Dispelling PR myths: PR and advertising are the same

By Michelle Strydom
Courtesy of Publicity

We look at a frustrating myth for many public relations pros as well as advertising professionals: PR and advertising are the same.  

According to an article by John Lister, the only similarity between the two is the concept, which is to raise awareness of a company or product in a positive manner, but the confusion still exists.

Where does this myth come from?

According to Hannah Francis, PR and communication manager at Rainmaker Marketing, the confusion arises when the definition of PR is not understood, and because advertising and PR share the same concept, it leads people to think it’s the same.

“I think that many people don’t really understand what PR is, and they combine ‘paid-for’ advertising with editorial coverage, as both effectively result in giving a brand or product exposure in a print or online publication,” she says.

However, the two professions serve completely different purposes and are unique entities. According to Desiree Gullan, co-founder and creative director of G&G Digital, they refer to PR and advertising as the ‘Power Couple’. PR offers the gravitas of third party media endorsement and reputation building, which gives support to paid-for advertising, and, therefore, the complementary relationship brings about the confusion of these professions being the same.

“I think the confusion has come about due to a lack of understanding of the full spectrum of marketing and communications channels or methods. The two are also often used together, as they’re powerful complementary tools and this might have led some people to believe the terms to be synonymous,” Gullan says.

What is the reality of this PR myth?

As Sabina Pauselli, PR Executive at Crimson Room points out, the reality is that PR and advertising are exact opposites.

Besides advertising being paid for and PR being earned, the outcome of both are worlds apart.

“Paid advertising is definite exposure, the advert will appear when scheduled. PR relies on elements such as press releases that appear on different media platforms. While essentially free, earned media is beyond the company’s direct control. The company cannot dictate when it will be published or how the publication will use it,” says Pauselli.

In addition to this, with editorial exposure, the initial result of PR has more value than an advert, as it stands that adverts are paid for and anyone can flash some cash for exposure.

“The reality is that editorial exposure is far more credible that any advert. When editorial is achieved, it is perceived that a journalist, objective in their approach, has deemed a specific brand or product worthwhile to write about. An advert, on the other hand, can often be seen as a brand or product saying good things about themselves,” says Francis.

Both these professions serve a purpose in the marketing and communications world, but the credibility differs and could lead people to thinking PR is not valuable enough to make use of.

How can this myth be dispelled?

Dispelling this myth, or any myth similar to this, is simple. It only takes understanding what PR is about and how it differs from other professions within an agency.

“It’s all about educating yourself about the different functions that usually occur in an agency. Many times, agencies do not convey the message and differences across to their clients and often people working in these roles also do not fully understand the difference. The company needs to properly delegate duties and avoid confusion,” says Francis.

PR is no longer exclusive to people who focus on PR specific courses. These days, many professions share the same skill sets, so you don’t need to study only PR to head into that direction. Gullan suggests that public relations should be more prominent in general marketing courses and not only part of the public relations or communications curricula. This will help marketing professionals understand these professions better.

It is very difficult to give a set way to dispel this myth, says Pauselli. “But, at the end of the day, these are two different functions and due to editorial exposure being so much more valuable than paid-for advertising, I would say that this in itself dispels that these two are the same.”

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