How To Start & Grow Your Business

What’s The Difference Between PR and Advertising?

Sharon Bannerton
Jan 14th, 2015
  • Estimated reading time: 5 min read
  • Hummy's

    1In a paid ad campaign, you have control. 2Genuine PR carries more credibility. 3PR agencies charge less than ad agencies.
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Public Relations

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They used to say ‘advertising is what you pay for, and publicity is what you pray for’, which I find often makes a lot of sense to non-marketing folk, who are trying to get their heads around the various advertising, PR and promotional campaign options.

Both sides of the advertising and PR divide will have robust arguments as to why their campaigns to build your brand, or sell your product or message, is the best option. And, both sides are worth listening to because, in truth, advertising and public relations generally complement each other, and each has specific attributes the other cannot deliver.

However, faced with proposals and budgets for PR or ad campaigns, it does help to have a clear vision and understanding of what you are buying into, and what you are likely to get from each, for your precious marketing spend.

Marketing people can often be strong on the creative elements of their PR or advertising strategies, but not always clear on what exactly is deliverable, at what cost, and reaching what kind of market. Never be afraid to ask this important question, and demand a straight answer.

So when budget is limited, and you need to make the biggest, most credible impact direct to your audience in the shortest time-frame, here are some guidelines as to the strengths of the various formats, and the situations in which PR will have the edge on advertising or vice versa:

Media Control
Not a major differentiating factor, but if you want your message to be in a particular place at a particular time, then advertising gives that control. You pay for the space and you are practically guaranteed it.

PR can deliver profile and coverage in your desired media too, but controlling when and how it will appear is less certain. Targeting regular columns or features, the timing of when a press release is issued, plus taking time to brief particular media on exclusive news in advance, does help secure a mention around when it is most needed.

Content Control
Again, advertising is your best bet. Where you say specifically what you need to, and what you sign-off on in your boardroom translates exactly to the TV ad break or magazine page.

With PR, where a media release is issued for consideration, how that story appears in the news depends largely on the journalist or programme editor. It can be longer, shorter, more or less favourable than anticipated.

In general, a good PR agency will have their strong media contacts, and work with them to fully explain the relevance of the news in question and ensure it appears as intended.

The area where PR always wins out. Written and published by an independent media source, editorial or feature material on your company, brand, opinion or initiative is seen as impartial, and will hold more sway with readers or listeners than a pure advertisement, which is viewed as ‘paid-for’.

A PR proposal to media, where the client is actually interviewed for either a broadcast or print feature, also attaches value to their message, whether it is about a product or service, or a particular issue that needs to be highlighted. The fact that independent media chose to air the issue or news gives it great significance with the audience.

A PR agency charges for their time, creativity, and media liaison. So depending on their effectiveness in securing the coverage you want, in media that reaches your market, PR will eat into less of your marketing spend than the advertising rate for the same media exposure.

With advertising you pay for the concept, design and artwork or recording. You then pay for the recommended media to carry that advertisement, where the size of your ad, and the media readership or viewership, will largely determine cost.

Suffice to say, a half page in the Wicklow Times will be cheaper than the same space in the Sunday Independent (by anything up to €20k) – you are paying for market reach essentially.

That same €20,000 can buy you entry level PR services for a year, and depending on how newsworthy your business is, or how creative your agency is at creating news angles, can generate anything up to €200,000 worth of ‘free’ media space or airtime.

Decisions Decisions!
In summary, whether you opt for PR or advertising or direct promotions, or a mix of all three, will largely depend on who you want to influence, how time crucial the messaging is, how newsworthy it is, and the extent of control needed in conveying the message.

There is no right or wrong answer, and there can be an element of trial and error, as with most business decisions.

One piece of advice though is to talk to companies in a similar position whose PR or advertising you admire, and ask how they came to their marketing choices, and how effective they are.

Dublin’s marketing agencies too are among the best on a world stage – in fact many are affiliated with major global groups – and will happily talk to you about options and investment and likely return, on a no obligation basis! If you come to us in SB Communications, we’ll even throw in a cup of coffee. Now that’s good PR!

This article was written by Sharon Bannerton and published in Business Plus Online

Sharon Bannerton is the Managing Director and founder of SB Communications which manages marketing and communications for small to medium clients. Sharon’s achievements include running her own software business (Eirco Web Services), being shortlisted for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001 and working in marketing for major multinationals (Sony, Ericsson, Dell and O2).

Business Plus is Ireland’s largest circulation monthly business magazine.