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Why PR tends to get confused with Inbound Marketing

Introduction: The PR and Inbound Marketing Marriage

Your B2B marketing toolkit includes inbound marketing and public relations (PR) among other strategies. You juggle social media, blogs, gated content, white papers, case studies, brochures, one-pagers, press releases, blogger outreach, journalist and analyst outreach and more. In the midst of this B2B marketing whirlwind, it’s easy to muddle up what belongs to which budget and responsibility. If inbound marketing is writing the blog about the product launch, should they also be taking care of the press release? Answer is, of course, no.

PR and inbound marketing often share channels, content, and should rely on the same consistent messaging. Effective content marketing for B2B businesses requires you to fully understand when to apply each approach, so as to maximize their potential.


Defining PR

PR literally means what the abbreviation stands for: the way that your company relates to the public. This goes beyond your current or potential customers to include your partners and shareholders, journalists and politicians, philanthropists and fundraisers; the entire public. 

As marketer Gaetano DiNardi explains, PR “focuses on keeping an individual or organization’s reputation favorable to the general public, especially to audiences interested in the brand.”

Every business needs PR, regardless of their industry, size, or vertical. PR is tasked with communicating your company’s mission, goals, and perception in the public eye through verbal communications. It serves as a companion to your branding efforts which does the same task through images, logos, and visual themes. The role of PR is particularly powerful when you need to launch or reposition a new company, product  or <nightmare> have a crisis management situation on your hands. However, it is also relevant throughout your day to day business lifecycle. PR is your primary way to build and foster trust in the public forum, and trust is increasingly important to today’s consumers, both B2B and B2C. PR campaigns cover multiple media channels, including owned media, paid media, and earned media.


Defining Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing for B2B is focused more narrowly on your current and potential customers. The underpinning strategy of inbound is to create valuable content that is of genuine use to your audience. Inbound marketing contrasts with outbound marketing; while outbound marketing travels out to your audience and ‘interrupts’ them with business-centric content, inbound marketing reels your audience in with appealing and useful, customer-centric content. 


Outbound: those annoying ads and pop-ups that interrupt your YouTube clip or article. 

Inbound: that blog article you click on when you search Google.


The principles of inbound marketing are to attract, engage, and delight your customers in what HubSpot calls a flywheel of interactions: “The philosophies of inbound permeate and accelerate that flywheel - from Attract, to Engage, to Delight - to help your business grow faster, and better.”


Inbound marketing uses effective content to attract the right type of people to your business, then nurture them with emails and further content, meeting them at each touchpoint along their buyer journey until they are ready to make a purchase. In other words, inbound keeps supplying leads with useful and relevant content until they convert to paying customers. Inbound marketing primarily uses owned media, like your social media channels and blog, but it also makes use of paid media when needed. 

Read: Building an Effective B2B Content Marketing Strategy

Highlighting the Differences

Despite their many similarities, it’s crucial to also understand the differences between PR and inbound marketing. As Allie Decker at HubSpot claims, “Public relations and marketing are similar in their actions and tactics, but their goals are quite different. The main goal of PR is to boost the reputation of your brand. On the other hand, the main goal of marketing is to drive sales.”

This distinction leads to significant variations between the messages, media, and methods of the two types of marketing. For example, really good PR makes excellent use of earned media, like profiles in the business section of newspapers, positive reviews on social media, and press releases about updates and changes. Earned media is like word of mouth recommendations; it’s extremely valuable and highly difficult to obtain. You can’t purchase it, and you can’t create it. You just have to work diligently to achieve it. As a result, businesses tend to have relatively little control over their PR narrative, since it’s at least partially formed by official and unofficial partners who reflect their interactions with the company. 

Since PR is concerned with the brand image and reputation of the company in the eyes of the general public, it has a far broader target audience, which in turn impacts the formulation and distribution of content. The ROI of PR takes much longer to become apparent, since the aim is to attract interest in the company as a whole, rather than only those individuals who could turn into paying customers. Additionally, excellent PR requires good connections with journalists and industry experts who can amplify your thought leadership pieces and provide public access to your PR content. It takes time to forge these connections and develop a trust relationship. 

