Advertising vs. Public Relations – What’s the Difference?

08/15/2019 Steve Joseph

Advertising and public relations are two powerful tools for promoting products or services offered by companies. Both of them help in increasing sales. Yet, PR and advertising have completely different roles in reaching target audiences and achieving business objectives.

Advertising can be identified as a form of communication to convince customers to choose certain products over others. Public relations is all about building and maintaining good relations with the audience by promoting key messages publicly. There’s an old saying: “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” 

What are the top five differences between Advertising and PR?

1. Paid vs. Free 

With advertising, a company pays for ad space, which is often expensive. It’s clear that one ad will not make an effect unless you continuously run it over a period of time. Yet, running an ad without awareness of the brand itself may not be really efficient. Whereas PR stands for getting free publicity through press releases, media pitches and good relationships with the media. It can position your product as part of a human interest story rather than direct promotion. In other words, advertising is paid media, whereas public relations is earned media. 

2. Paths to target audiences 

Both advertising and PR want to spread a message to the target audience. However, the message is conveyed using totally different methods and mediums. Paid advertising can be placed in the media your audience is interested in, whether it is TV, radio, or magazines. PR professionals can also spread your message in a variety of channels. But the key difference is the format – your message can be conveyed through an article written by a journalist, an email to specific people, a tweet, a blog post, and much more. When news about a product or service is communicated through a third party, such as a newspaper or magazine, it is perceived as

3. Duration of coverage

You can pay for an advertisement to be aired in the media as many times as your budget allows. Usually, it can be very pricey, considering the cost of space or time, plus the creative designs and production costs. Most advertisements need to be repeated several times before the consumer can be influenced. Publicity has greater longevity than advertising. An article, tweet, or Facebook post will be on the Internet forever. Also, even with one article available, you are already positioned in the cyberspace. Not only your story can be told in various ways by different journalists, but your target audience can see the information in many mediums. 

4. Credibility

Consumers do not believe everything an advertisement tells them. It is simply clear, that whoever is paying for that ad is dictating exactly what to say. Your target audience will always know that the advertisement has been bought to try to sell them something. Whereas PR helps you to push the messages through trusted third parties or the media. An article written by a journalist will be always presented in an unbiased manner. This way, your target audience may view the article with more credibility because it is not directly selling them something. Also, PR is a very powerful tool in shaping public opinion. 

5. Controlling the message vs. Influencing it

You have full control of your advertisement’s content including where and when it will be seen in the media. If you are paying for it, you can say whatever you want to say. Yet, consumers often are skeptical because they understand what’s hidden behind the ad. This is not to say it’s ineffective, but your target audience may think it’s biased. When it comes to PR, your pitched story to a reporter cannot be controlled over afterward. Only a journalist will decide whether to pursue the story or not. But a good PR professional will always know how to increase the chances of positive publicity. 

Wrapping everything up

Both channels can influence the general public. But as an organization, you should consider the differences between advertising and public relations to determine which approach is best for your message. It’s also clear, that earning customer’s trust is crucial for your business growth, which is why making PR an integral part of your marketing strategy is an absolute must.