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Advertising Vs. PR

By EMMA JAMES Published 30th Oct 2013
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When looking to reach a target audience, there are two major channels you will think of using, Advertising and Public Relations (PR). But which of these has the farthest reach? Which will encourage the best results?

It’s interesting that when discussing Advertising and PR, we tend to pit them against one and other as rivals in the marketing game. Indeed there are corporations that make their fortunes from this notion of segregation, but aren’t these two marketing tools in fact of the most use when used together?

Let’s look at the Facts;


Advertising is catagorised as a paid for service which places a company’s message in plain view of the public using mass media platforms such as ad boards, television commercials, radio advertisement, magazine articles and direct mail. People even use new media platforms such as blogs and website to advertise. The purpose of advertising is to encourage or persuade an audience to take an interest in what it is a company is selling, usually for the motivation of profit.

One of the largest benefits of advertising is the reassurance that the message you’re sending out will in no way be manipulated or altered by the media personnel executing it. You as an advertiser have full control over the message, its release in a publication of your choice and its positioning within that publication, whether near the front or next to a special feature. The reach of an advertisement is substantial and a post advertising bonus is the ability to gage just how far the reach of your advertisement extends, and the target audience’s response. Advertisers can quite literally purchase their way to prestige.

However, it is not all rosy. As much as the benefits sound like they reap rewards, the negatives hit just as hard. For instance, the cost of advertising is huge, and although prices vary across all media platforms, according to eHow the average cost of a 30sec slot on TV would set you back £227,500 (As of 2011). This is a hefty charge for getting your message out there, on a single platform no less. However once out there it can be reused time and time again until you the advertiser feel you have accomplished your objectives. A further thought regards the field of competition, competition for ad space and competition against rival companies. It’s a dog eat dog world and you have to be at the top of your game if you want your advertising investments to pay off.

The final question that arises is the question of credibility. Even though you are sending out a message which has absolute security against tampering from third parties, advertising notoriously lacks credibility. This is due to the public’s distrust in advertising as a concept. People understand that the space has been paid for, for the purpose of promoting the agenda of a hidden beneficiary. As innocent as the intentions of an individual or company may be, and regardless of the fact they may simply have an enormous wealth of pride in their product, people will watch the advert and write it off as a money making venture.

So what’s the alternative?

Public Relations

Public relations take a different approach to audience engagements. Primarily its focus is on creating and maintaining positive public perceptions about a particular company or brand. Through building a positive image and strong relationships, customers are more likely to trust in a product and make a purchase. Those who work in public relations will evaluate public attitudes, identify policies on an individual or company, and then plan and execute a program with the view of encouraging public understanding and acceptance. Common communication tools used in public relations include brochures, exhibits, annual reports and news reports.

One of the biggest benefits of PR is that it’s inexpensive. Compared to advertising the cost of PR marketing is minimal, with expenses only really including phone calls and mailing to media representatives. The information will be distributed through multiple media channels for free, which enables the sender to maximise the reach of the message. Comparatively the reach of PR is greater than that of advertising, and at a lower cost it looks to be a winning strategy.

As well as the fact public relation broadcasts are relatively unaffected by competition, the most distinct benefit is carries, is its unparalleled levels of credibility.  If you give a story to a news anchor or pitch it to a magazine for an editorial piece, the general public will take it on face value as being accurate and truthful. The irony is this would be a mistake to make given that in reality, all details are free to be manipulated, by a third party before they reach the audience.   

This lack of control in the delivery of the message is one of the biggest pitfalls in public relations. How a media representative chooses to use your information, where to position it (if at all) and what spin to put on it is completely out of your hands. Advertising may cost a pretty penny, but its saving grace is the fact that no one has interfered with the original concept of the message.

Editors hold the cards with regards to the distribution of your agenda, they may value the information your offering, and have no intention of altering the structure. If this is the case they will help publicise the information you’ve given, that is until a paid advertiser comes in who unfortunately gets priority over the column inches. On the other side of this, you may inadvertently put an editor’s nose out of joint through peddling your wears to rival publications in an attempt to reach a greater audience. If this happens, they will not be so keen to support your cause.  

A further thought to consider is what the aspirations of your PR strategy are. The guarantee of your message achieving its desired objectives is unfortunately not set in stone; those objectives which are met are then hard to measure as you have no real tangible results to work with.


Both are poles apart with regards to pro’s and con’s so why bother with a divide and conquer when you can unite the two mediums and give your marketability a boost! The future growth of marketing would perhaps benefit from a combined approach to audience engagements, using both Advertising and PR. Some companies have attempted this through the introduction of a PR arm, or even hiring in-house PR agents. Individuals who can write editorial quality pieces are considered to have a specialist skill, putting them in demand. Those with talent will be expensive, and those with inexperience could potentially do a bad job, giving true PR professionals a bad name. It’s a thought to bear in mind.

Knowledge is power, and knowing the benefits of an integrated marketing strategy is key to reaching your objectives. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reach consumers through advertising, making PR an integral part of more and more campaigns.  

PRetty interesting huh?

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