10 Ways Advertising Is Different From Public Relations

PR Is Not Advertising, and Vice Versa. These Are the Key Differences.

Times Square Billboards
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Advertising and public relations are two very different industries, even though they're commonly confused as being one and the same.

The following ten properties just scratch the surface of the many differences between advertising and public relations, but they do give you a good foundation for differentiating the two disciplines.

1. Paid Space or Free Coverage

  • Advertising
    The company pays for the ad space (or airtime). You know exactly when that ad will air or be published.
  • Public Relations
    Your job is to get free publicity for the company. From news conferences to press releases, you're focused on getting free media exposure for the company and its products or services.

2. Creative Control Versus No Control

  • Advertising
    Because you're paying for space, you have creative control over what goes into that ad.
  • Public Relations
    You have no control over how the media presents your information—if they decide to use your information at all. The media is not obligated to cover your event or publish your press release just because you want them to.

3. Shelf Life

  • Advertising
    Because you pay for space (or airtime), you can run your ads over and over for as long as your budget allows. An ad generally has a longer shelf life than one press release.
  • Public Relations
    You only submit a press release about a new product, a newsworthy event, or a trend story once. You only submit a press release about a news conference once. The PR exposure you receive is only circulated once. A journalist won't publish the same press release information three or four times.

    4. Wise Consumers

    • Advertising
      Consumers know when they're reading an advertisement that someone is trying to sell them something. 
    • Public Relations
      When someone reads an article written about your product or views coverage of your event on TV, they're seeing something you didn't pay for with ad dollars. The public views it differently than they would a paid advertisement because your information has third-party endorsement— its viewed by the media to be of value.

       

      5. Creativity or a Nose for News

      • Advertising
        In advertising, you get to exercise your creativity in creating new ad campaigns and materials.
      • Public Relations
        In public relations, you have to have a nose for news and be able to generate buzz (i.e., excitement) through various news outlets. You also exercise your creativity but you do so by coming up with ideas and producing written material that the media finds intriguing.

      6. In-House or Out on the Town

      • Advertising
        If you're working at an ad agency, your main contacts are your co-workers and the agency's clients. If you buy and plan ad space on behalf of the client, then you'll also interact with media salespeople.
      • Public Relations
        You interact with the media and develop a relationship with them. Your contact is not limited to in-house communications. You're in constant touch with your contacts at print publications, broadcast media, and digital outlets.

      7. Target Audience or Hooked Editor

      • Advertising
        You're looking for your target audience and advertising accordingly. You wouldn't advertise a women's health product in a men's sports magazine.
      • Public Relations
        You must have an angle and hook to get editors to use your information for inclusion in an article, or to cover your event. It has to be relevant and of the moment.

        8. Limited or Unlimited Contact

        • Advertising
          Some industry pros such have contact with the clients. Others, like copywriters or graphic designers, in the agency may never meet with the client.
        • Public Relations
          In public relations, you are very visible to the media. Also, PR pros aren't always called on for the good news. If there was an accident at your company (or impending litigation), you may have to give a statement or on-camera interview to journalists, because you are the spokesperson for the company. 

        9. Special Events

        • Advertising
          If your company sponsors an event, you wouldn't want to take out an ad giving yourself a pat on the back for being such a great company. This is where your PR department steps in.
        • Public Relations
          If you're sponsoring an event, you can send out a press release and the media might pick it up and give you positive press exposure. 

          10. Writing Style

          • Advertising
            Buy this product! Act now! Call today! These are all things you can say in an advertisement. You want to use those action words to motivate people to buy your product.
          • Public Relations
            You're strictly writing in a no-nonsense news format (who, what, where, when, why). Any blatant commercial messages in your communications will be frowned upon by the media.