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January 13, 2021

Marketing versus communications: what’s the difference?

Samantha Campbell

In this episode of the Smart Communications Podcast, Sarah Durham sits down with Samantha Campbell, marketing and communications expert and former Senior Director Of Marketing at the Apollo Theater, to examine the differences between marketing and communications.


Sarah Durham: Welcome back to the Smart Communications Podcast. I am Sarah Durham. I’m your host. I’m also the CEO of Big Duck and of Advomatic. And I am joined today by somebody I have long wanted to have on the podcast, my friend, Samantha Campbell. And I want to give you a little bit of background and introduction to Samantha. Before we dive into our topic today. Samantha Campbell has spent the past 17 years in the arts and culture sector in New York City. Most recently heading up the marketing at world-famous Apollo Theater. Prior to joining the Apollo as senior director of marketing in 2018, she spent several years at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. That’s where I got to know Samantha first. And at the garden, she served as vice president of visitor experience and marketing at the garden. She led a team responsible for marketing communications, digital and print media, public programs, visitor services, and volunteers, as well as earned income from admissions, retail, and catering.

Sarah Durham: Before Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Samantha was the marketing and events director at TimeOut New York, where she was responsible for designing and executing consumer promotions for clients of TimeOut New York and TimeOut Kids magazines. She did audience development and she established strategic partnerships with key New York City organizations, including the Tribeca Film Festival, The New York City Wine and Food Festival, and many more. Samantha began her career before that managing public relations for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, which is in my backyard. And that is, by the way, the world’s first children’s museum. She also has many memories growing up as a child in Brooklyn — so we’ve got native New Yorkers in the house, and Samantha was a fellow of the Coro leadership New York program, the city’s premier multi-sector civic leadership program, and the Getty Leadership Institute for Executives in the museum field. Samantha, welcome, welcome.

Samantha Campbell: Thank you for having me, Sarah.

Sarah Durham: I am really, really happy you are here because you are an expert in something that I probably spent more time thinking about and I should, which is marketing, marketing for nonprofits and specifically marketing and communications and how those two things relate and overlap or how they are different in a nonprofit. So I’m hoping we can start off there. You have led marketing teams at a number of organizations and seen communications and marketing inside and out in a bunch of different organizations should marketing and communications be separate departments?

Samantha Campbell: Like you said, you know, I’ve seen different configurations at different organizations. I’ve gone through reorganizations and, and within the departments. And I actually, I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do it. I’ve worked in organizations where marketing and communications are one team, and it’s certainly easier to be aligned under that construct, but I’ve also most recently worked at the Apollo, where the communications department was a separate team that reported directly to our president. And I think that there are some clear advantages to having communications have that direct line to the president’s office in terms of making sure that the organization has a clear and consistent voice that is reflected throughout the organization throughout different departments that are communicating with the public. So I think that that would be one advantage of having the department separate, but if the departments are separate, I would say there has to be a lot of focus on alignment on when, where, and how you’re communicating with your audiences. Your organizational priorities have to be clear and your goals, objectives, and timelines have to be very closely aligned. So a lot of internal meetings and shared calendars and shared project management software, all of that good stuff can help with that.

Sarah Durham: Perhaps we should take a step back also and kind of unpack those terms, marketing and communications, because I actually had a call this morning with somebody who’s the director of communications of an advocacy organization. And he was saying to me that within his organization, there are people even within different departments with marketing and their title or communications in their title. And as I was talking to him about it, we were talking about how in a lot of organizations, the terms marketing, and the term communication are kind of used interchangeably, but technically they are different. My definition of communications, which I wrote about in my new book, The Nonprofit Communications Engine is that non-profit communications is the practice of creating and sustaining mind share and engagement, that advances the mission. Whereas marketing tends to be more specifically focused on getting people to sign up for or participate in something. So at the Apollo, for instance, with a marketing job, I would expect you and your team were responsible for getting people to actually buy tickets to events, actually come to events. How do you define marketing and communications do agree with those definitions? Do you see it differently?

