Paid advertising and public relations both are powerful tools in an organization’s marketing communications arsenal. Before utilizing either, though, it is important to understand some fundamental differences between them.

One key difference involves control of the message.

In paid advertising, you determine when an ad appears and exactly what that ad says. You have complete control over the message. In public relations, the goal is to obtain “free” (or what I prefer to call “earned”) publicity for a company or its product or service. But, no PR professional can ensure that a story will be published.

I’ve worked for clients who have expected that a news release announcing their new product or service would result in a front-page article in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. While their new product was big news for them, for their customers, and for their industries, the announcements did not always rise to the level of a front-page story. What they did not appreciate is that issuing a news release or holding a news conference can generate a news story, but it does not guarantee a news story – and certainly not a front-page one.

Even if a news story is generated through a news release or media outreach, there is no guarantee that a company or product will be included in an article that does appear. On behalf of a performing arts campground client, I successfully placed a story about unique summer camping experiences in The New York Times. I wrote a pitch letter, identified the appropriate reporter, and set up an interview with my client. Unfortunately, while the reporter used all the background and information my client provided, the article not only did not include a quote from the client, it did not mention the camp at all.

Another major difference between PR and advertising involves credibility. When seeing an ad, people understand that someone is trying to sell them something. A key value of PR is that it can provide greater credibility than paid advertising. When a consumer reads an article mentioning a product or a company, they view it differently than paid advertising because it carries a third-party endorsement.

If your business or nonprofit agency wants to learn more about the differences between PR and advertising – and their individual benefits – or if you want to begin a campaign, Cook Communications can help. Contact us today for more information or to get started.

  • Tim Cook, President
    Cook Communications, LLC
    Twitter: @CookCom