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Public Relations and (or) Advertising
A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
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by Michael D. Driscoll

Michael DriscollThe application of public relations and the use of advertising are sometimes misunderstood, igniting a  series of unanswered questions for companies needing to create awareness for themselves.

When do you use public relations? Why should you advertise? The best answer on both topics is, "It depends on what you're trying to accomplish." Use public relations and advertising (and marketing) together as well as separately when the situation calls for it. 

Still confused? Don't fret. You're in good company.

Message Control

A distinct difference between PR and advertising is their extent of message control. When, where, and how an advertisement runs is quite controllable. Ad space purchased in the right format (i.e. broadcast, radio, print, online, sky writing, floating barge) means one has inherent control over what messages are communicated.

Conversely, while the process of creating messages through public relations is controllable, what occurs after the message has left the "nest" is often uncontrollable. The most common uncontrollable factor is whether the media view your information as newsworthy. In advertising there is no question whether your information will be publicized -- if the check cleared, you're in. 

I know what you're thinking. You want control of the message from beginning to end so you've decided that advertising is the way to go. Have you thought about the current shelf life of an advertisement? What about implied endorsement? Costs?

Shelf Life: TV Commercials and the Press Release

Until recently, TV advertisements have had a shorter shelf life than a press release archived on the Internet. For now this is probably still true, but watch out. New Web sites are coming online with nothing but commercial content that would make any ad executive smile. Corporations are also posting their commercials on corporate Web sites to extend the shelf life of their ad dollars.  

Obstacles to viewing archived commercials are many. The more common ones include slow Internet connections, lack of installed software for viewing, and unless there is an HTML description about the commercial for search engines to archive, add inability to find a commercial online to the list of obstacles. These barriers are coming down quickly as technology and computer training improves.

Archived press releases and news articles still rank high in terms of Internet longevity. Search engines can locate information (even in PDF format for some) long after the hype of a press release has waned. The major obstacle here is a person without access to the Internet. 

Implied Endorsement

No matter how interesting an advertisement might be, it is recognized as a self-serving communication. The only implication here is that someone paid to have a message filtered directly to a consumer. There is no third-party endorsement, no filter before it reaches you.

Public relations affords the credibility of indirect third-party endorsements. This means you are not paying to get advertising placed, but a publication is freely giving space to a story about your company. An endorsement such as this is a powerful tool in shaping public opinion. 

Consumers today are far more cynical than previous generations, with only a small percent saying they have a great deal of confidence in advertising messages. Anyone can buy visibility, however PR plays a critical role in sorting out the hype. 

Costs

Advertising exposure is often proportional to the amount of money spent on the advertisement. Whether your ad sits on a billboard overlooking the highway or plays during prime time television, advertising will consume your budget faster than a well-positioned, well-written press release. 

For small companies, public relations is the better method for direct and personal communication with a target audience. For larger companies with a sufficient budget, advertising along with public relations may be the right combination for success. 


Michael D. Driscoll is a public relations manager in the non-profit sector.  He can be reached at michaelddriscoll@yahoo.com





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