What is the Difference Between Public Relations and Advertising?

Two distinct disciplines, two distinct definitions, one age-old debate. No, we’re not talking about butter and margarine.

What is the difference between public relations and advertising? Here is one of the most basic explanations you’ll ever find:

Public Relations is what others communicate about you, your business, your client, etc. Advertising is what you communicate.

Both can play critical roles in your business’ strategic marketing communications. There are two key factors to consider in evaluating the differences: Control and credibility.

Let’s explore these concepts as they apply to each discipline:

Defining Advertising
“Knowledge is power,” as the saying goes, and with advertising you have power over the message (knowledge) that’s distributed to your existing and potential clients. You can create and control the brand of your business.

Take a moment and think of the “leaders” in an industry, say apparel or manufacturing.
How many of the businesses that come to mind have you seen advertising? My guess would be the majority of them.

That’s because successful ad campaigns help establish a brand identity (and hopefully preference) through repetition. Have you ever seen a commercial just once?

The most effective advertisements are the ones that are relevant, concise and creative. Your clients are bombarded with messages around the clock, from billboards and brochures to pop-ups and print ads. Your business needs to stand out in a crowd.

Today’s successful marketing experts are augmenting the control they have in advertising with the credibility of public relations and search engine marketing and optimization to the tune of improved visibility and increased revenues.

Relating to Your Public
Public relations is a broad term, often misused as an all-encompassing expression for anything related to marketing and advertising. The roots of effective PR are storytelling and relationships – think Public Relationships.

The goal of public relations is not to force feed your messages or services, but rather to make them available to your existing/potential clients in a manner and form they wish to receive them. In doing so, your messages and services will come across as authentic and credible.

Public relations is a conversation, and as with any conversation, it can take place through word of mouth, news stories, gatherings and events, and much more. Information is always more believable when you know and trust the source.

Increasingly today, the conversation is taking place on the internet. Social media web sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, in addition to dynamic company websites, are the new venues for B2B communication. You have a golden opportunity to establish an ongoing dialogue with your clients through these media.

As with any conversation and relationship, trust is paramount to credibility. Don’t thrust your business into the conversation like the employee who’s had one too many drinks at the company party – who believes that guy? Mosey up to the crowd you want to talk to and make your business available for conversation. How do you do that?

Introduce yourself (advertising) and engage your business in the conversation (effective public relations, Internet marketing and website optimization).

Association of National Advertisers
Public Relations Society of America

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