Gee, Beav, Isn’t PR Just Like Advertising?

A fellow PR professional, Richard Laermer, answered this question we hear almost daily,  BEST …..


Although I have toiled in public relations for 95 years (!), it seems as though most of my friends—not to mention my immediate family—have trouble understanding exactly what I do. When I am speaking with them about a media interview, say on television, they assume I’m on camera. When I say I am working with a newspaper reporter on story, they ask me why my clients don’t just advertise in the publication because: ”PR and advertising are the same, right?”

Many share this misconception because advertisements are familiar to them and PR is not. They know that when a company wants people to know about a product or service, they buy an ad in a magazine or put together a commercial.

They know the ads aired during the Super Bowl cost millions and wait in anticipation to see the über-creative spots during the game and then the post-game commentary on which ad made the biggest impression. They understand advertising, but they don’t understand that the hype surrounding those ads is PR at its best.

Shortly after starting in PR someone told me that she could no longer watch the news or read a paper or magazine to relax and unwind. She said that she was constantly scanning for stories that covered topics of interest to her clients; looking at mastheads and bylines for the names of reporters that may be covering a new beat; listening and watching for ways to phrase a message or shoot B-roll footage.

She decided – remember, not me – that advertising folks had it “easy” and that the primary difference between the disciplines is the position of the word placement (ahem). In effect she was saying that advertisers have it easier because they “place ads” (place being the first word of the phrase). PR folks “secured placements,” indicating the upfront work required to secure the placement.

She resented the fact that PR was seen as having little value and that the advertisers were America’s clear favorite.

I explained that while advertising might be more socially accepted among consumers and businesses, PR is ultimately more beneficial for the companies that did it right and the consumers they targeted. This lesson took time to drive home.

Through PR we do paint a bigger picture of the product, service or issue at hand. In advertising, the time and space through which a company can communicate is limited to 30-seconds or a few column inches. Consumers view an ad and might consider it funny or clever, but if asked probably can’t remember the product or service—just the awesome tagline or over-the-top graphics. In contrast, when the same consumers read an article in a newspaper, they remember the problem, the solution, some experts quoted and the publication in which the article appeared.

That’s power.

PR is now more than ever about education. As professionals, our job is to educate the media and the consumer (once we get to them). Yes, our job is to educate our clients and/or bosses. We communicate with editors and reporters and bloggers and podcasters on behalf of them. They should know our process (perhaps our Moms should too): We explain, forecast, and spot trends to see what the next big thing will be in technology, healthcare, fashion, politics or buzzworthy topics. We build relationships with the media, based not on the number of ads we buy, but through what I hope is accurate, honest and timely information (and education) we provide. No strings attached, except maybe a callback!

PR is not about impressing people with witty taglines or state-of-the-art visuals; it is not about entertainment or pizzazz.

PR provides information through which “targets” can make the best decision.

I’m glad it didn’t take me more than 95 years to figure this out

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