July 22 2014

Do you need better advertising or better PR?

As people who have been involved with the PR industry for a long time, we take for granted some basic theories about why PR is important. When we recently came across Robert Wynne’s article in Forbes, “The Real Difference Between PR And Advertising”, it felt like refreshing reminder that what we do at The News Generator by helping people distribute their press releases is because we know that PR is valuable.

To start with, Wynne explains the simple basic differences between advertising and public relations:

“Advertising is paid media, public relations is earned media.  This means you convince reporters or editors to write a positive story about you or your client, your candidate, brand or issue.  It appears in the editorial section of the magazine, newspaper, TV station or website, rather than the “paid media” section where advertising messages appear.  So your story has more credibility because it was independently verified by a trusted third party, rather than purchased.”

Anyone can purchase advertising space. It has a straightforward price, concrete placement, and yes, you have control over the message. So, why is this expensive and predictable form of exposure not as effective as media? The answer is found in the first sentence of this paragraph. We live in a time where advertising agencies have to be pretty cunning to disguise an advertisement successfully. We’re all so used to sponsored placements that they don’t have the same effect they used to. We’re a pretty discerning audience.

As Wynne writes, “A recent study from 2014 by Nielsen commissioned by inPowered on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process concluded that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising.” The direct quote from Nielsen says, “On average, expert content lifted familiarity 88 percent more than branded content…”

Wynne thinks that these numbers are even a little low. As he says, “With advertising, you tell people how great you are.  With publicity, others sing your praises.  Which do you think is more effective?”

“Buy this” vs. “This is important”

At the end of a chart summarizing the differences between advertising and PR, Wynne includes two simple statements: “Buy this” and “This is important.” One of your ultimate goals with a PR strategy is to successfully communicate that what you’re doing is important. You can scream this until you’re blue in the face, but as far as the public is concerned, if what you’re doing really is important, they would hear about it.

Don’t we all think that on occasion? As a somewhat ridiculous example, think of those phone calls you’ve received that make claims about airlines offering free trips around the world to the first 1000 people to complete a skill testing question. If that were true, we all would have heard about it.

A great press release, and overall great PR, finds what is important enough that the media thinks, “People should hear about this.”