There’s often confusion about many of the marketing, PR and communications disciplines, so I’ve tried here to provide the formal definitions and explain some of the areas where confusion can arise.


Marketing is the management process responsible for anticipating, identifying and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

Source: Marketing and the 7Ps (Page 2) Chartered Institute of Marketing

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. (Approved July 2013)

Source: American Marketing Association

The key thing is that marketing is not just about promotion.

It’s about the whole organisation working together to deliver the best customer experience possible and at the same time making a profit (or, if you’re a not-for-profit, meeting your financial objectives). Giving the customer such a great experience that you bankrupt yourself is also missing the point. Getting the balance right is at the core of good marketing.

There are many other less formal definitions of marketing including:

Selling goods that don’t come back to customers who do

This is very short and snappy and memorable, but marketing is about a lot more than just selling.

Marketing is a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others

Direct marketing

The planned recording, analysis and tracking of individual customers’ responses and transactions for the purpose of developing and prolonging mutually profitable customer relationships.

Source: The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM)

Direct marketing is a discipline within the broader marketing umbrella.

Don’t confuse direct marketing with database marketing or direct mail. You’re unlikely to be doing direct marketing without at least a rudimentary database and direct mail is still a medium used in direct marketing, but both are only part of the direct marketing discipline.

Public relations (PR)

Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

There’s been a debate in recent years about the definition of PR. Read more here about the definition of PR debate.



The term communications is the most difficult to define simply.

Firstly, I am referring here to communications between a business or non-profit with its customers. clients, stakeholders, staff and other audiences and ‘publics’, not the IT/technology sense of communications.

The term communications seems increasingly to have taken over from ‘PR’.

In the UK I believe there are two main influences here. PR became associated with ‘spin doctors’ and gained a poor reputation especially in the 1990s and early 2000s during the Blair government.

In central government the word ‘PR’ had never been in favour and the word ‘information’ was preferred: the wartime Ministry of Information set up during World War II became the Central Office of Information after the war and across government staff in PR/communications and marketing roles were designated ‘information officers’ in the Government Information Service (GIS). However ‘information’ increasingly became confused with ‘information technology’ or ‘IT’. The Central Office of Information became known by its abbreviation as ‘COI’ (until it was abolished by the Coalition Government in 2011), and the GIS became the Government Communication Service (GCS).

The fact is that anyone working in ‘communications’ could be doing PR or marketing communications work (or a mix of both) if they are in external communications or, if they are in internal communications they will be doing work that may overlap with the human resources (HR)/personnel department — though they may sit in a PR or marketing department — or even the chief executive’s office.

And that’s why you can’t easily define ‘communications’, because it’s a term that describes a multitude of roles and can be found in many different parts of an organisation.

I will simply leave you with the Oxford Dictionaries definition of communication:

The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Market research

Also sometimes called marketing research. Some people would argue there is a subtle difference: that market research looks at markets, and marketing research looks at marketing processes, however the terms are often used interchangeably.

Increasingly you’ll see market research activity carried out under the heading of insights. Other keywords to look out for, especially in the public and voluntary sectors are impact and evidence.

Data that is collected from websites and social media platforms are called analytics, and increasingly form an important component to marketing research.

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, The Market Research Society (MRS), in the UK, defines market research as:

The collection and analysis of data from a sample or census of individuals or organisations relating to their characteristics, behaviour, attitudes, opinions or possessions.


The collection, analysis and communication of information undertaken to assist decision making in marketing.

Source: Market Research Society

Marketing research is the function that links the consumer, customer, and public to the marketer through information–information used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve understanding of marketing as a process. Marketing research specifies the information required to address these issues, designs the method for collecting information, manages and implements the data collection process, analyzes the results, and communicates the findings and their implications. (Approved October 2004)

Source: American Marketing Association