Gini Dietrich

The Difference Between PR and Advertising

By: Gini Dietrich | February 8, 2012 | 

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Cody wrote “You Don’t Know Jack About Public Relations” in his Inc. column.

I know Steve. He and I both are cyclists and favor shipping our bikes to Counselors Academy every year so we can ride with a small group of friends.

I like him. A lot.

I respect the heck out of him for the agency he’s built in the last 16 years.

But he’s wrong about the difference between advertising and PR. Rather, he’s describing publicity, and that’s what is wrong with the perception of our industry.

We are not just publicists. It’s ONE tactic we use in an overall communication program. 

He started off the description of the differences between advertising and PR so well:

I believe far too many chief executives officers of the country’s fastest-growing companies have no real clue how truly multi-faceted and more powerful public relations is than its marketing counterparts.

Totally agree!

But then it went off the rails:

Public relations, which is sometimes referred to as unearned media, is more of a dog’s breakfast. It involves reaching out to an objective reporter, editor, or producer with the facts and figures about an organization, its products or services and hoping the journalist finds the information of interest to her readers, viewers, or listeners. But, and this is a huge but, it is entirely up to the journalist what is written and when it appears.

Let’s put aside the fact he said PR is unearned media (it’s earned media so we’ll assume that’s a typo), what he is describing is publicity – or media relations.

Our industry, for a very long time, has used media relations as the example when describing what we do because it’s tangible. Just like you can hold or view an ad, you can hold or view a story a reporter has written or produced. But it’s doing us a huge disservice.

There are many other tactics we use: Crisis planning, monitoring and listening, issues management, messaging, creating and telling stories, speaking engagements, content development, events, guerilla marketing, internal communication, social media, lobbying, audits, market research, community development, influencer relations, blogger relations, word-of-mouth, contests, trends development, and more.

Some of us even integrate what might be considered more traditional marketing: Email, database development, search engine optimization, trade shows, search engine marketing, inbound marketing, cultivate and convert leads, gamification, and mobile technology.

When you combine tactics such as these, you have an integrated marketing and communication program that drives results. Real results such as improved margins, shortened sales cycles, and increased revenues.

I agree with Steve that when you say you’re in PR, people’s eyes glaze over.

There’s nothing more fun than going to a cocktail party with your charismatic, charming, extroverted husband who is in politics. People want  to talk to him.

Me? The best they can come up with is, “What’d you think of the Super Bowl ads?” or “Do you watch Mad Men?”

We’re natural storytellers…so why can’t we describe what we do in an exciting, and more accurate, way?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • belllindsay

    What *did* you think of the Superbowl ads….? 😉 Loved this post @ginidietrich – and the clarity you’ve brought to the PR – vs – publicity thing. Personally, I think PR people – and their worlds – are pretty interesting. I’m surprised people’s eyes glaze over.

    • ginidietrich

      @belllindsay Maybe it’s me…

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich I didn’t want to say………..

  • abipereira

    So I’m curious: what’s the difference between PR and marketing? Is there one? Or between marketing and advertising? My perception as a student is that PR is about creating and maintaining an image, where as marketing is to sell a product. Is that true?

    • ginidietrich

      @abipereira There is one. Marketing tends to work more toward sales. Some of the things I describe such as email, inbound, and SEO are marketing. Advertising pretty much encompasses everything that is paid: Ads, radio, TV, sponsorships. We’re seeing a big shift of integrating the disciplines so you have some PR pros who also do marketing and vice versa. But, traditionally, your perception is correct.

      • @ginidietrich @abipereira Invariably, PR programs are funded out of the marketing budget — whether for internal PR headcount and/or agency support. In my mind, therefore, PR is a function of marketing, and as you so rightfully point out, Gini, is multi-dimensional and absolutely needs to be integrated with other marketing functions. The boundaries are only getting larger.

  • jennwhinnem

    I find that people’s eyes glaze over because they think PR is a dumb person’s job. I’ll never forget telling some guy I was in communications, and he said ah okay, and then he misheard me and thought I said I wrote code too. His eyes widened in approval and surprise and he said “Wow! You CODE?! That’s so cool!” I said, “So NOW you respect me?” and he slunk off in shame.

    I get asked, “Bad grammar must really make you nuts huh.”

    • ginidietrich

      @jennwhinnem I love you! I would have wanted to say that, but wouldn’t have had the cajones. LOL!

    • @jennwhinnem I think the reason people’s eyes glaze over is out of a lack of trust. I think it’s a perception issue more than anything. When people think of “PR” they think of an entire industry and profession that is built around lying (that’s their perception). The image that conjures in their mind is the spin-meister who focuses on “damage control.” It’s the same reaction (and for the same reasons) they view sales people and lawyers with such disdain.

      The main problem is you’ll never counteract that reaction with a laundry list like the one Gini laid out in the post. You may do all those things, but a laundry list like that is not a clear brand to bring to market.

      • ginidietrich

        @Sean McGinnis @jennwhinnem My favorite is always, ‘Oh. So you spin for a living?’ Yes. That’s why we named the blog Spin Sucks.

        • ryancox

          @ginidietrich @Sean McGinnis @jennwhinnem I thought you were just being a hipster Gini and doing the whole opposite thing with the ‘sucks’ part.

        • ginidietrich

          @ryancox Oh you’re a funny one!

    • @jennwhinnem There was a time I did a lot of entertainment publicity. All I was good for, for certain people, was being the go-to girl if they wanted tickets to the hot new show in town. Those were the days…

      • ginidietrich

        @Shonali @jennwhinnem OH! OH! Can I get tickets?!?