When it comes to inbound marketing, the primary focus is on owned media. You’ll direct your attention to building a smooth, streamlined marketing funnel that moves the lead in graceful steps from one piece of content to the next. Successful inbound marketing rests on your ability to share a narrative about your products and services that carries your target audience through a series of content pieces that are primarily hosted on your own platforms. To achieve this, it’s necessary to retain control over the entire process. 

Sales lies at the heart of inbound marketing, leading it to target a far narrower audience than PR. Inbound marketing aims to attract only those individuals who have an interest in making a purchase from your company, as well as continuing to serve and engage existing and former buyers so as to retain their loyalty as repeat customers. The ROI on inbound marketing should appear much faster, since it has a specific target of converting new leads into paying customers. The natural external partners for inbound marketing are bloggers, whom you hope will agree to host a guest blog about your business that feeds into your overall inbound marketing process. 


Where PR and Inbound Overlap

So where does confusion between the roles of inbound marketing and PR creep in? Most notably, both rely heavily on quality content and use many of the same channels. A steady supply of compelling, engaging, and well-crafted content underpins both an effective inbound marketing B2B campaign, and an outstanding PR program. 

For PR, you’ll need to draw on your storytelling skills to articulate the benefits of your brand and your product or service. In the case of PR for crisis management, you need to use all your communication skills to explain and address your audience’s concerns. But your best storytelling techniques are worthless without connections to key journalists and analysts who will be willing to hear your pitch and write about your news.

Similarly, inbound marketing for B2B companies hinges upon your ability to demonstrate the ways that your product or service solves your target audience’s pain point. You’ll need to find a new angle or topic each time, while still remaining true to a single consistent brand message. Your inbound marketing campaign needs to be continually fed with new and varied forms of content;  from eBooks & whitepapers, blog posts, to videos, infographics, webinars... . 

In a similar vein, both inbound marketing and PR strategies use similar media channels, including social media and influencers, with PR also responding to real-time news updates. PR tactics are more likely to reach out to journalists to spread the company message further, making it far more important for PR people to nurture good media relations, while inbound marketing utilizes a series of non-gated and gated content to nurture leads more deeply. 

 In the words of Alex Honeysett, founder of Human at the Helm: “You can’t market without doing a little PR, and you can’t do PR without a little marketing… The end goals - selling products and making people love a company - are too intertwined: If your products are terrible, your company probably won’t be viewed favorably by the public, and if people aren’t connecting with your overall brand, they’re probably not going to buy your products.”

These commonalities make it all the more important to clarify which marketing approach is responsible for overlapping elements, so that you don’t end up with redundant or duplicate efforts. For example, you might need to decide whether social media releases about a new product version are the domain of PR or inbound marketing, whether a new whitepaper should be released to journalists first or presented as gated content for inbound marketing, and what the ideal timeline is for releasing new content. 

This table helps demonstrate which mindset is responsible for different types of content, although it’s important to bear in mind that there can be overlap between them. 








Pitches for Journalists



Press Releases



Influencer Outreach



Journalist relations



Blogger outreach



Website Messaging



Social Media



Event CFP



Event Promotion



Crisis Management




Conclusion: PR and Inbound Should Coexist

PR and inbound marketing have a symbiotic relationship. PR raises a B2B business’ brand image and reputation in the eyes of the general public, helping to increase wider interest in and appreciation for the company as a whole. Inbound marketing takes that attention and focuses it more narrowly on the buyer journey. It attracts the attention of individuals who already are or are more likely to become customers, focusing on engaging and guiding them towards purchase and retention. 

An ability to articulate the differences and variant techniques for these two marketing methods is vital for every business, so that they can channel their energies in the right direction and avoid redundancies. However, PR and marketing are reliant on each other. Neglecting one in order to amplify the other leads to an unbalanced overall marketing strategy for B2B companies that can undermine business success in the long run. 


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