4 Reasons Why Advertising is Different From Public Relations

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

There’s public relations, loosely called PR, and there’s advertising. While both are bragging tools, they are not the same! In the words of business executive Jean- Louis Gassée, “Advertising is saying you’re good. PR is getting someone else to say you’re good.” This explanation suggests that brands use both advertising and public relations to call attention to themselves and create a good brand image. However, while succinct and eye-catching, Gassée’s differentiation of these two terms misses several characteristics that make each uniquely different from the other.

Without further ado, let’s look at 4 factors that show just how different these two are.

1) Advertising is paid for, Public Relations is earned

I know what you’re thinking. You’re trying to figure out which one is more convenient: is it paying for attention or earning attention? Fact is, paying for airtime and space on media may dent your pockets but will save you time and effort. On the other hand, chasing after reporters and producers and convincing them to write a positive story about you, will take time and may sometimes see you burned out.

However, it has been found that in the consumer decision-making process, PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising. It sounds exaggerated, but think about it, if you were a hiring manager, would you believe it more if I said I was a good employee or if I pulled out positive testimonials from old employers? Same case applies to your brand, it is more credible when other people sing your praises, as when an expert writes about you in the commentary section of a newspaper rather than when you blow your own trumpet on the ‘paid media’ section.

While advertising is a friend to your brand, take a look at Evie’s post here to find out why PR is actually your best friend!

2) Advertising is for the ‘shorter-term’, Public Relations for the ‘longer-term’

Advertising is a quick-sell strategy that best serves a shorter-term goal. For example, “Sales are going down, so let’s promote our 50%-off sale, to reverse the trend or winter is coming, so let’s put our ‘warm wear collection’ out there for people to buy.” Not so for public relations, which is a longer-term strategy. It is the public relations tools and techniques such as consistent blogging that help maintain brand visibility and sustain relationships with the customers and other stakeholders, both during the peak seasons and the off-peak seasons. In fact, in its very nature, public relations shouldn’t be a short-term investment: PR success takes time. Even Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors in the world says it takes 20 years to build a reputation.

3) Advertising gives you control over the message, Public Relations doesn’t

He who pays the piper, calls the tune!

In this case, because you pay for advertising, you decide pretty much everything with regards to the message placement in your media of choice: from what it will say, to when it will run and for how long. However, since PR is free publicity, once you click that send button, the journalist takes full control over that content and decides how to tweak it so that it fits the tone and taste of their medium. They may sadly, even decide to kill your story, never allowing it the light of day on their media platform.

Do head on to one of our previous articles and learn the dos and don’ts of pitching to journalists so as to improve your chances of getting published.

4) Advertising is one-way communication, Public Relations is two-way communication

Advertising is a lot like attending a public lecture and sitting at the back row, while the hall is full to capacity. You sit there, listen, take notes, and wade through any confusing points that come your way, without having the opportunity to ask questions.

Chances are slim of the speaker noticing what you don’t understand, and addressing your concerns. Public relations however, is the total opposite of this as the hall has a few attendees and there’s an assistant going round, picking any questions the audience may have, with the speaker addressing them at set intervals. Advertising is thus meant to persuade only, without the ability to spontaneously adapt to consumer queries, while public relations uses methods that help build a mutual relationship with consumers.

Catch this before I go:

The most powerful way to grow your brand image is by combining advertising and PR methods in a strategic, integrated communication campaign where the two feed off each other’s strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. For more on this, you can read about Integrated Marketing Communications which goes beyond the press release to deliver consistent promotion messages to target consumers and other stakeholders.

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Wanja is an avid reader and passionate writer, living and working in Nairobi. She’s a PR Assistant and Blogger at GuidedPR. She holds a Bachelors in Mass Communication from JKUAT and has accordingly worked within the print media industry and in academia. When she's not researching current affairs and millennial trends, you'll find her on social media, keeping up with what's hot!

Find Wanja on LinkedIn.

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