        • @ginidietrich Only if you visit me first. @jennwhinnem

      • @Shonali @jennwhinnem At least you were popular then, right? LOL!

        • @Sean McGinnis As opposed to how WILDLY unpopular I am now? Gee, thanks, Sean! You sure know how to treat a gal right. :p @jennwhinnem

  • I’m wondering how long before we really get rid of a lot of these terms because the lines are becoming blurred.

    And I think part of the reason people’s eyes glaze over is because of the reason this blog exists. The first thing they think of is “spin”. They view you as someone who gets paid to “tell white lies” to make someone or something look good. It’s probably the same reaction that used car salesmen and insurance salesmen ( bdorman264 ) get, because of preconceived/popular notions. And of course the way PR folks are portrayed on TV and in films doesn’t help.

    • ginidietrich

      @KenMueller I hope the lines become blurred enough that it becomes about strategy for the business with the disciplines as tools underneath that strategy. Huh. Almost like I wrote a book on this very topic.

      • @ginidietrich Man I hope there are a lot of pictures. And a pop-up version. And scratch ‘n’ sniff.

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller There are. Geoff and I both drew stick men for you and jeffespo

        • @ginidietrich @KenMueller Stick people rule! I am looking forward to seeing them and doing a clap clap clap with a stick person version of Gini 🙂

    • @KenMueller Oh yes, we get all the love………but you damn sure love us when you need us, huh?

  • JeffRice63

    @ginidietrich Truth: My eyes glaze over when social media is the headline of a tweet. If the truth holds me incommunicado so be it.

    • ginidietrich

      @c__list So be it is right

  • angelineevans

    Totally agree with the distinction between PR and advertising. What about the difference between PR and communications? They’re often two separate departments, and I’m curious about your thoughts on that distinction (I come from the communications side).

    • ginidietrich

      @angelineevans I actually don’t think there is a distinction. Too many people use “PR” for publicity and communication for the rest of it. The way we typically divide responsibilities with our clients is they handle internal and we handle external communication.

      What do you think?

      • angelineevans

        @ginidietrich I guess it would depend. My only experience is with in-house PR and comm departments, which both deal with external audiences. PR definitely handles more than publicity (including many of the tasks you mention above), but communications did more of the key messaging, writing/content, social media, design/graphics, and more marketing-related communications. I think a lot of the more menial tasks (annual reports to the community, etc.) often fall under communications rather than PR. I’ve always seen internal communications as more of an HR function.

        It’s definitely one of those distinctions that is fun to debate in theory, but in practice is a free for all.

        • ginidietrich

          @angelineevans I think you’re right. In theory, we’re a PR firm. In practice, we’re a marketing firm. We’re much more focused on the things that drive sales than on media relations. I guess it just depends on the company and the internal staff.

  • I thought PR was when I get you coverage in the local paper and then hold a press conference to announce you got coverage. I am pretty sure that is how @Shonali made her millions.

    Need to share this with my client’s PR Intern

    • ginidietrich

      @HowieSPM @Shonali That is how she made her millions. And ruined it for the rest of us.

      • @ginidietrich @Shonali I bet if I tell her mother she will get grounded.

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM @Shonali Let’s tattle, then!

        • @ginidietrich @HowieSPM I made my millions by being charming and speaking with a “British” accent. Because, y’know, I’m “in PR.” :p

          I remember reading the same piece and having much the same reaction (as you both know). Quite frankly, I’m a little exhausted by the perpetual efforts to try to “redefine” PR. We haven’t gotten it right thus far, and I’m not quite sure that we ever will. But I do find myself using “PR” a little less with new clients, who come to me seeking the same – I talk much more about strategy, community building, story-telling and focusing on what their end-objectives are. Once we hit that last point, it’s surprising how much more willing they are to consider alternatives to good old-fashioned media relations – which I still think can be very effective, but that’s not the be-all and end-all of “PR.”

        • ginidietrich

          @Shonali I do the same! Two weeks ago I had lunch with a former Vistage colleague. When I told him what we’re up to, he said, “OMG! We have to hire you. Right now.” Going into the lunch, he thought we were “just a PR firm.” When you shape the conversation around something that makes sense for the business owner, they really get it. When you talk about media relations, their egos take over.

    • @HowieSPM @Shonali And I thought PR was sending off a press release talking about how you gave Uggs to both teams in the super bowl. Silly me.

  • estherbuchsbaum

    @ginidietrich wow! really! a difference!? When I stopped trying to explain it to my Mother, I pretty much stopped explaining period!

    • ginidietrich

      @estherbuchsbaum LOL!! After “Wag the Tail” came out, my mom called and said, “Is THAT what you do?” Um. No.

      • estherbuchsbaum

        @ginidietrich hahahahaha! when I was an AE she thought I was an Accountant!!!

        • ginidietrich

          @estherbuchsbaum Oh moms. That’s funny!

  • Fungo83

    @ginidietrich you, ma’am, are highly retweetable if I may say so myself!

    • ginidietrich

      @Fungo83 That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!

  • ginidietrich

    @PRceo Thanks!

  • Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who thought his ideals of PR were a little off-base. To be sure, PR firms are morphing from the good ol’ days, but we are information brokers; we are content developers; we are communications advisers. We can also be clients’ secret sauce for an otherwise deadpan idea. But in all cases, we are COUNSELORS.

    • ginidietrich

      @SidMaxPR The last few years definitely have pushed our industry into a tailspin. More and more we’re finding ourselves at the strategic (proverbial) table. I hope the entire industry comes along.

      • @ginidietrich @SidMaxPR I know we are getting through when other people in marketing and non-marketing roles are asking us for help on strategy. That is how I know we win.

