Automation Rules vs. Engagement Studio Actions in Pardot (Account Engagement)

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One of the topics that’s hard for Pardot newbies to wrap their heads around (especially when migrating from another system) is automation. It’s no surprise, as there are several automation options at your disposal in Pardot – yes, they really do take the automation in ‘marketing automation’ seriously!

Pardot Automation Rules and the automation capabilities in Engagement Studio may have the same outcomes, but have plenty of differences that distinguish them, especially in terms of how you would apply each to a specific use case.

The Evolution of Pardot Automation

Let’s start by outlining the product’s evolution. Pardot Automation Rules have been around since the dawn of time (in Pardot terms, that is). They have always been the go to automation in Pardot, being the most broad and versatile choice (which I will come on to later). Automation rules are the crutch many marketers have relied heavily upon for years.

Engagement Studio launched June 2016, over 6 years after the first trace of Automation Rules. Engagement Studio promised ‘B2B Marketing Automation Reimagined, and it has been wildly successful thanks to its canvas interface for visual campaign mapping and reporting. Creating rules-based automation without leaving the canvas followed the all-in-one vision the product team had for Engagement Studio.

Similarities: Rules vs. Actions + Triggers

When stripped back, both Automation Rules and Engagement Studio have the same skeleton. You define the rules, that is prospect criteria (the inputs), and when that criteria is met, Pardot makes an action/s (the output).

In Engagement Studio, there are two types of nodes (steps you can add) that help narrow down criteria – these are:

  • Rules: what a Prospect is, eg. “if Prospect City = London”
  • Triggers: what a Prospect does, eg. “if Prospect opens email”. Engagement Studio ‘listens’ for Prospects to take an action, during a period of time you have defined.

Rules (+ Triggers)

Automation RulesEngagement Studio
Prospect CRM CampaignSalesforce Campaign [Rule]
Prospect CRM Campaign StatusSalesforce Campaign Status [Rule]
Prospect CRM StatusSalesforce Status [Rule]
Prospect Account Fieldn/a**
Prospect Assigned QueueAssigned Salesforce Queue [Rule]
Prospect Assigned UserAssigned User [Rule]
Prospect Assignment StatusAssignment Status [Rule]
Prospect Custom FieldProspect Custom Field [Rule]
Prospect Custom RedirectCustom Redirect Click [Trigger]
Prospect Default FieldProspect Default Field [Rule]
Pardot Campaign [Rule]
Prospect Email OpensEmail Open [Trigger]
Prospect Email StatusProspect Email Status [Rule]
Prospect FileFile Download [Trigger]
Prospect FormForm [Trigger]
Prospect Form HandlerForm Handler Complete [Trigger]
Prospect GradeGrade [Rule]
Prospect Landing PageLanding Page [Trigger]
Prospect ListList [Rule]
Prospect Opportunityn/a**
Prospect Opportunity Default Fieldn/a**
Prospect Opportunity Statusn/a**
Prospect Profilen/a
Prospect Public List Opt-In Statusn/a
Prospect Queryn/a
Prospect ScoreScore [Rule]
Prospect Score For Scoring Categoryn/a
Prospect TagProspect Tag [Rule]
Prospect Timen/a
Visitor Google Analytics Parametern/a
Visitor Hostnamen/a

** account/opportunity fields not available

New Complex Rules in Engagement Studio

Complex Rules Steps, recently added to Engagement Studio, mean we can add multiple criteria and change the match type (match all/match any criteria). This has bridged a majority differentiator, one that sent marketers back to creating standalone Automation Rules to cater to their requirements.


