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How to Choose Between PR & Advertising
The differences are clear and matter to campaign results.
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 by Steve Turner
Principal, Solomon/Turner

Steve TurnerPublic relations professionals are often asked by business owners, "What are the differences between PR and advertising?"

Comparing the publicity aspect with a typical ad campaign, the main difference is that with advertising the client, business owner, or advertiser controls the message.

This differs from publicity where the newspaper, magazine, television station or other medium actually controls the editorial, timing and final story presentation.

For example, businesses running an advertising campaign can decide when they want their ad to run, how big they want it, and what copy or words go into the ad.

In an ad campaign you can target small publications or large ones. One can utilize television stations, radio stations, billboards and an entire host of possible advertising vehicles. You simply choose the one that best fits your objectives, your audience, and your budget.

Since you are purchasing the space there is no filter in advertising. Your audience gets your message directly, exactly the way you created it.

Publicity differs in that you are sending news releases and other materials to editors and producers in hopes of generating stories about your cause or business.

You have no control if an editor, writer or producer will even run your news item, or when they will run it, or how it will be used.

An editor may wish to do an article about your company but decide to hold onto the story information until a later date.

They may wish to use your news as part of a special section, run it in conjunction with other companies in your specific area, or use a business owner as a resource for a round-up type article on a particular topic where a variety of executives are interviewed.

The editor may also choose not to discuss the same key points you outlined in your news release. They make take the story in an entirely different direction.

For example, a television news reporter may spend an hour or longer meeting a client, asking a multitude of questions, then taping responses.

The end result however may be boiled down to a ten-second sound bite on the 6pm newscast where nearly all of the message gets lost or can be misinterpreted by the audience.

A radio talk show interview can start out as informational then turn controversial depending on the host. Keep in mind their goal is to engage the audience and build ratings, not help a business owner sell their products or services, position a cause or back a certain candidate.

Experienced public relations practitioners and their clients should understand the nuances between publicity and advertising. They should realize the final editorial or news message may differ from its original intent.

Educating clients on the distinctions between the two adds clarity to both your ad campaign and your public relations campaign and helps make each more effective.

Steve Turner is a Principal with Solomon/Turner, a St. Louis public relations agency. Steve has over 25 years experience in PR and specializies in working with high-tech companies, and is a writer on PR and marketing.

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