  • rpulvino

    When reading Cody’s post, my thoughts immediately shifted back to my public relations theory class and the importance of analyzing specific publics that pop up on account of unique situations—good ol’ situational theory. For years, PR practitioners have been stressing that media relations is only a one facet of the profession, and that the media is only one public on a malleable spectrum of many that can be in constant state of change. It all depends on what needs to be communicated, with whom it needs to be communicated with, and what is the most appropriate channel to work within. Consider me inspired to reopen my ‘Handbook of Public Relations’ by Robert Heath.

    • ginidietrich

      @rpulvino That’s so funny! I might reopen mine, too. We should compare notes.

  • jackielamp

    You and I have had this conversation before. The funny thing that I noticed is that the clients who only care about publicity/media relations are the ones who are always unhappy and don’t stick around very long. They probably jump from agency to agency asking “what have you done for me lately?” because if they don’t see media coverage every week then they can’t understand what you might have done for them. It drives me insane.

    Also, I 100% agree on the reaction you get from people when you say you’re in PR. They don’t know what it means! It’s sad because we still haven’t mastered how to explain it to them. I think we might have to make it our personal mission to come up with a description that does it justice and doesn’t require us to go on and on for 30 minutes.

    • ginidietrich

      @jackielamp You know what? That’s a VERY good distinction. It wasn’t until I started Arment Dietrich that I began to realize media relations is all about ego…and not about business growth. By itself, it doesn’t do much. But integrated into an overall strategy, it ca really help you build something.

  • ljwire

    @QBryner This is going to be a good read!

  • Neicolec

    How about just saying, “I make you want to buy things.” That at least should be a conversation starter.

    • ginidietrich

      @Neicolec LOL!! I LOVE THAT!!!

      • @ginidietrich @Neicolec why does Kim Kardashian always come into the conversation here? I own everything she hawks he totally makes me want to buy things.

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM You are crazy. #thatisall

  • Um.. first off. Marketing lingo BINGO! :-D”PR” the word has become over-used and slung around like a Twinkie at a Fat Farm trying to entice people way too much over the past. Maybe it is because, at one time, it was a cool word to use and it did encompass a lot of what you did. But with the growth and dissection of internet, mobile and traditional marketing it’s become another “tool” in our box.

    I completely agree with your breakdown here. PR is a tool in marketing, much like communications, social media, printed materials, etc, etc, etc.

    Maybe the new term could be “social interaction architect” that is used to get people to ask more of what we do and not default to the MadMen questions or pay more attention to the spouse that is into politics.

    • ginidietrich

      @DougLeavy Mmmmmm…Twinkies.

      Social interaction architect is marketing BINGO, too. But I like where you’re going with it. When I’m on a plane (or someplace else I don’t want to talk to the person), I say I’m in PR. But when it’s a conversation I really want to have, and depending on the person, I describe what we do. PR just doesn’t cut it anymore.

      • @ginidietrich Bingo… it’s more like a triple-double-I-just beat-your-arse-down-in-Words-With-Friends buzzwords. :-)I’m the same way. I’d either say, “oh I do social media/online marketing” or I’d skip that crap and just say what I do.

        • ginidietrich

          @DougLeavy Ohhhh. Are you still upset you can’t beat me at WWF?!?

        • @ginidietrich I know not which you speak of! Or is that a challenge?? My mind is a lot clearer this days… mwahahaha!

  • ryancox

    Maybe lead with you’re a former UFC fighter turned nuclear physicists turned PR. Maybe that will give enough street cred.

    • ginidietrich

      @ryancox I think that’s a great idea. I’ll try that next time.

  • Just chiming in on that last comment… I think telling our own stories are the most difficult ones to tell.

    I think it’s the whole… hard to see the forrest when you’re in the middle of it… kind of thing. It takes a lot of focus to tell your own story and keep it authentic and honest.

    –Tony Gnau

    • ginidietrich

      @T60Productions It is the most difficult one to tell. Isn’t that funny?

  • ryancox

    I agree with this in its entirety, and I think societal norms as predictors is to blame. It’s the case of “we’ve been conditioned to think this and we’re too lazy or too naive to think on our own.” PR professionals are bimbo-chics, in high skirts, that get my company seen in the media right? I don’t know how they get what they get — and I don’t care, as long as she gets me featured. It’s easier to have someone think for us then do think for ourselves, so the way Hollywood portrays PR is the way people believe it to be, like plenty of other professions. I think PR is so hard to describe because everything it involves is intangible-business-metrics. And here is what I mean: It’s so much behind the scenes legwork that the end goal over-simplifies it. “Oh you got featured here, oh you increased sales there…” PR seems to be one profession that people discount the one factor involved in ANY business profession: time. Someone says they write code, you can see the website, and you’ve been “explained” by Hollywood that developers are really smart, really geeky an get really rich. The PR chic of that movie was just hott and knew someone.

    • ginidietrich

      @ryancox If that’s the case, you don’t want to see me right now. I’m still in my cycling clothes…from riding this morning. Clearly I fit the stereotype.

  • Leon

    G’Day Gini,

    Firstly, Your profession is lumbered with a dreadful name; “public relations” It has lots of negative connotations like “spin” and “hype and “fluff.” Nothing much you can do about that now, I’m afraid.

    The other thing is that PR is perceived by many people as a deliberate attempt to mislead. Regrettably, some PR practitioners are culpable .

    So…..tough! If the world at large confuses PR with publicity and advertising and a dollop of deceit, you’re just gunna have to live with it. I work in HR. But I was a lot more comfortable when it was called “Personnel and Training.” Methinks that some PR expert may have recommended the change.