Automation RulesEngagement Studio
Add Prospect To ListAdd To List
Add To CRM CampaignAdd To Salesforce Campaign
Adjust Prospect ScoreAdjust Score
Adjust Prospect Score For Scoring Categoryn/a
Allow Deleted CRM Lead Or Contact To Recreate From Pardotn/a
Apply TagsApply Tags
Assign Prospect To QueueAssign To Salesforce Queue
Assign Prospect To UserAssign To User
Assign Prospect To User In GroupAssign To Group
Assign Via Salesforce Active Assignment RuleAssign Via Salesforce Active Assignment Rule
Change Profile Criterian/a
Change Prospect Custom Field ValueChange Prospect Field Value
Change Prospect Default Field ValueChange Prospect Field Value
Change Prospect Profilen/a
Clear Prospect Field Valuen/a
Create Salesforce TaskCreate Salesforce Task
Do Not Sync With CRMn/a
Increment Prospect Field ValueChange Prospect Field Value
Mark As Reviewedn/a
Notify Assigned UserNotify User
Notify UserNotify User
Remove TagsRemove Tags
Remove Prospect From ListRemove From List
Send Prospect EmailSend Email
Set Prospect’s Source Campaignn/a**

Note: The majority of the Actions above with ‘n/a’ tend to be administrative data ‘heavy lifting’ actions that day to day campaigns would not need to access.

Differences Between Automation Rules and Engagement Studio

Use Case & Account Level

Automation Rules are best suited for both broad, and highly segmented automations. This sounds contradictory, but bear with me!

  • Broad: with the potential to access any Prospect in your Pardot account, Automation Rules can be used for data ‘heavy lifting’, that is, to mass update a field, add many Prospects to lists, send autoresponders to multiple forms, and more.
  • Highly segmented: for isolated automations you need to do, with many critieria added on top of one another.

The baseline for Automation Rules is the whole Prospect database – in other words, you are starting with a blank canvas, that you narrow down using ‘Rules’ critieria. In Engagement Studio, your baseline is the members of that Engagement Studio program.

Interface for Building

When it comes to building, Automation Rules are more ’straight up’. If you have ever built an Automation Rule, you will know what I mean (or refer to the image below). In one screen, input the ‘Rules’ that form the criteria, then add the ‘Actions’ below. You can clearly see if this and this equals this, then do this.

In Engagement Studio, the relationship between Rules and Actions are not always obvious – each being different ‘nodes’, they could be distanced in the Engagement Flow. However, overall it is easier to follow a Prospect’s journey in Engagement Studio, to visually see ’this action happened to this Prospect because this rule sent them down that path’.

Take a look at the image below to see how the building blocks of Automation Rules are disguised in Engagement Studio:


Both Automation Rules and Engagement Studio are repeatable – but with a difference.

Automation Rules can be set to restrict the number of days between ending and reentering (“Days before eligible to reenter”), and/or the number of reentries to the program:

The same can also be set in Engagement Studio, a mirror image. The difference comes down to how you structure your Engagement Studio program, as when a specific Engagement Studio Action can be repeated is restricted by the repeatable settings of the whole flow.

For example, a Prospect is in a Newsletter campaign that lasts for 5 days. Prospects can reenter once they have completed the whole program (Days before eligible to repeat rule = 1; No, allow unlimited matches). If the Action appears on day 2, then this delays the Prospect reaching the Action (and repeating that Action), more so than if it had been an Action in a standalone Automation Rule.


Pardot Automation is one tough topic for new users to wrap their heads around, as both Automation Rules and Engagement Studio can do the same things, but which you choose depends on the use case.

Simply put, if you would like to run an automation based on a specific campaign, then you can build this contained within Engagement Studio – plus, monitoring and reporting are easier in the single canvas view.

On the other hand, automations that are isolated from campaigns, where you would like to potentially include any Prospect from your whole Pardot database, or to process data ‘heavy lifting’ without needing to export Prospect data to manipulate it, then Automation Rules offer these capabilities.

I hope this post has been useful in ironing out the ‘automation’ in Pardot Marketing Automation!

One thought on “Automation Rules vs. Engagement Studio Actions in Pardot (Account Engagement)

  1. Hi there! Quick question… When I’m creating a Salesforce task from Engagement Studio, is there a way to insert the lead name in the task? For instance, I’d like to create a task that says “Reach out to {{Lead.FullName}} on LinkedIn”. Is that possible?

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