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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, 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.

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.

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

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.

katefhill
katefhill

@ginidietrich I really enjoyed your post! Couldn't agree more-PR is much more than publicity. Was also confused about "unearned"-wha? ;)

hopwood
hopwood

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 www.hopwood.co.uk).

alyssaLvan
alyssaLvan

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

Suzi_C
Suzi_C

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. :)

Suzi_C
Suzi_C

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.

Trace_Cohen
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 ;).

bradmarley
bradmarley

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.

DaneMorgan
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.

RickRice
RickRice

@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.

danemorgan
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

Leon
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

Regards

Leon

ryancox
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.

T60Productions
T60Productions

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

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