    It’s up to us. I can rail about people not understanding HR. Or I can take every opportunity to explain the benefits of professional HR practice,…..even though there isn’t a lot of it about!

    Next time you’re asked about “Mad Men”–which by the way I really enjoy–don’t roll your eyes and launch into a dissertation about the difference between advertising and PR. Smile generously and say, “Y’know, I’m really glad you asked about that. As a PR person, I see “Mad Men” as……..”

    Apart from anything else Gini, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to talk to your husband when they had the opportunity to talk to you. Given the chance, I’d seek your opinion about all sorts of things.

    It’s quite remarkable what you can say with impunity when you’re seen as a curmudgeon from, as MS calls it, Down Unda. Is that PR or publicity……..?

    Have fun



    • ginidietrich

      @Leon I LOVE Mad Men! I won’t roll my eyes. I think it’s one of the best shows on television. And, Leon, you sure know how to make a girl feel good. Thank you!

  • danemorgan

    @RichBecker Is PR about results? Read art. other day that ref’d $15k/mo with 0 guarantee. But I say, no results = no continue

    • RichBecker

      @danemorgan It’s unethical for a PR firm to guarantee results in terms of media placement. But that’s not all they ought to be doing.

      • danemorgan

        @RichBecker Sure, in terms of media placement. But, as you say … I’m reading folk who seem to think it’s all juju.

        • RichBecker

          @danemorgan Well, good PR is not juju. It’s like strategic communication using non-paid communication vehicles. (That doesn’t mean free.)

        • danemorgan

          @RichBecker I guess in that respect it’s really no different than a lot of what gets done as advertising… I like measurable things.

        • RichBecker

          @danemorgan Sure, but there is a place for soft dollar outcomes, e.g. authority, awareness, positioning, etc. and special comm. projects.

        • danemorgan

          @RichBecker Awareness and positioning strike me as measurable… Authority- less so, still. If I’m spending money, you want know it had eff.

        • RichBecker

          @danemorgan Where most struggle IS in setting measurable objectives. Some, like the ones you are thinking of, just try to place stories.

        • danemorgan

          @RichBecker That’s what I liked about the link you posted. Seemed to be defining PR as something that had a responsibility toward the effect

        • LeannaTaomoto66

          @danemorgan hello looked your tweet you can make money with video earn from day one

        • RichBecker

          @danemorgan Thanks. And it does. Empty actions have no real effect. Planned actions make big waves, unless something unexpected happens.

        • RichBecker

          @danemorgan A half-baked analogy for you: pursuing integrity is harder to measure than pursuing cash, even if cash might be an outcome.

        • danemorgan

          @RichBecker pursuing the *perception of* integrity, perhaps. Integrity itself, you either do or don’t. 😉

      • danemorgan

        @RichBecker if the money isn’t coming back in somehow, if there isn’t SOME return… No business buying it…

        • RichBecker

          @danemorgan You would be surprised what people will pay a PR firm that spins a good story but never delivers results.

  • @ginidietrich I’ve always seen PR having two distinct disciplines, marketing and corporate. They aren’t that different. Marketing sells things. Corporate sells ideas or concepts.

    That said, we’d be better off describing our profession by what we accomplish rather than what we do. People seem much more interested when I use that approach to describe how I’ve made a living.

    • ginidietrich

      @RickRice Uh, yes. People are MUCH more interested in the results than in a description of what we do.

      • @ginidietrich@RickRice You need to start telling people that you Make Companies Famous. Of course I’m stealing that from @Trace_Cohen

        • @AmyMccTobin @ginidietrich @Trace_Cohen The only problem with that Amy is that many of my clients don’t want to be famous. Most of the calls I get are about keeping the headlines to a minimum which is fine with me. I charge more showing reporters there really is no story there. (These are not the droids you’re looking for…)

  • DaneMorgan

    I really like ” When you combine tactics such as these, you have an integrated marketing and communication program that drives results. Real results such as improved margins, shortened sales cycles, and increased revenues.”

    I’ve read a few friends recently trying to defend the idea of accepting PR as a $15k/month crap shoot that eventually the media would magically convert you into a success.

    As far as I can see, a few months in I’m going to see results that paid for thet monthly spend, or I’m going to find something else to spend it on.

    Magical thinking is what has jacked up huge segments of our society today.

    • ginidietrich

      @DaneMorgan It’s funny you say that. I had the VERY conversation with a new business prospect the other day. He was lamenting that everyone else he had talked to wanted to charge $10K-$20K a month with no real results other than “stories” to speak of. I don’t know who these people are, but I clearly need to charge more.

  • This is a great post, Gini. I think about this topic often.

    (As an aside, I’m 99 percent sure my friends and family still don’t know what I do for a living. It’s been seven years since I fully immersed myself in this field, and I still get questions like, “So, you write stories for the newspaper?” But I digress…)

    When you say we are all natural storytellers, I think you hit on a great way to explain what we do: we tell stories.

    It’s our job to take numbers, trends and news from our clients and figure out the best way to turn them into stories that resonate with the public.

    This is simplifying our roles a bit, but I think this is the best way to explain it to those who don’t understand.

    • ginidietrich

      @bradmarley So do you write stories for the newspaper??

  • Trace_Cohen

    I hate telling people that I do PR because I get two reactions – “oh, ok” or “So what do you do?” I then half jokingly tell people it’s my job to make other people famous…

    When my father used to run his agency, he would always hear his employees complaining that they couldn’t pick up anyone at a bar because when they told them they did PR they would walk away and/or roll their eyes. So being that he was in PR and told the truth well, he told them to say that they were “media ecologists” and that worked pretty well ;).

