Social marketing is the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good. Social marketing can be applied to promote merit goods, or to make a society avoid demerit goods and thus to promote society's well being as a whole (Wikipedia.org).
Just like 'traditional marketing', social marketing uses identical tools to achieve specific goals and objectives. While traditional marketing goals may be the increase of sales or the maintenance of brand reputation, so essentially financially related objectives, social marketing focuses on good causes and societal changes. Both disciplines strife for different goals but they both rely on creating a "...management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements..." (Chartered Institute of Marketing). With this definition in mind, it seems that both are identical in their activities and tools of use, but different in setting goals and objectives. This comes not necessarily as a surprise as both are heavily related with each other. The question now is how social marketing overlaps with public relations, if they compliment each other or if they should be treated as individual disciplines.
Public Relations is about maintaining images and relationships by using tactical tools such as public speaking, conferences, media relations, social media, crisis communication, surveys and many many others. These tools are used to persuade the audience into following and promoting ones message. Specifically in NGO PR these tools are used to promote an NGO organization, who has its own agenda, goals and objectives in mind. Organizations such as Greenpeace are entirely based on PR activities and use these tools to follow their mission. Looking at the definition of Social Marketing from above, it seems that Greenpeace would use NGO PR to present themselves to the world, maintain their brand image and communicate with their audiences and publics, while using social marketing to actually reach their goals of societal changes. Social marketing seems to be used to promote a very specific cause, such as trying to make people stop smoking, while PR may be used to create pressure to key leaders or lobbying towards tobacco companies.
Looking at both fields of communication, it seems that both have specific tasks to fulfill in each others own way. To be effective in ones goals, it is important to understand both disciplines with their strengths and powers. Successful communicators need to understand both areas and use them in conjunction, rather than seeing them as individuals tools. Social marketing combined with NGO PR activities work together very well, while overlapping on certain areas. However, each discipline follows distinct goals in mind, so it is key to understand and use both of them at the same time.
I kindly forward you to one of our guest speakers from University, Sean Kidney, who is a leading figure within the social marketing industry and board member of Greenpeace, amongst many other organizations.