When I wrote “What is Marketing?” (a short and sweet definition) it sparked a conversation with friend and ex-colleague Alan Duncan, now founder and MD of Select PR in Dublin. Alan has put is pen where his mouth is and expanded on the subject in this article. PR IS NOT ADVERTISING cuts the mustard and tells you exactly what each practice does. Alan is also highly articulate and very amusing; you will enjoy!
Before I started typing this piece, I wondered how best I should approach the topic. A quick Google search and I found a 101 blogs and articles listing the various differences between PR and advertising, all of which were very boring and none of which actually said “this is PR” or “that is advertising”. While I may address some of the differences in this piece, I hope that anyone reading this will at least come away with a better understanding of what PR is rather than a deep sense of longing for the 10 minutes they wasted reading it. If you end up with the latter, I apologise and promise to invest my time in posting pictures of cute animals from this day forth.
As an industry that prides itself on its ability to communicate the various qualities of its clients, the often subtle attributes that differentiate them from their competitors and to establish a high level of credibility for them within their particular fields, it’s a little ironic that we PRs seem to fail time and time again to do the same for ourselves. The sheer fact that I’m sitting on a train, typing up a blog about how PR is not advertising, is a glaring testament to the fact that we have failed miserably to PR public relations.
Before I continue any further, I should point out that I have no intention of trying to knock advertising in this piece…that’s what the pub is for! Advertising has its place and when done correctly can be a very powerful marketing tool. What I want to do is try and clear up that grey area where so many people seem to think PR sits. I’m talking about the people who, when you say you’re in public relations, they nod slowly, look over your shoulder and return to the conversation by telling you they have a cousin in advertising.
So why is there such confusion?? Understandably, there are numerous similarities between advertising and PR:
- We both use mainstream media – print, broadcast, social, etc. – to communicate our clients’ messages to their markets.
- Before anything else, we both develop (or at least we should) a keen insight into our clients’ businesses and what it is they wish to achieve before developing a plan.
- We both pride ourselves on creative, original campaigns to differentiate our clients from the competition.
- We both can be very specific in terms of the market we target.
- We each generally think that the communications role we play is superior to all others.
Really that’s where the similarities end. Just as you would agree that a brain surgeon and a plastic surgeon bare similar attributes – they cut people up and put them together again – you would never confuse one with the other. Although, looking at Joan Collins, you start to think that anything is possible.
But enough of the analogies…
Ultimately, as the name would suggest, public relations is about managing the relationships between a company and its publics, be they employees, investors or consumers. The role of PR is to build and maintain the reputation of your client’s brand, product, services…or indeed the CEO or CMO. Through the press, whether it’s in the form of a press release, a comment piece, an interview or a product review, we communicate our clients’ messages to position them in a favourable light that will achieve the objectives set out at the start of any campaign.
Perhaps the most significant difference is that unlike advertising we’re not paying for the space or time in a particular publication or on a certain station. We identify the appropriate titles for our client, then we identify the most appropriate journalist for our client’s topic (there’s no point in pitching a story about a new baby monitor to a motor journalist…unless of course it’s been developed by Audi – vorsprung durch teknik and all that). Understanding that the journalist’s job is to provide useful, interesting contentto their loyal readers/ listeners, we sell the story to them and in the process secure invaluable third party endorsement, as well as increased awareness.
It’s this endorsement that gives credibility to our clients. The journalist didn’t (or at least shouldn’t) write about our client based on a financial incentive but rather because they saw real value in what our client is doing, producing, etc. that they felt would add value to their readers. What must be remembered here though is that we do not have editorial control over what the journalist says or writes. Even with a comment piece, it is at the editor’s discretion to remove any parts he or she deems unnecessary – especially if it’s blatant self-promotion but that’s a whole different blog – and that sometimes means that they won’t use your story at all. That’s the compromise you make.
Now if we look at advertising, in contrast with PR, you do pay for the space or time you get. Your reward for this is that you have total editorial control (so long as it’s within the advertising standards) over what goes into the ad. Because of this, advertising generally tends to be made up of three clear elements – identification of an issue, highly exaggerated claims about how company X’s product or service can improve your life and then a call to action urging you to buy from them. As with everything in life and just as above, there’s a compromise: here it is twofold – for the freedom to include whatever message you want you sacrifice credibility and (quite often but not always) engagement. Advertising is everywhere these days. Because of this saturation consumers are generally less sensitive to it and are definitely a lot more cynical about it.
There’s an endless list of other differences between PR and advertising, from virality – you won’t generally see an ad in the paper being picked up and run by another press body but it happens all the time in PR – to shelf life. To me PR is primarily about establishing and maintaining a positive perception of your brand, product, etc. and nurturing the relationships between you and those most important to your business. Sales are a secondary benefit. With advertising, increasing sales is generally the primary goal.
As I said at the start, my intention is not to discredit advertising. Shamefully, I’m one of those people who has been known to go shopping for Birdseye Potato Waffles at 11pm because I saw an ad for them. The thing is that advertising is noticeably more expensive than PR yet far too many companies throughout the UK and Ireland do not even consider PR as an option when establishing their marketing budgets.
I’ve been told that if you keep getting poor referrals that don’t lead to new business, the issue is not with the people referring you but with the image and message you put forward. The same applies to public relations. We as PRs need to cut out the jargon and explain in simple English what it is we do and how it can benefit a potential client’s business and I hope I’ve done that here.
Alan Duncan is the founder and MD of Select PR. Based in Dublin, Select specialises in B2B PR both on and offline. You can reach Alan at alan[@]selectpr.ie