    • ginidietrich

      @Trace_Cohen Your dad had an agency? I didn’t know that. I want to know more about this. Have you written about it somewhere? If you have, post the link here!

      Have you tried the media ecologist line?

      • Trace_Cohen

        @ginidietrich He started TSI Communications and was one of the first investors in Pinterest (Brian Cohen).

        And I’ve tried the line before and I just get a blank stare… I don’t recommend using it anymore.

        • ginidietrich

          @Trace_Cohen SHUT UP! That’s so cool. And, as we’ve established here, I LOVE PINTEREST!

    • @Trace_Cohen And in Marketing it’s my job to make my client’s COMPANIES famous. They’re one in the same…except for when it comes to crisis management.

      • Trace_Cohen

        @AmyMccTobin Definitely a lot of overlap as PR is a function of Marketing.

  • Thanks, Gini! I believe each student in college should see this. When I graduated I really thought I’d have to write releases throughout my career. It was only when I got into an agency that I saw everything that was on the public relations buffet. (Thanks, Joe K, Dan P & Armando A) A former colleague was often asked if she was in the medical profession, because she could hold a conversation about open heart surgery with any surgeon on the planet. She advocated FOR the medical profession as a public relations practitioner. When I’m asked what I do, I often respond with one of these: I advocate for good companies. I make businesses famous for the good they do. I find it amazing how many higher ups expect their public relations people to be able to wave a magic wand and get rid of the bad stuff — even AFTER the public relations person has warned them: I can’t make bad go away. I can only answer questions about it honestly and quickly. Thanks again for this article, Gini. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with my alma mater.

    • ginidietrich

      @Suzi_C First, I don’t mind at all. Thank you for sharing!

      Secondly, you make an excellent point. Because my background is food and agriculture communication, I can go into pretty much any corn or soybean field and tell you which weeds are growing there, just by looking at them. I can also tell you how to control them. It’s a neat party trick.

  • I also think that when people learn what I do that they are gravely disappointed I’m not wearing a voodoo mask and chanting. My brilliant chiropractor gets the same feeling. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @Suzi_C What? I wear a voodoo mask and chant. Every day.

      • @ginidietrich @Suzi_C We want video proof.

  • alyssaLvan

    @ginidietrich Amen to that! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to clear up that misconception lately.

  • This might be a poorly researched and unfair comment but then I used to be a journalist. It seems whenever I read US PR people talking about PR it’s in the context of selling services to corporations (or companies as we’d call them in the UK) and trying to convince CEOs that PR is the best way for them to sell their stuff. (Either that or they’re trying to convince everyone that social media should be the sole preserve of PR practitioners. I think if you want to see PR and integrated comms at work across diverse target audiences, and see how it’s different to (though not necessarily better than) other “marketing ” (i.e. sales focused) comms, take a look at some case studies in the not for profit sector. Of course, modesty forbids me putting forward those on our own website (it’s

    • ginidietrich

      @hopwood LOL!! That, literally, made me laugh out loud. And now I’m intrigued enough to go to your site.

      • @ginidietrich @hopwood Me too you faceless profile!!

        • @AmyMccTobin @ginidietrich You can imagine I’m even better looking than I really am 🙂

      • @ginidietrich Happy to be bringing some laughter into the world

  • katefhill

    @ginidietrich I really enjoyed your post! Couldn’t agree more-PR is much more than publicity. Was also confused about “unearned”-wha? 😉

    • ginidietrich

      @katefhill I have to think it was a typo, right?

      • katefhill

        @ginidietrich i HOPE it was a typo – imo ‘earned vs paid’ is one of easiest ways to describe diff between ads & editorial to non-marketers

  • Robb_Wexler

    @shonali @ginidietrich I always thought the difference was that our PR clients paid their bills faster. The things I learn on Twitter!

    • ginidietrich

      @Robb_Wexler LOL!!!

      • Robb_Wexler

        @ginidietrich Thank you for the follow! Only 9,283 more and Twitter owes me a toaster.

        • ginidietrich

          @Robb_Wexler Wait! I didn’t get a toaster!

        • Robb_Wexler

          @ginidietrich Crap! I wasn’t supposed to mention the toaster. I”m in deep Twitter do do now.

        • ginidietrich

          @Robb_Wexler Sigh…you get all the good stuff

        • Robb_Wexler

          @ginidietrich Next up I’m going for.the autographed Kim Kardashian wedding calandar. It’s only 72 days and is guaranteed to repeat.

        • ginidietrich

          @Robb_Wexler Whoa! Wait! I want one, too. Way more than the toaster!

    • shonali

      @robb_wexler LOL! @ginidietrich

  • mrdancohen

    @shonali @ginidietrich One of my favorite books was on this topic:

    • shonali

      @mrdancohen @ginidietrich The Rieses!

      • mrdancohen

        @shonali @ginidietrich Indeed! My PR career went through its toddler phase under their supervision.

  • MathiasUlmann

    @SpinSucks does not suck at all!! Great Job #pr

    • SpinSucks

      @mathiasulmann LOL!! Merci!!

  • JJordan527

    @jenleopoldt that was a really good post #spinsucks

  • dbrazeal

    @armano @spinsucks Because the PR industry doesn’t want to own up to what it really does?

    • armano

      @dbrazeal @spinsucks that’s a stereotype. same as advertising is trickery and consultants overcharge and provide no value. Next please.

