media relations is the ultimate form of content marketing - its far more likely to be appreciated by the audience because its written by a journalist whose livelihood depends on itit's distributed much more broadly than the average social media content, carries the authority of the masthead and cost less to produce because the journo wrote it, not you.

Jocelyn Ollett
Jun 23, 2013

Checking definitions, content marketing is the creation and sharing of media content to gain customers, by using case studies, videos or explanatory articles.Public relations is managing to spread information from a source to an audience for the purpose of positive exposure, to enhance reputaion.So the difference is fairly subtle!

Mar 21, 2015

Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I
guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.
I too am an aspiring blog writer but I'm still new to everything.
Do you have any points for rookie blog writers? I'd really appreciate it.

note 2 minion
Mar 26, 2015

Wow, this post is good, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, therefore I am going to
convey her.

leather briefcase
Sep 01, 2013

Is there a point in defining a difference as far as websites are concerned? The Google check is done by a robot that just registers activity, and that the words used are not spam.

Marc Cowlin
Oct 20, 2013

Great article, thank you. This is something that I have been thinking about for some time, and I'm in the process of writing an article for my own blog and found your article in my research. PR and Content have one thing in common that can not be denied, they are both "story telling" or content driven marketing disciplines. Anyone in PR will tell you they have nothing to pitch if they do not have content. Content marketers have nothing to write about without a good story. The difference may lie in channel and method of execution. PR channel focuses (mostly) on earned media, Content marketing focuses (mostly) on owned media (blogs, website, social, etc). However, the lines blur often. For instance, a contributed article on a 3rd party blog could be considered part of a thought leadership program coming out of a PR program or an effort coming from content marketing to garner links. As for goal, I beleive the overall goal is the very similar - tell your company/client's story and garner interest in your brand/drive traffic. In the end, its marketing. 

William Pierce
May 09, 2014

Lots of great thoughts here. Marc, I think you are closest to the mark.

Steven Eastwood
Feb 27, 2014

Great valuable article ,Thanks for explaning the difference between Content and PR.

Oct 07, 2015

The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information.

Andrew Coomes
Nov 02, 2015

Nice article. Appreciate your insights on the differences between content marketing/SEO/PR

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