There’s an old saying in public relations: “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” When it comes to the age-old battle between advertising and public relations, it’s a case of unpaid versus paid, credible versus skeptical, earned versus purchased. Advertising is hardly filling, and public relations just tastes so, so good.
When it comes down to it, advertising is paid media, while public relations is earned media. This means that good PR is about managing to convince reporters or editors to write a positive story about you or your client, your candidate, brand or issue. Your story appears in the editorial section of the newspaper, magazine or website, rather than the “paid media” section between the advertisements for perfume and luxury watches. Accordingly, good PR ensures your story has substantially more credibility; after all, it was independently verified by a trusted third party, rather than bought off a pricing schedule.
Typically, advertising is identifiable by the following characteristics:
● Paid for
● Build exposure
● Faces a skeptical audience
● Has a guaranteed placement
● Offers complete creative control
● Mostly visual
● More expensive
● Demands that consumers “buy your product
On the other side of the fence, public relations is:
● Builds trust
● It is given third-party validation by the media
● Not guaranteed, and dependent on the persuasion of the media
● Determined in its final version by the media
● Depends on language
● Less expensive
● Demands that consumers realize “this is important.”
A major difference between the two is price. PR firms and consultants typically charge monthly retainers or can be hired for specific projects. Advertising, on the other hand, is often very pricey.
For example, a client may purchase a full-page ad in a weekly magazine to the tune of more than $100,000. The expectation, of course, is a flood of phone calls, viral media, and countless conversations about the ad. The outcome could be zero. Worse still, the price of an advertisement is often much more than mere placement fees; the cost of the creative process and production of the ad should also be factored in. Moreover, research shows that most advertisements need to be repeated several times before they even make an impression on the consumer.
A good public relations strategy, however, may mean getting quotes in the New York Times, Reuters and/or Forbes. It could mean national speaking invitations, calls from new and existing clients, and a much firmer sense of credibility.
Where it’s in the best interests of advertising platforms to sell more ad space, clients are often led down the garden path in fees and rented spaces. On the other hand, PR people deal with crises, image enhancement, and the creation of long-term relationships with clients where their story must be accepted by the media before recognition is obtained. If advertisers tell you what you want to hear, PR people tell you what you need to hear.