  • shannopop

    +1 RT @armano PR’s PR problem: Why can’t the industry better describe what it does? Via @spinsucks

  • shannopop

    @ginidietrich Loved this! Great post.

    • ginidietrich

      @shannopop Thank you

  • ketanraval

    @GiseleNMendez @ginidietrich good one ….. :_

  • jeffespo

    @PointTide_Kor TY sir

  • A wise woman once said “What’s the difference between PR and Marketing? There isn’t one!!!!”Why on earth do we try to separate PR from Marketing/Advertising or whatever you want to call it.As far as unearned Media, he must have meant UNPAID Media.

    • ginidietrich

      @AmyMccTobin I think it definitely was a typo.

      • @ginidietrich Well, that makes me feel better about my little ole blog. Sheesh!

  • ginidietrich

    @jenniferriegert Thank you!

  • ginidietrich

    @TheRedDogInn I think you rock!

  • ginidietrich

    @lccrafton Thanks!

  • ginidietrich

    @JWalsh254 THanks!

  • ginidietrich

    @CommDuCoeur Ha!

  • ginidietrich

    @AnneODell 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @kbloemendaal I was JUST thinking about you! How are you?

    • kbloemendaal

      @ginidietrich I am great, am at #IBS2012 show in Orlando for the week 🙂 (loves to be thought of!)

      • ginidietrich

        @kbloemendaal Nice! Is it warm?

        • kbloemendaal

          @ginidietrich About 78 🙂 I am in my hotel room with the windows and doors open while I catch up on a few things….

        • ginidietrich

          @kbloemendaal VERY nice!

  • ginidietrich

    @erinlrandall You should!

  • ginidietrich

    @AmyMccTobin You mean the crazies?

    • AmyMccTobin

      @ginidietrich That’s right… with talk of face masks and chanting!!!

      • ginidietrich

        @AmyMccTobin Which, let’s be real, might actually work

        • AmyMccTobin

          @ginidietrich No, but if I could GAG some of my clients AND chant… now that’s more like it.

    • AmyMccTobin

      @ginidietrich Hey – WHERE the heck are the DMs on this new layout? Got you DM on my phone… will do, but can’t find them in here. HELP

      • ginidietrich

        @AmyMccTobin LOL!! Are you using

        • AmyMccTobin

          @ginidietrich YES… but everything changed. Anyway… I found it. 🙂 Read yours.

  • JGoldsborough

    @shellykramer @ginidietrich Can you two get me on Oprah? 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @JGoldsborough You should have asked two years ago. Too late now

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich @jgoldsborough I’m sure I can fit him in. #Oprahofmyindustry #youhadtobethere 😉

    • ShellyKramer

      @jgoldsborough @ginidietrich But OF course. We can also make a video go viral. INSTANTLY!!!

      • ginidietrich

        @ShellyKramer Does that mean we get to kick @jgoldsborough in the privates!


    @amandalaird Good read, thanks for sharing. Gonna spend some more time on @spinsucks later. -J

    • Coraqb0

      @RIGHTSLEEVE We’re Hiring! Don’t miss your Opportunity

    • SpinSucks

      @rightsleeve Cool! You won’t regret it. 🙂 @amandalaird

  • Gini, this is a great blog! And, before I respond, let me apologize for being so slow. Clients! Second, right back at you re: having a heckuva lot of respect for you as well.

    But, I must admonish you for admonishing me. My blog wasn’t written for the CEO of a PR firm or the PR community at large. My editor at Inc. Magazine specifically asked me to address her readers: the senior management of small companies, many of whom don’t understand the fundamental difference between advertising and PR. Also, the earned vs unearned observation was a typo that has been subsequently corrected.

    I agree with your broader definition of all the things that PR is. But, before shooting the next messenger, take some time to first figure out to whom he was speaking. If you don’t, I’ll cut you off the next time we go cycling.

    • ginidietrich

      @Steve Cody Thanks for the comment, Steve. I understand the readers of Inc. are the senior management of small companies, which is why I think explaining PR as publicity is the wrong approach. We work with many small companies and media relations is only one tactic we use in an overall communication program. I know Peppercom doesn’t offer only media relations to their clients.

      The problem is, as an industry, we’re seen as spin doctors, or liars even, because of the PR is publicity perception. I don’t know why senior leaders at any sized company can’t be told PR is more than the news articles a professional can help create. Why would we perpetuate the perception that all we do is get our friends to write stories about our clients…no matter who the audience?

    • ginidietrich

      @Steve Cody P.S. Bring it on the bike!

    • @Steve Cody Hi Steve – I have a question: I realize that the readership of Inc. is different than the readers of Spin Sucks…. I write my blog aimed at VERY small business and I don’t discuss things there in the depth that I might HERE, where I feel I am conversing amongst my colleagues.However, the facts are never different depending upon my audience. Maybe dumbed down or less detailed or BIG PICTURE for the Small Small Business Client, but never different. In speaking to your target audience I would think you could be as detailed and clear as you could to the Spin Sucks audience.I say all of this with deep respect; that’s what stinks about the written blog – you can infer a snotty tone that isn’t there. So please ‘hear me kindly.’

    • @Steve Cody Hi Steve,

      Have to go with both @ginidietrich and @AmyMccTobin here. I don’t think Gini was inferring you were writing for a PR head or community. I’m in marketing and I took your original post to be a lighter version of what it could have been.

      I’m also a Director at a company whose start-up specialist owner has started and sold four companies to the tune of $200 million+, so that pretty much falls within your editor’s remit. And I don’t think the post would have alleviated much of his confusion over what PR actually stands for today.

      Just a thought.

