7 Differences Between Advertising and Public Relations

Posted on: August 3rd, 2012 by Wendy Alpine

Wendy Alpine discusses the differences and benefits of both advertising and public relationsAs I explained in my last blog, many people confuse public relations with advertising and don’t know the difference between the two.  During my 20 plus years in public relations, clients have asked, “What’s the difference between advertising and public relations?”  People will comment on our great PR when it is actually a paid ad.  On the other hand, we have been complimented on our “ad in the paper” when they are actually referring to a feature story that we placed.  This blog will explain seven areas in which Advertising and Public Relations differ.

1. Paid vs. Free

Advertising – With advertising, a company pays for ad space, which is often expensive.  If you  just run one ad, it’s really not going to do much for your product or service unless you run it at least once a month over a period of time.  However, just running an ad in a publication without awareness of the brand first is often not effective.

PR – A PR firm’s job is to get free publicity for a company or service through press releases, media pitches and good relationships with the media.  An article in a newspaper provides third-party endorsement and credibility for your product or service.  It can position your product or service as part of a trend or human interest story, rather than a product promotion. A media placement by a PR firm is often referred to as “earned” media.

2. Controlling the Message vs. Influencing the Message

Advertising – If you’re paying for an ad, you can say exactly what you want (“This is the greatest thing since sliced bread”), but consumers often are skeptical because they know you’re paying for it.  This is not to say it’s ineffective, but consumers may think it’s biased.

PR – When you pitch a story to a reporter and he/she decides to pursue it, you don’t have as much control over what gets into the paper.  But a good PR person knows how to increase a company’s chances of positive publicity.  Conducting message training, preparing clients for interviews and helping them practice their “quotes” or “sound bites” increases the chances that the story will contain positive messages for the company or product.

3. A 10-second Spot vs. Perpetuity on the Internet

Advertising – It would seem that an ad has a longer “shelf life” because of its creativity and delivery method.  But once the ad runs, the shelf life expires.  Marketing experts say that seeing an ad for a few seconds online or fast forwarding it on your DVR still has value because the audience is still seeing it.  However, once it runs, it’s over.

PR – With the Internet, an article, tweet or Facebook post is there forever.  The Library of Congress is now archiving every public tweet. If an article gets in a particular newspaper, magazine, and/or television station, it often runs online and will show up in a variety of search engines.  We have a client who was interviewed by CNN back in 2001.  If you Google his name and CNN, the transcript of that interview comes up.  The Internet has extended the “shelf life” of a PR campaign.

Another advantage of PR is that once the article is in cyberspace, it is available to be googled by reporters.  That’s why byline articles are useful.  They help position your client as an expert, so when reporters are searching a particular topic, your client’s name will come up and get additional publicity.

4. Biased vs. Unbiased Perceptions

Advertising – When customers see your ad, they know that you provided the message and are trying to sell them something.  They know you are paying for the ad, so they perceive a certain amount of bias.

PR – Once again, it goes back to that third-party endorsement that removes bias and lends credibility to your story, product or service.

5. Creative vs. Nose for News

Advertising – A good ad uses colorful and descriptive language with a call to action.  A clever campaign can motivate consumers to buy your product.  Advertising can use different media such as commercials, print ads, Facebook ads, and microsites that can incorporate interactivity, fun games and calls to action.  A good copywriter can create slogans that will stick with people for years to come and even get kids repeating a jingle or phrase.

PR – PR requires creativity, but in a different way.  In PR, you are searching for the news, looking for angles behind events and trends, anticipating events and reading articles and websites about your client’s industry.  You have to put yourself in the reporter’s shoes.  Is my client doing something new or different?  Is it part of a trend?  Why would someone care?  With PR, you need a news “hook” to capture a reporter’s attention.

Today, there are many ways to do that.  Pitching to a reporter is just one.  Today, bloggers, i-reporters and other social media channels are allowing ordinary people to report the news. For instance, if you want to reach women with children, you may be better off developing relationships with “mommy bloggers,” instead of solely running an ad.

6. Marketing Research vs. Media Research

Advertising – Advertising is based on demographics and market research.  An advertiser has to find the right audience and medium to advertise in.  You don’t want to advertise to women in a men’s publication or send a direct mail piece from a retirement organization to young people.

PR – With PR, demographics and market research are important, too.  But knowing the publications available in a particular industry or which reporters cover a particular topic you’re pitching are also critical.  Nowadays, with the Internet, it is easy to research industry publications and follow reporters writing about a topic you’re interested in.  Facebook and Twitter also are ways to learn more about what reporters are writing about and sometimes you can score a placement just by reading a reporter’s Facebook or Twitter page.

7. Below the Fold vs Above the Fold

Advertising – Even though you pay a lot of money for a sizeable print ad, it will not show up on the front page of a newspaper (though I recently saw a sticker advertising Kroger supermarket above the fold in our local paper).  In fact, many newspapers relegate ads to the lower sections of the inside pages.  You can, however, have your story and photo featured on the front cover of community magazines, although you have to pay for this premium space.

PR – On the other hand, “news” always gets priority.  A “newsworthy” story may lead the evening news or get top billing on the radio.  It may also be featured “above the fold” in a newspaper.  You can’t pay for that publicity.

Are you using advertising or public relations to promote your product or service?  Are you getting the results that you want?  If not, call Alpine Communications and let’s discuss.  Reach us at 404-641-6170, or info@alpinepr.com.

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