You might think inbound and outbound marketing are two highly distinct and separate forms of marketing. But as the opportunities for marketing continue to evolve, there are some grey areas. One of the most difficult to pin down is PR, or public relations. We’re not the first to get stumped over the question of ‘is PR inbound or outbound marketing?’ So to try and answer it, it’s useful to understand some of the concepts behind inbound and outbound marketing themselves, and how PR fits within this.
The shifting plates of marketing
The world of marketing is one that is continuously evolving, expanding and changing. There are now more ways to market a business, product or service than ever before, such as social media, blog content and online advertising. This has given rise to a differentiation in inbound marketing vs outbound marketing.
Public relations (PR), however, has been around for decades, if not centuries, and isn’t a particularly new concept. So why is it so difficult to categorise?
The reason is that PR encompasses a range of marketing techniques in itself, from the humble press release to brand awareness events and full-scale campaigns. That means it often appears to straddle the boundaries of inbound and outbound marketing.
If you are not familiar with what inbound and outbound marketing actually is, let’s start there.
What is inbound marketing?
Social media channels and the internet as a whole has completely transformed the way people buy and make decisions.
On the one hand, getting people to visit a website or online store is arguably easier than it’s ever been. Before the internet you would have to persuade someone to physically turn up to your store in person as opposed to them clicking on a link on their phone from the sofa. On the other hand, with so much competition, getting found online and actually converting leads into sales is another matter. That’s where inbound marketing comes in.
Inbound marketing refers to the method of pulling customers and visitors in, as opposed to giving out something to them.
This marketing approach is most frequently used on digital channels and will pull customers ‘in’ by using captivating and strategically written content.
Inbound marketing focuses on increasing traffic to a particular digital destination as well as optimising engagement and sparking conversations through promotional efforts.
What are some examples of inbound marketing?
Four of the main inbound marketing strategies are as follows:
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the most important marketing strategies on the internet today. If you think about how anyone finds pretty much anything online, it often begins with a search engine. Through effective SEO, such as keyword optimisation, meta descriptions and inter-linking, businesses can bring traffic into their site by making sure they rank highly on search results.
Well-written and regularly updated blogs are a way of reaching customers all over the internet, and blogging is most effective when following a keyword strategy and content plan. When you offer your target audience the information they want, you stand a better chance of converting leads into customers.
Strategic and optimised web content is essential. Whether it’s in the form of a landing page, review or product pages – so long as it’s well written and sells your benefits, you can direct readers to the desired action you want them to take.
Everyone is on it. That’s why social media is increasingly targeted with advertising campaigns and other inbound marketing strategies. This is an effective way to funnel people ‘in’ to where you want them to be.
What is outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing consists of marketing strategies where marketing messages are pushed ‘out’. This is a more traditional method of marketing.
Through outbound marketing, customers will see campaigns, content and other messages regardless of whether they have taken an action to do so or not.
Outbound marketing may also be referred to as ‘interruption marketing’ and has a more overtly salesy feel about it.
What are examples of outbound marketing?
Most people have grown up surrounded by this kind of marketing. You will find it in the form of television adverts, billboards, radio and ad pages in magazines and newspapers.
This is usually reflected by marketing activity such as emails, direct mail sent through the post or leaflets and sales letters. The company is putting out communications in the hopes of getting something back. How this differs from inbound marketing is that it actively interupts a consumer’s day as opposed to building an online presence which the consumers then find themself through online searches.
Events, shows and stunts
This could relate to events and shows put on for the sole purpose of marketing or advertising a brand or their product, as well as sponsorship and stunts. These are usually about raising visibility and awareness, involve significant outlay, and are less organic than letting potential customers come to you. They are designed to drum up interest and hype and capture attention.
Traditional publicity involves putting out a message via the media, including press releases or statements sent to newsrooms, influencers and newspapers/magazines. The strategy here is that the message will be picked up on to actively put your brand in front of consumers.
Is PR inbound or outbound marketing?
As the name suggests, PR is all about raising publicity – it is about making connections with the public – so it is typically seen as a form of outbound marketing.
The job of PR is to put out messages to raise a company’s profile or counteract bad press. It involves considerable time and expense to organise and facilitate this outreach strategy, which is why PR is considered outbound marketing. Yet even in the age of inbound marketing and optimised web pages, PR is still an invaluable part of any marketing strategy.
Most companies have a PR team and even high-profile individuals, such as celebrities, have their own public relations team to manage their brand and organise photo ops or communicate information on a mass scale.
Why does PR get confused with inbound marketing?
Public relations is a very broad form of marketing and communications, meaning there are quite a number of strategies that are, or can be, considered as PR.
Many of the strategies used in PR are similar to strategies that are used in inbound marketing. Public relations teams use written and visual content, such as press releases, blog posts, articles and social media, as a way of gaining attention from the public as well as issuing important information about their clients.
With the growth of online, this content can then be repurposed and linked to as inbound content the longer it sticks around, contributing to the online profile of a company and helping it to be found by consumers.
The difference in whether PR counts as inbound or outbound marketing is usually in the intent. Publicity messages often have a shorter lifespan and need to be communicated quickly to as wide an audience as possible, which means they do not have time to wait for the longer-term results of organic, inbound marketing to take effect.
So, is PR inbound or outbound marketing? Quite simply, most PR should be considered as outbound marketing. Whilst PR strategies can overlap with inbound marketing when it comes to using content to raise brand awareness, public relations efforts predominantly use outbound marketing strategies with the intention of putting out a particular message to reach consumers rather than waiting for them to find them.
Header image: Photo by Roman Kraft