  • SpinSucks

    @janesmallfield You are welcome, and thank YOU! 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    @candacemcc RIGHT???!!! 🙂

    • candacemcc

      @spinsucks 🙂 Keeps the wine-producers in business!

  • Izzo_Michael

    I’m studying Social Media Theory & Practice with @dr4ward at @NewhouseSU and just subscribed to your blog. The lines between pr and ad are so vague #NewhouseSM4

    • ginidietrich

      @Izzo_Michael That is very cool! I’d love to know more about what you’re learning. Thanks for subscribing. We aren’t all business…we have some fun too (Fridays). Hope you like it!

      • Izzo_Michael

        @ginidietrich @Izzo_Michael I’ll be sure to keep checking back!

  • ginidietrich

    @DyanaKF Nor just event planners!

  • mitchellfriedmn

    @ginidietrich no, #pr not just publicity. See my recent post:

  • Sorry, but I’m confused. Most of those things, apart from the first few, fall under marketing, not PR. I get that there is a possibly large grey area made even more confusing in cases where you have PR/Comms or PR/marketing departments, but when I say PR I mean media relations. Which, in the age of social media, is much more multi-faceted than in the past.

    • ginidietrich

      @maddiegrant But that’s the thing. Media relations is only ONE thing under the PR umbrella. The things I describe in the first list typically fall under PR. The second list describes things we also do for clients, even though we bill ourselves as a PR firm. The lines are becoming more and more blurred, but media relations is not the only thing PR pros do.

      • @ginidietrich I think part of the problem is the difference between a PR department (internally) – which does not do the same thing as a marketing department or communications department or government relations or anything else when each of them coexist – and an external PR firm, which, yes, probably does a lot of the things you mention.

        I don’t think Cody’s definition is right, just to be clear – it’s too narrow. But I used to work in PR for a large international financial services company, where, because we were going through a merger at the time, my job was about disseminating the “appropriate” information publicly to the media and internally to staff. It was PR/Comms/Legal and the role of the department was to manage the perception of the organization to its “publics”.

        I think the real crux of the problem nowadays is that there are less and less, and shrinking, boundaries between external and internal audiences. If you can’t define the “publics”, how can you define what PR is supposed to do for them? You only need to look at the PRSA’s definition to see what a hot mess it is. I personally think the actual term “public relations” need to go away completely. 🙂

        • ginidietrich

          @maddiegrant OK. I agree with you. But let’s say you’re writing an article for a major business publication about the difference between PR and advertising. Your audience are small business owners and leaders at smaller companies. So they don’t have the internal staff you describe. How would you describe the difference between the two disciplines?

        • @ginidietrich @maddiegrant PR and marketing can both be considered forms of communication. PR seeks to enhance visibility and understanding and establish long term relationships that will predispose audiences to be responsive to marketing down the road. Marketing comes at the end of the road. It seeks immediate response. While the disciplines and goals are different, the same person or department can do both. That said, if the same person or department does both, their PR work is more likely to perceived as veiled sales pitches than would be the case if PR and marketing worked independently. And truth to tell, they are too often right.

          If I were writing the article you describe or making the case directly to business owners I would try to get them to understand the distinctions and the value that each brings to the company and respect their different approaches to communication.

        • @ginidietrich to me advertising is very specific – ad placement in mainstream media (TV, newspapers, websites, brochures, email newsletters etc) where you pay money for the placement of an ad. (Or as Andy Sernovitz says, the cost of being boring). PR is earned media – you send out information through various channels via your PR person or firm and use their relationships (but not money) to get traditional media mentions. So for example as an author I paid a PR firm to help me do a national radio tour. I could not have paid the radio stations directly to interview me, nor was I interested in paying to advertise to those stations listeners via a radio spot.

          Now I get that these definitions are very traditional views of what PR does – but to me, the reason social media has been so disruptive to the PR industry is that now I, the small biz owner, can hypothetically skip paying a PR firm to get me “eyeballs”, if I am able to go direct to the media by, for example, having an awesome blog and a community to share my stories and thereby having a journalist pick up the story directly from their Twitter stream. (Off topic – this is why the idea of the “social media release” has never taken off – you can put lipstick on the press release pig, but if the company doesn’t need that PR layer in the first place, it won’t waste time or budget on that.)

          So nowadays, the job of marketing is to optimize content to push it out into the stream – to make it SEO-friendly, to make it shareable, to make it interesting, to give it personality. So what’s the job of PR? To me it’s now those first few things on your list – crisis planning, and issues management. It’s reactive- to help a company be prepared for crises (Komen I’m talking to you) – where marketing is proactive.


        • @dmrosen9 thanks for the comment but I totally disagree. I think marketing is an ongoing proactive effort to “tell the story” of a company – here’s why we exist, what we sell, and why you want to buy from us”. PR is about getting that story out at very specific times to very specific people – eg the press – in order to reach more people than you would normally reach through normal marketing efforts – eg for a product launch. I also don’t think people can do both well – that’s why you get “veiled sales pitches” and complete unpreparedness when there’s customer backlash.

  • It’s interested to note that Steve mentioned ‘unearned’ media and then says it involves reaching out to different people. That sounds like you’re out there trying to ‘earn’ it. But that aside, I’ve believed that when we came on to these social networks, we are already involved in PR.

    We write articles on blogs, we participate in comments, we network across platforms, we build relationships… and all these are part of PR. And it is just like what you said – the only reason why ‘this’ PR is working is because people are actively describing what we do in an exciting and more accurate way 🙂

    Yet another awesome one, Gini!

    • ginidietrich

      @janwong I’m pretty sure unearned was a typo. But I agree- there is much more that we do than media relations.

