Public Relations vs Influence Marketing

Is there a future for public relations in the era of social media?

Will influence marketing kill traditional PR?

And what’s the actual difference between the two?

To begin with, it might be really tricky to distinguish traditional Public Relations from Influencer Marketing without knowing exactly what you’re talking about.

The two seem similar in a couple of ways. Both promote a brand making connections with the source/outlet/some channel that translates information.

The goal of both is to grow your business, reach your target audience and increase credibility and loyalty.

So, which one is better?
And which one is what you need?

In this blog post, I tell you my perspective, and I try to be as objective as I can.

Obviously, I made my choice: I work at BONDAI which automatically means that I sincerely advocate for Influence Marketing. At the same time, I hold a Master’s degree in PR, so…

Let’s compare the definitions of PR and IM

Fun fact – every PR student must learn the PRSA’s PR definition by heart. Oh, the atavisms of the times when you couldn’t google anything you need!

Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. (PRSA’s definition)


Influence, on the other hand, is the capacity to affect the emotions, opinions, or behaviours of others. (Wikipedia)

Thus, Influence Marketing is the ability of a brand to measurably impact the purchase decision of a customer or prospective customer. (The definition from the Influence Marketing book written by our own Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown.)

So, what do we have?

Not so long ago, “communication process” with media outlets was the solution to cut through the noise. It was almost assumed that media attention would lead to a “purchase decision.”

In the digital world we live in today, however, the noise is nothing like before.

Your audience consumes information like crazy, the competition is hard, and the average attention span is unbelievably short.

With the rise of social media and Influence Marketing, your message can be amplified across a wide range of audiences faster than ever, and with an enviable level of credibility attached to it.

PR VS. Influence Marketing

With PR, the media outlets [can] control everything.

An influencer is independent. In fact, a lot of times the influencer can be a talented kid simply working from their bedroom!

And this independence makes all the difference in the world.

Your influencer operates outside your brand, and the audience senses it.

People understand when a message is being generated by a PR firm (or an advertising agency).

A great piece of content, on the other hand, is nothing like a press release, that faithful staple of the PR world.

It feels real – because it is real!

You want relations with your public? Influence Marketing is a way to earn their trust.

PR versus Influence Marketing – Juice Brands Promotion

The picture below shows a campaign using PR to earn publicity in a newspaper, by sending free samples to the paper team.

A section in the paper pictures a small, catalogue-like photo of juice bottles and the text about the company.

In other words, “Here are the juices. Prices. Contact info. Here is the website”.

public relations vs influence marketing - example of newspaper publicity


The second picture is a different story. It’s an Instagram post an influencer published to promote the brand. It’s just a selfie, probably shot on the phone, without any special equipment involved.

But the unique touch of the real person makes the message much more trustworthy (although we can’t help but notice there’s a lack of disclaimer about the brand partnership….).

influence marketing vs public relations - the example of an influencer Instagram post
Source – Instagram.

Lessons learned:

Make sure that your influencer has enough freedom to focus entirely on the content.

Allow your influencer to use their unique voice.

If you work in partnership with your influencer, you’ll see tangible, measurable results. Mutually beneficial. Organic. Trustworthy.

So, next time you compare PR and Influence Marketing, think of the difference between a press release and a piece of great content.

Influencers aren’t a part of the PR mechanism, and that’s what I love about them. Funnily enough, that’s what your audience loves about them too.

I could have ended this post with the vague “Which one is best depends on what your brand is looking for.”

But you’ve read the whole thing. Chances are, what you’re really looking for is Influence Marketing.

Let’s talk!

We’ve helped to create and implement dozens of successful Influencer Marketing campaigns across North America.

Learn about our Influence Marketing services and get in touch today to start growing your business with IM.

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