Samantha Campbell: So similarly for marketing, you know, I think about the strategy and tactics that an organization undertakes to grow its audience base and inspire audiences to take some specific action. So like you said, whether it’s conversion to ticket sales or website visits or joining a social media network or taking some action that’s advocacy-oriented, or even making a donation, you know, I think marketing and fundraising are deeply intertwined and you’ve written a lot about that. And your work is a lot about that too. And then when it comes to communications again, like I think it’s that clear organizational voice. Technically you see public relations sitting clearly with communications and tactically, you see things like paid advertising, sitting clearly with marketing, but when you think about an organization’s own media, that’s where the line starts to get blurry between marketing and communications. So who’s managing email, who’s managing content for the website, who’s managing the social media pages, printed materials, or public-facing signage. Those sorts of tactics and responsibilities can sit within marketing or a communications department.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. I really appreciate how you are unthreading in your definition, the difference between owned-media, earned-media, and paid-media. So if I understood you correctly, you’re saying paid-media tends to go more to marketing earned-media tends to go more to communications, but then the wild card is owned-media who controls the voice of the organization. That’s really interesting. So to that point about paid media, you’ve worked with Outdoor with radio, you’ve done retargeting YouTube, Google grants. A lot of times in my experience, people in organizations that may be arts and cultural organizations are an exception to this, but most nonprofits often really lack expertise in those channels and tools. And a lot of times people just don’t even know to begin with things like retargeting, et cetera. So what do you think about those channels and tools? What’s the best bang for your buck as a marketer?

Samantha Campbell: Yeah, and I think that question is so important right now organization’s bottom lines have been impacted so heavily due to COVID and for many organizations, paid-media is not even an option right now. I think that looking at your digital marketing is the best way to start. And so if you have no budget, you’re going to start with your website, making sure that it’s search engine optimized. So you hear that term SEO. And you’re going to look at your email lists. These are your supporters, people who have opted in to hear from you. You want to keep that list growing. You want to keep that list high. You want to minimize your opt-outs. So paying attention to the data on your open rates, on your opt-out rates and optimizing your content based on what that data is telling you. And then of course we know social media is really key to reaching new audiences, converting your audiences in a number of ways, whether it’s, again, they can take direct action directly through the platform itself, or you want to drive them through your website for deeper engagement, but growing your audience on social media. And then also more importantly using it as a listening tool. So again, I’m talking about analytics, what are people liking? What are they sharing? What are they commenting on? If you have got a social calendar that you were just kind of putting content out there with without taking a pause and looking at the analytics, then you’re not doing it the right way.

Sarah Durham: Are there any tools you particularly like for social listening or analytics, any tools you recommend nonprofits consider?

Samantha Campbell: On the most basic level, each of the platforms have their own tools that will allow you to see what posts are performing well. And so within Facebook and Instagram, you’ve got a dashboard that you can look at some organizations that have many platforms that they’re using and they want to kind of unite that data together. We’ll use other tools. Like I think there was something called Social Sprout, we were using years ago at the Botanic Garden. But if you don’t have those resources, it’s okay to kind of look at each dashboard individually and you can create your own spreadsheet to compare those results.

Sarah Durham: Cool. So I’m curious actually, how you learned about this. You’ve built, I think a really strong suite of tools for yourself or skills for yourself in all of these digital applications over many years, but how’d you do that? How would you advise other people to learn too?

Samantha Campbell: I started my career as social media was emerging. And so there was a lot of experimentation that was going on on a personal level, joining Facebook and learning what it was about. And I remember being at Timeout New York and we all got in a room and we were like, well, what are we going to do about Facebook? And just started working with our editors to put content out and put a strategy together. We had a great PR manager at the time that took that on because that was her interest. A lot of my learnings have kind of grown organically. As new platforms have emerged. I rely on a lot of professional development, oftentimes professional development that’s available, that’s free, whether that’s through webinars or through online courses. And then I’ve been fortunate to work with some really great agencies throughout my career in marketing, whether it’s Big Duck or on branding or at where I’ve worked with the Pico group on digital marketing and branding, AKA New York, Capacity Building Interactive. So the organizations I’ve worked with have had great support from agencies on bringing new ideas for us and to us and helping us kind of like get the most out of our budgets.