  • Fascinating. I light up when I meet people in PR as well as folks who in the creative department of Advertising. But then, I’m kind of a weirdo. (And then Gini says, “kind of?” LOL)

    • ginidietrich

      @Tinu Ah man! You took all the wind of my commenting sails!

      • @ginidietrich lol my bad

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  • I agree with most everything you say, Gini, but I also come at the question from another perspective.

    I think we all agree that advertising is paid publicity while public relations is free (or “earned” if you like that feel-good euphemism) publicity and a whole lot more, as you note.

    Beyond that, I think the core difference has more to do with purpose than price. Advertising is, for the most part, a marketing tool designed to generate sales or other desired transactions and in some cases to build brand awareness. Public relations seeks to create lasting relationships, increase visibility and build reputations. It does not generally seek to generate immediate transactions. It is not marketing, although it has increasingly (and unfortunately in my view) been subsumed under a marketing umbrella in most organizations.

    If you’re wondering what the difference is between a “brand” and a “reputation” it’s this: a brand is how an organization sees itself; a reputation is how people actually see an organization and they think of it.

    • ginidietrich

      @dmrosen9 LOVE this distinction. Thank you for taking the time to make it. Bravo!

    • @dmrosen9 Like!

    • @dmrosen9 I really like your distinction and explanation of the two…so much that I’m saving your comment in my Evernote PR notebook!

      • @rachaelseda Thanks. I’ve thought about this for a long time. I know things are blurred these days, but there really is a difference and it’s important.

    • @dmrosen9 I find that distinction very interesting considering many, many thought leaders claim that “brand” is nothing more than what your customers think of your company.

      • @Sean McGinnis Those thought leaders are wrong. A brand is how a company presents itself, how it wants to be known. A reputation is what people actually think of the company and its products. In the ideal world they would be the same, but in the real work they often are not. To pretend that brand and reputation are the same can be wishful and potentially costly thinking.

  • dcrafton

    @lccrafton @ginidietrich It read like PR for PR. Uh, now I understand.

  • tressalynne

    @mjclark @TracyBonzo @Daniel_in_PR thanks for the RT – @gindietrich always has good stuff to share! 🙂

  • SocializeBrands

    @Tinu @ginidietrich Sorry Tinu I know… The story on PR which I read. The whole industry always tries to influence thought. more…

    • Tinu

      @SocializeBrands Who doesn’t try to influence thought? Every time we write blog posts, etc – fine w/ me as long as it’s truth.@ginidietrich

  • Off topic – I was just looking at the PRSA’s almost-ready-for-primetime finalists for a newly modernized definition of PR – – the winner of which is about to be announced on Monday, by coincidence. HOLY HELL is that the best they could come up with? DEPRESSING.

    • @maddiegrant Option #2 points in the right direction but doesn’t close the deal because it neglects to say way PR seeks to establish these mutually beneficial relationships. The answer to “why” is to advance an organization’s mission. With that addition, I could live with option 2.

      • ginidietrich

        @dmrosen9 Can you imagine, though, using that definition when you tell people what it is you do? It still says nothing.

        • @ginidietrich Yes, i can imagine it, although it is not necessarily how I would describe my work to a prospective client. The definition we are talking about is mainly for those in the profession — how we view what we do..

          Consider this analogy. A physician can be defined as a professional dedicated to promoting the health and wellness of his/her clients or as someone who conducts physical exams, does tests and prescribes pills.

          Likewise, a PR professional can be defined as someone who uses strategic communication to establish relationships and enhance visibility and reputation of a client/employer in order to advance the client’s mission or as someone who writes press releases, maintains a web site and write blogs and social media posts, etc.

          The issue is goals as opposed to means.

    • ginidietrich

      @maddiegrant I’m coming back to this debate in a little bit. I think it’s important to have this conversation. I’m also linking to our comments in today’s blog post.

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  • GalaxyKannanGtp

    Really …….. good….. nice explanation about the difference between PR & Advertising

    Bensie Dorien

  • Hmm.. this is different than I thought it be (more along the lines of the clever graphic). I too read that post, shared and commented on it the other day (via G+ as I refuse to do a FB login for INC, a ‘business!’ publication). Agree that he’s talking publicity/media relations and that it’s EARNED media, glad to read that was a typo and corrected.

    I think the reason media relations is the ‘go to’ example – vs. that long list of PR functions – is that “TV ads and magazine articles” are relatable. People watch the Super Bowl, see ads, think they get that. (Know I’ve blogged about this before.) Even a ‘PR crisis’ – they may think they ‘get’ the press conference, but really, they don’t understand everything else that goes in it in part b/c so much of PR is behind the scenes. My family ‘gets’ I work on a computer all day, like it’s step-cousin-in-law-once-removed from advertising. (eyeroll)

    Yes it’s important we have better, clearer and more accurate definitions of PR and that it not be truncated by business media, limited to just ‘publicity’ and ink. But what ‘people’ think, IDK .. think I’m approaching the ‘past caring’ stage. It’s up to me to do a better job telling my story when describing what I do b/c “typing at a keyboard, when not wanting to throw it at a wall” probably isn’t the best response. The only opinions that matter are clients and employers, fellow colleagues and professionals and most importanly, mine. I’m a communicator, I know what I do, that’s what matters most. FWIW.

    • ginidietrich

       @3HatsComm Somehow I missed this so I’m sorry to be commenting back so late.
      I wish I could get to the past caring stage and worry only about what our clients think we do. But I decided a long time ago the vision of Spin Sucks is to change the perception of the industry. Maybe I can get you to to the point of caring again and join the fight?

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