7 Ways Advertising is Different from Public Relations

Posted on: December 28th, 2016 by Wendy Alpine

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the differences between advertising and public relations. It’s been the most popular blog I’ve written, so I thought I’d do an update. Here it goes.

Public relations and advertising have many differences, but often people confuse them.

Public relations is about working with the media to raise awareness or shape opinion about a brand, product or service. A good PR professional knows what makes a good story, is aware of trends and understands what a reporter covers. Often, PR is viewed as more credible than an ad because the story is written by the reporter, and is not a paid ad.

But there are drawbacks.
There’s no guarantee the reporter will do your story, or write it the way you’d like. If that’s what you want, you may want to use advertising to control the message.

Today, advertising comes in many forms, from native ads (paid content that matches a publication’s editorial standards) and advertorials to traditional print ads. When visiting a website, you may often see the words “Content from the Web” or “Recommended.” According to copyblogger, which has a great article explaining native ads, these links, often called “clickbait,” direct you to content on other publishing sites, with ads included. Ouch!

7 Differences Between Advertising and Public Relations

There are other differences between the two that can help you choose between the two and decide what’s right for your business (and budget).

1. Writing Style 

Advertising writing, often called copywriting, uses calls to action like “Buy Now,” “Call Now,” “Act Now”―to motivate people to purchase a product or service. It can be more flowery than PR writing and may take more liberties in touting your product. Because public relations professionals work directly with news media, the content they produce can’t be promotional or over-reaching, or it will be dismissed by editors.

Often PR people use press releases to convey news about a product that can be printed as is in a newspaper or online. But more often press releases are used for background to help the reporter write their own story. Many PR folks also craft bylined articles or work with company executives to convey expertise in an industry, a tactic called thought leadership. Again, the content needs to inform, educate or entertain, as if it were written by the reporter herself.

2. Cost

Let’s face it, advertising is expensive. Costs vary depending on type of outlet, online vs. offline, number of markets and frequency. Some companies spend millions of dollars a month on online advertising, while others may spend thousands for print ads. Public relations works to get publicity using news conferences, press releases, social media and other cost-effective tactics. While public relations is not free, what you pay for may go farther if you have a limited budget.

3. Control

When you pay for advertising space, you can control what is said and where the ad is placed; with public relations, you have little to no control over how―or if―the media coverage appears. The media are not obligated to cover your event of even publish your press release. That’s why choosing a good public relations professional for your business is important. He or she will know how to increase the odds of getting your story placed or your voice heard among the noise.

4. Contact

In public relations, you are visible to the media. Should there be a newsworthy event – good or bad – you may represent your company to the media as the spokesperson. With advertising, someone else can do the talking for you. A company can run a full-page ad to explain its position or control content through a paid video.

5. Longevity

You’ve heard the term “good PR” or “bad PR.” Usually, PR has a lasting effect. In a crisis, for instance, timing is everything and how quickly you respond to a negative situation can have a lasting positive or negative effect on a company’s reputation. Sometimes, it can take years to build back good PR in the event of a crisis or other negative situation. Like good PR, a great ad or concept can linger in the public’s psyche for years. On the other hand, advertising is expensive and most small businesses can’t afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a professional advertising campaign. Thus, a short-term ad campaign is short-lived and easily forgotten.

6. Audience vs. Editor

In advertising, you are looking for a specific demographic and design the ad accordingly. Often, you are trying to illicit a response by having a person buy now or click on sponsored content, with little human interaction. With public relations, you must have an angle to hook the editors and get them interested in running your article or covering your event. This may mean developing relationships or talking to reporters over the phone (yes, this is still done!) to get them to trust you as a credible and reliable source.

7. Response

Public relations can be proactive or reactive publicity. Proactive in that the company sets out to promote a message and reactive in that it responds to events like scandals, social media blunders or missteps. Public relations can be crucial when dealing with a crisis, and a good PR person familiar with handling issues is worth his weight in gold. Advertising is most often used to promote positive attributes of a product, and, in certain cases, can be used in crisis management to explain a company’s position more thoroughly.

While public relations and advertising both use tactics to influence and persuade, the way they do it is different. Looking for ideas to build your business in 2017? Public relations is a great way to introduce your product or get more awareness over the long-term.

We enjoy working with companies that are launching new products, innovating with technology or have great stories to tell about how they’re bettering the world. We’d love to help you develop a strategy that gets results. So, to borrow a phrase from advertising, call us today.

 

P.S. To all my friends and clients, have a happy and peaceful New Year!

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