Sarah Durham: I have found also in terms of free webinars and professional development, at least for technology, for digital tools that, NTEN is a great resource, both our webinars and the conference that they do every year, the NTC that’s often a place where I’m finding it’s most likely that a new tool is going to be talked about that’s going to be relevant for nonprofits. So if you’re not already a member of NTEN, I encourage you to check it out at And we’ll link to that in the show notes.

Sarah Durham: Samantha, you mentioned earlier that we are in the middle of COVID days, we are recording this in October of 2020. I like to sort of fantasizing about the future years from now when hopefully we will not be in COVID days and somebody will be listening to this podcast and they’ll be laughing, chuckling. I hope about what we were going through, assuming that we’re still in it or in these moments where things are changing so dramatically as a marketer and a communicator, how do you see the way organizations are using their paid, owned, and earned-media changing these days?

Samantha Campbell: Right. As a result of budget impacts that almost all of us are experiencing paid-media is drying up right now. So definitely getting smarter about our own media earned-media is just as important as ever and really connecting that public relations exposure that you’re getting to your owned-media, but making sure that you’re amplifying your press mentions through your email and social channels that before a press story hits at the right landing pages are ready and visible to customers on the website. I see this as a time to just really zero in on your audience and really zero in on what audiences expect from you, what they want to hear from you. It’s a good time to listen more. And whether that’s through surveys, whether that’s just through experimenting with the kind of content that you put out there and seeing what audiences respond to. A lot of organizations are working with furloughed staff.

Samantha Campbell: And so you’ve got less resources. And so you’ve really were kind of forced to be more strategic about what we do spend our time on. And again, like getting to know your audience better. I think this is the time for that. I’ve been in a lot of work situations where you’re quickly going from one campaign to the next, and there’s not enough time to do that reflection and that’s so important. I think this is a good time to dive into your data. And also if there is some low risk, low investment experiments that you want to start doing, I think this is the time for that as well.

Sarah Durham: I want to circle back to something you just talked about that I am intrigued by. You talked about amplifying the press mentions that you get. And that struck a chord for me because I have seen a lot of organizations over the years who invest either staff time or maybe sometimes they hire a PR firm and they go after earned-media and maybe they get it, maybe they don’t, but it doesn’t always do a whole lot for them. And what I’m hearing you talk about is the media on its own. The earned media on its own is not enough. It’s how you amplify it. So can you just tell us a little bit more about what do you recommend an organization do to amplify that media and make sure they’re getting the greatest value from whatever coverage they get?

Samantha Campbell: And I think too, what you do will depend on the focus on your organization, but first of all, your board needs to know about who’s covering your organization and how I think that that’s the first place to start whether your organization is the venue, whether your organization is focused on advocacy or social justice, let the board know what kind of coverage you’re receiving on a regular basis. I see a lot of organizations kind of bury their earned-media in the news section on the website. If you’ve got a press that you’re really proud of, link to that TV coverage on your social media networks, make sure that it’s in your next newsletter that goes out, and make sure that whatever is covered in the press story can be easily found on your homepage. Don’t make your audience have to search for something. If they heard something on the radio, or if they saw something on the news or in a magazine, don’t make them have to go beyond the homepage to find what they’re looking for. So making those connections.

Sarah Durham: That’s great advice. What I think you’re describing sounds very three-dimensional and holistic. Looking at it from every angle to get more value from it.

Samantha Campbell: Exactly.

Sarah Durham: So you mentioned earlier that you think this is a good time also to do some experimentation, to do some digital experiments and determine maybe if a new channel or tool works for you. So how do you recommend organizations go about conducting digital experiments?

