PR Versus Advertising

The real choice isn't between advertising and PR — it's between what works and what doesn't.The digital age and increasing segmentation of media outlets has caused many advertisers to rethink how they spend their marketing dollars. Public relations has been by and large the beneficiary.

The value of paid advertising is knowing when and where your message will be placed. That knowledge may be reassuring at one level, but unnerving if you aren't sure the eyeballs of your target audience will see your ad. Newspapers and magazines are slimmer today because there is less advertising, not less news.

Ads give advertisers and their ad agencies more creative control of their message. But again, you can't always control what your readers or viewers watch — or how and when they will watch it. TIVO, fast-forward buttons on TV remote controls and Hulu have replaced a quick rise from the couch to get a beer during commercial breaks.

PR professionals admittedly have less control over placing stories and conveying key messages. What they do have going for them are strategies and tactics that pull people to a story, not push a message. Editorial content seems more credible.

While ads can and often do tell stories, many times amusingly, viewers know they are being sold something. They may remain skeptical of a news story or a sponsored contest, but they don't usually come across as a hard sell. The news media rarely uses exclamation marks.

Consumer attitudes have evolved as new technology has given them more power. There are fewer secrets, more labels to read and loads of information portals. You can't assume consumers are gullible. Advertising in general has adapted to consumer empowerment, but PR has adapted more fundamentally, using techniques to engage consumers about product design and service quality.

Once upon a time, ad agencies could say good advertising could solve just about any problem there was. Now advertising has become a tool, not a solution in and of itself. Capable PR professionals use advertising when it makes sense and there is a budget adequate to the task. Likewise, ad agencies have crept into the PR tent and now offer a wider array of creative services to address the challenges of selling products and services.

Peek inside the door of some PR and advertising shops and it may be hard to distinguish one from the other (except for the bean bag chairs at the ad agencies).

The choice today isn't between advertising and PR, it is between what works and what doesn't. Check out both and see who offers you the most creative solution that does the job at a price you can afford.