After having recent conversations with several different people who didn’t exactly “get” what I do, I decided it’s time for a little refresher. I ran across a book from 2002 by Al Ries and Laura Ries, “The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR,” which has excellent information about the difference between these two easily confused, yet related, industries.
I tried to find an easy to understand definition of public relations, but found nothing but industry jargon. So here’s a very simple definition:
Public relations manages communication between an organization and its audiences.
PR encompasses many things: media relations, special events, internal/external relations, publications, new media, and the list goes on. It’s an article in a newspaper or magazine or a segment on the evening news. It’s coverage of a local event or being asked to be a guest speaker or serve on a panel. It’s a viral e-mail campaign that creates buzz in your community. And it’s free. Especially now, with the technology of e-mail. A few years ago, you may have paid to design and mail a press kit, but I think those days are behind us.
Public relations seems to be more credible, mostly because a reporter or third party person has covered the product or organization. It’s several people driving a message on social media networks like Facebook or Twitter. It validates your story. People tend to think if someone else is telling your story (besides you), it must be worth telling.
Advertising is paid by the organization, like an ad in a newspaper or magazine, a television spot or an online advertisement. Most people know that the message has been crafted specifically by the organization, and may not pay attention. When was the last time you saw an ad in the local paper and it compelled you to take action? With the convenience of Tivos and DVRs, we can now fast forward through television commercials. And how many people really click on those pop up online ads? If you have a pop up blocker installed on your computer, you don’t even see those ads. And advertising is expensive.
I’m not saying advertising is dying. There’s a time and place for advertising. After a PR campaign has run its course and succeeded in getting the initial “buzz” about an event, product or organization, an advertising campaign can be a great way to keep the brand top of mind. In “The Fall of Advertising and Rise of PR” several companies are mentioned who became great brands using only public relations. Brands like Starbucks, The Body Shop and Best Buy. Ever heard of them?