If you are not a marketer and are confused when marketers/advertisers distinguish between advertising and public relations (PR), here is your answer. Advertising and PR century old modes used to put communicate brand messages to consumers) have similar objectives but their working mechanisms are different. Here is why:
Paid vs. Free of Cost (FOC)
When a payment is made to a newspaper, magazine or TV channel, to run an advertisement, it is called owned media. In PR, no payment is made and it is called earned media.
Control on Content
When placing an ad, a company or brand has complete control on the size, content and time of airing. An advertiser can write whatever they want to communicate to an audience and can make multiple changes before submitting an ad for publication. In PR accompany/brand has no control over the content. For example, they can pitch a story to a journalist and then hope they will get the desired result (without pressuring the journalist of course). Some brands push journalists to show a draft of the story or interview before publication, which is an unethical practice and should be avoided.
Confirmed vs Unconfirmed Placement
There is a saying according to which “advertising is what you pay for, whereas publicity is what you pray for.” When a company buys advertising space in any media, be it print, electronic or digital, they are assured of placement. If for any reason this placement is missed, the media owner is bound to make the placement on the next available day. Failure to place an advertisement after receiving payment can create problems for the media house. In PR, placement is not guaranteed. A PR professional can pitch the story to a journalist but cannot force them to publish it. A PR professional regularly faces disappointment when the media fails to publish the story, even after attending a press conference.
A story placed in print, electronic or digital media through the efforts of a publicist is more credible as the audience will believe the content to be an independent story and has a third-party endorsement. However, when watching an ad, consumers get the feeling that that brand has paid for it and they therefore can choose to ignore the message.
An ad is aired/published multiple times depending on the payment made to the media house. In PR, a story is published only once.
Short and Long-Term Benefits
Advertising is carried out with short-term goals in mind. An ad can be placed on a special occasion or during a specific season to promote a new product or service with the goal to increase sales. PR professionals always focus on the big picture by searching for the avenues through which they can release vital information about their brand to create a sustainable and dedicated base of customers and stakeholders.
A PR activity is highly cost-effective compared to an advertisement. The cost effectiveness of PR can be gauged by the fact that the monthly retainer charged by a company providing PR services is less than the one-time cost of an ad in a major newspaper.
Pressuring Media or Facing Media Pressure
Advertisers can insist that the media publish or air their material on a stipulated date and on a fixed position. A PR professional, after pitching the story, can only request the journalist about the placement but has no control over the journalist. On some occasions, a story is dropped by the publication to accommodate an advertisement.
Although advertising and PR have their differences, a business can reach new heights of success by strategically incorporating both in their business strategy.
Khurram Zia Khan is Senior Manager - Media at Asiatic Public Relations. email@example.com. Twitter: @KhurramZiaKhan