PR versus advertising

Advertising and PR can both play an important role in marketing your products and services. Both practices are geared towards reaching your target audience, but there are some crucial differences between the two.

To explore these differences, let’s take a scenario.

Say you’re a logistics company specialising in air freight. There are five core magazines and online portals covering the air freight industry, each read by a proportion of your target customers; logistics or operations managers at companies who need to send freight around the world.

You know you need to become more visible to these people. You know the publications you want to appear in. But you have a limited budget of £1,000 to spend.

So what do you do? Choose your preferred publication and take out a full page advert, or invest in PR?

The answer really depends on what you want your audience to do.

At its core, the crucial difference is that PR is earned media, and advertising is paid media.

Advertising allows you to focus on promoting your own sales agenda. With an advert, you can:

  • describe your products and services in as much detail as you want
  • offer special promotions or deals
  • include as much contact information as you like
  • ask to see proofs of everything before it goes to print
  • encourage a ‘call to action’, like getting more customers to call you.

You can do all these things because you’ve paid to do so – but earned media is a very different arena.

Earned Media

With earned media – usually achieved through a PR campaign – you can’t mention anything remotely promotional, or include contact information (apart from your website, which editors may or may not include at their discretion), ask to see proofs of the article before it’s printed, or feature any kind of call to action.

Why? Because to earn its place in a publication without advertising spend, your article has to be of significant editorial interest to that publication’s readers on its own merit.

It has to deliver insight, advice, new trends, disruptive opinions, game-changing information, or new information that’s relevant to your industry or local community. Here are five examples of what makes a good PR story.

The Benefits of PR

So what can you do with a PR campaign? An awful lot, actually – including:

  • getting your message in front of a much wider audience – and far more cost-effectively – because that £1,000 PR investment could get your article into all five publications, rather than spending it all on advertising in just one.
  • shaping the way you’re perceived by peers and potential clients
  • challenging or change existing perceptions about your company
  • positioning your company as an industry leader
  • building or enhancing your reputation as a company or individual
  • gaining credibility and trust amongst your audience – and this is a BIG benefit; earned media effectively gives you third party endorsement, since the article appears to be independently produced or verified by the editor, whereas with an advert, readers will know it contains biased information.

People aren’t necessarily going to pick up the phone and place an immediate order with you after seeing a piece or earned media (though they may!), but they *are* more likely to approach your brand with trust and confidence in the future.

So there you have it – earned media is about aiming for credibility, while paid media is about aiming for action. You’re unlikely to inspire action without first achieving credibility – and credibility alone may not inspire action.

Advertising and PR therefore often work best when they’re run in tandem, and both should be included in any effective marketing strategy.

Think of PR as the bread, and advertising as the butter!

Lara Page

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