The Difference between Publicity and Marketing

Due to advancing social media usage clarity between what publicity and marketing are has become blurred. Many now use the terms synonymously however, they fulfil different functions, or should. This article aims to clarify the issue and help authors in particular understand how to employ each.

Note: Though it is principally authors this is being written for most will also apply to others who run a business or have a product or service to offer.


It may help before continuing to see how each are formally described.


‘The activity of making certain that someone or something attracts a lot of interest or attention from many people, or the attention received as a result of this activity.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)

‘An act or device designed to attract public interest.’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)


‘A job that involves encouraging people to buy a product or service.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)

‘The process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

As may be seen, these definitions confirm the two are recognised as having different purposes and aims.


In essence, as already stated, publicity and marketing have, or should have, different aims though they do effectively contribute to the same overall goal.


At its core publicity is not about selling. Its primary function is to attract attention to the author or organisation, not the product. This is achieved by:

  • releasing and managing information regarding the author or organisation;
  • building relationships between the author and the public;
  • creating Brand awareness;
  • attracting media interest;
  • dealing with ‘Meet the Author’ events;
  • establishing the author as an expert;
  • handling enquiries from the media or other sources.

Publicity specifically aims to create and maintain positive opinions. Throughout, at every stage, it is publicity that has to deal with any negativity, should any arise. Of course, the intent is to try and ensure that does not happen but it is never possible to account for everyone.

In the past, opinion was, if the publicity was to be recognised as valid, it had to come from earned sources such as, journalists; respected publications; famous people; and the like. However, times have changed. Now, beside websites and blogs, comments, likes, shares, etc., on social media are recognised as a primary source though, naturally, any earned publicity is more than welcome and continues to carry weight.

Professional Publicist

A good publicist is worth their weight in gold, to coin a phrase. However, a majority of authors, especially independent ones, do not have the means to pay for a professional publicist or any other professional. They have no choice but to undertake all tasks themselves. There is no argument a good proactive publicist can achieve much, especially as they will already have established contacts in the media. If an author has the means and is reasonably certain of recouping the outlay from sales, employing a professional makes a lot of sense. Regrettably, few are in such a position.


Whereas publicity focuses on the author or organisation, marketing is all about the product. For authors the focus is on the book or series of books. Marketing aims to:

  • highlight the book and that it is for sale;
  • oversee the placement of the product;
  • identify audience needs;
  • acquire and retain customers;
  • talk directly to customers about the product;
  • manipulate the audience’s thought processes;
  • engage with people in a way that induces them to take an action;
  • build a connection between the book and the audience’s money;
  • employ and handle paid promotion;
  • manage sales of any subsidiary products e.g. bookmarks.

Marketing is all about selling the product and is where the buying and selling processes are handled. By nature it may appear mercenary and aggressive, which of course, at its root, it is, though it should not be overtly so. This is one reason the average author finds it a difficult area to deal with. Many are quiet, introverts who do not like shouting about themselves or their books. However, if they are to gain any meaningful sales, it is a necessary component of authoring. That said, the best marketing is persuasive rather than belligerent. It asserts there is something of quality to be had but in a friendly tone and manner. It is where the customer need is created. In other words, where the audience is persuaded they have a need for the book or product.

Throughout, the focus of marketing should be on the product not the author. Naturally, there may be some overlap though essentially it should be left to the publicity to handle the more personal elements. Many readers often like to know more about the individual behind the book they have enjoyed but for that they should be directed toward an author’s website or social media accounts. It is not the job of marketing to fulfil such a desire. In this context publicity and marketing do overlap. In fact, when establishing a marketing plan the author should be identifying publicity as a component. It would be foolish not to see it as such though it is in practice a separate activity.

Some identify marketing as the area where the four P’s of product; price; place; promotion; are overseen. Some go so far as to suggest it is where the process of creating the product is handled. That may be open to debate nevertheless, it is where the impact of pricing and placement will be considered.

Promotion, a term that sometimes arises in discussions like this, has not been mentioned so far. It is identified as helping the progress of something or publicising a product. In this writer’s opinion it crosses the boarders between publicity and marketing and consequently may damage the distinction between the two.


There is no doubt modern usage has blurred the differentiation between publicity and marketing. Indeed many authors intermix the two activities when informing people about their books but do nevertheless see results. However, they would enhance their efforts if they used the two correctly. Marketing and publicity go hand in hand but should be separate activities. Publicity may commence anytime, preferably sometime prior to the book’s publication. Marketing comes into its own once the book is available either for pre-order or immediate purchase.

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