Samantha Campbell: Well, I think it depends on the size of your staff, on how you’re resourced, but for the Apollo, at least I can talk a little bit about what we did when the theater closed. So after COVID, we kind of that together across departments, and we knew that we did not want this to be sort of the end to our connection with our audiences. We didn’t know how long this closure was going to happen, whether it was going to be a matter of weeks or months. And I think at the time in March, we were hoping that maybe it’d be a couple months. And so we got together and said, well, in the meantime, what can we present to our audiences that sort of extend the experience of the theater to where they are that brings the theater experience to them. And so we just looked at what content we already had, what video content we had that could easily be translated to a digital audience.

Samantha Campbell: So we had recordings of the Apollo’s world-famous Amateur Night shows. So we had an editor on hand that was able to kind of repackage it and put that out on our website, put that out on our social networks. And we did the same thing for some of our concerts that we had recently. And then we also left room to kind of be responsive to the moment and things that were happening at the time. So around Easter weekend, we were contacted by the producers of the film, Amazing Grace, which was an Aretha Franklin documentary. And so we said, okay, well, we’re going to do some uplifting content around the release of this film. And so we organized a conversation with our executive producer and a singer named Donald Lawrence who just done a concert with us in December. So we left room for those kind of opportunistic pieces of content that we could create as well.

Samantha Campbell: And then of course the focus became on how to make our gala a virtual experience, which was an enormous undertaking in itself. I would not say that that would be a low-risk, low investment thing to do, but I think a lot of organizations were in that place of working with their producers and event producers in a whole new way. So we’ve sort of been able to stretch. And a lot of us have been able to really just learn a lot about digital tools together as we go, what sort of tools are best for broadcasting? We just tried a few out and saw which ones were easiest to adopt require the least amount of technical aptitude, but the highest quality of sound and visual presentation. So that was a lot of experimentation.

Sarah Durham: That’s awesome. As you’re talking about the experimentation at the Apollo, when it closed down for COVID, I’m thinking about how many arts and culture organizations really had to reinvent themselves so dramatically. And those were great experiments. There are great experiments. I’ve seen some amazing innovation from the Newark Museum from BRIC in Brooklyn. I know in the spring, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden did a virtual cherry walk on the cherry esplanade cause normally Sakura Matsuri, the cherry blossom festival is a very big deal in Brooklyn. They made it people. So some really cool experimentation that I think was indirect response to having shut down. I also think that a normal time when we could, again, wave our magic wand into the future, digital experiments are often fun to do as like tied to a specific program launch or initiative in a discreet way. And when you talked earlier about professionally being in the workforce as social media emerged and how you learned on the fly as things were emerging and like Facebook, it made me think about how one of the practices we had here at Big Duck in the nineties and early OO, when all that stuff was happening was to just pick a medium and make basically everybody on our team use it for like three months.

Sarah Durham: You may not want to tweet forever, but you got to tweet for three months and just learn how it works, just see what it’s like. And then if you want to retire whatever account you’ve made. Great. But hopefully, you’ve learned some things about this tool and this channel, and you’ll be better equipped to determine if it’s appropriate for your organization or for the project you’re working on. These days I feel like that’s fraught with more political challenges and you know, it’s not as easy to do these days as it probably was 10 years ago or so, but not committing to the long haul is I guess the name of the game there.

Samantha Campbell: Yeah, definitely. Even during my time at the Garden, we had focused a lot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but then Snapchat was emerging. Tumbler was popular at the time and we did some exploration into those areas. And ultimately we just decided that we didn’t have the resources to make the level of investment that we needed to have the kind of impact that we had. And so we decided to just pour our resources into where our audiences were focusing on growth on those platforms. And so if you’ve got a staff member that’s really passionate about a certain platform and really has a level of aptitude on it and it would be a low lift for them to just kind of start trying things out. I think that’s great. But ultimately you have to determine whether that’s sustainable for you and for the organization.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, I hear you. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. We’ve covered a lot of ground and I feel like I’ve learned from you in this conversation. I’m sure our listeners have too, as usual, a link in the show notes to some of the different tools and resources we have been talking about here and Samantha Campbell, thank you so much.

Samantha Campbell: Thank you, Sarah.