Advertising vs. Public Relations

A friend sent me a graphic that depicts the difference between marketing, PR, advertising and branding.  It made me think about an article I wrote several years ago about the difference between advertising and PR.  I’m reposting the article here since it still has merit today and is in harmony with the graphic.

I was compelled to write this article for personal reasons.  My family and friends don’t really understand what I do for a living.  Try as I might, they still don’t understand my job as a public relations (PR) consultant.  They generally reply with the following remarks:

  • “Oh, like advertising”
  • “I get it, you write those ads in the magazines”

Since my family and friends are confused, I figured others might be as well.  In this article, I hope to convey in simple terms what advertising is, and how it differs from PR.


Advertising is paying for message placement in the media. You decide what you want to say and how you want you say it – and you pay for that control.  Companies and organizations pay hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars to have their messages seen or heard by consumers.

With advertising you’re able to accomplish three main goals:

  1. Control the message
  2. Repeat the message
  3. Evaluate the message

Not restricted to grammatical rules, an advertisement’s content is edgy, eye-catching, and often contains hip or catchy phrases.

An advertiser wants to grab your attention so that you will remember their product or service.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Do you remember the Sock Puppet?  The clever mascot used by a failed Internet retailer.  We all remember the puppet, but do we remember the product or service?  Most of us have probably forgotten that it was  People remembered the puppet, but that didn’t translate into enough sales.  Other companies have had much success with their advertising campaigns – seeing sales soar through the roof after an effective campaign. Advertising certainly has its place in every marketing plan.

Public Relations

PR has been referred to as “free advertising.”  More accurately though, PR is a way of influencing the media to write about a product or service in a positive manner.  However, PR, unlike its cousin advertising, does not afford a company or organization control over the content, amount, or timing of “the news”.  Key messages must be developed and pitched to the media, with hopes of having them included in an article.  These key messages shape the perception of a company, leading to increased awareness and ultimately an increase in sales.  PR builds the brand, while advertising reinforces the brand.

PR also offers more credibility than advertising because articles are written by an un-biased third party.  After researching your product or service, a reporter writes an objective article.  For this reason, readers are more likely to believe news stories than information conveyed in advertising.  In comparison to running an advertisement, the cost of PR is quite low.

Advertising and Public Relations

Successful companies integrate advertising and public relations with their entire communications programs.  Combining the two programs can give your communications plan a boost.  Advertising in the same magazine where you have received news coverage is further reinforcement.  The beauty of PR is that even small companies can compete with the big guys.  Larger companies may outspend them in advertising, but a smaller company can be on equal footing with an effective PR program.

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