The Difference Between PR And Advertising

what is public relations

What In The World Is Public Relations?

Tell people that you work in public relations and you probably get these responses:

Public relations… you must go to a lot of glamorous parties. Do you know anyone famous?
You do a lot of spin for your company, don’t you?
What ad campaigns are you working on?

Of course, those who don’t work in the communications field or in organizations that utilize public relations can be forgiven for not knowing what we really do.  The trouble comes when the leadership of the organizations that you work for doesn’t know what you do. So, what can you do to educate those in your company about your work?

For starters, remind everyone that public relations is earned media in the best sense of the word.  Day in and day out we do all that we can to get positive press about the work our organizations or clients do.  Not only should your bosses know about the work that you do, your boss’ boss and the boss above that boss should know as well.  Yearly clip books are a good start. It is good to also send out emails about major media hits and let the higher ups know about additional outcomes, such as website visits, positive social media comments, increased referrals or increased sales.

Next comes the “spin”.  Public relations professionals work to tell the organization’s story with integrity. While we want to accentuate the positives early and often, negatives do happen.  When they do, good PR professionals work to own up to the negative and state what is being done to improve the situation.  Anyone who says to do otherwise is not a true PR professional and doesn’t know about the PRSA Member Code of Ethics.

While both public relations and advertising promote small businesses, there are two differences that set them apart.


The 2 Differences of PR And Advertising

  1. Advertising is messaging that is paid for
  2. Advertising messages are constrained by the amount of space purchased

While PR has its limits, it is not as constrained by space as advertising. The information in a half page article or a 30-second news report is more robust than an ad of the same size.  From an early age, we have been told to view advertising skeptically because its focus is on manipulating the perceptions of target audiences in order to increase sales. The focus in PR is on raising awareness and getting factual information out.

As I told my students at Delaware Valley University, advertising is like a company saying, “Look at how great we are!” Public relations is getting a third party to learn about your company and independently and objectively write, “Look at how great they are!”