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Gini Dietrich

The Difference Between PR and Advertising

By: Gini Dietrich | February 8, 2012 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

203 comments
3HatsComm
3HatsComm

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.

GalaxyKannanGtp
GalaxyKannanGtp

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

Bensie Dorien

prcompanionpr@gmail.com

www.prcompanion.com

dmrosen9
dmrosen9

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.

janwong
janwong

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!

maddiegrant
maddiegrant

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.

Izzo_Michael
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

Steve Cody
Steve Cody

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
ginidietrich moderator

 @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?

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Paul Sutton

dmrosen9
dmrosen9

@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.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@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.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

@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.'

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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?

dmrosen9
dmrosen9

@deleted_91832_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.

dmrosen9
dmrosen9

@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.

maddiegrant
maddiegrant

@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. :)

dmrosen9
dmrosen9

@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.

maddiegrant
maddiegrant

@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.

maddiegrant
maddiegrant

@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.

Thoughts?

dmrosen9
dmrosen9

@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
ginidietrich moderator

@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?

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