Public Relations or Advertising?

Why must we choose?

Public Relations (PR) and advertising have always been considered two distinct areas of the communications field. Students must choose between them, professionals are expected to stay in their lanes, and the communications industry works to keep a line, though blurred, between PR and advertising.

Why, though? Why do we make sure to distinguish between PR and advertising instead of embracing both, or being better-rounded (an increase in well-roundedness)?

Difference between PR and advertising in 2019

The differences between PR and advertising are few, but important. Here are the major differences, there are many more particular differences than listed:

1. Money

“Advertising is paid media, public relations is earned media.”

Advertisers pay for space in which to advertise, but PR representatives build relationships with media outlets in order to earn space in their publications. (Wynne, Forbes).

2. Goal

Advertising focuses on selling a product. PR is focused on creating a positive image for the brand. (Surbhi, Key Differences).

Ultimately, an advertisement should make the company look good too, and the PR positive image for the brand should lead to selling a product.

3. Creative Control

The advertising company can produce exactly what they want as an ad, because they paid for the space. In PR, a media company has the freedom to use as much or as little of a press release as they would like. The PR representative does not have control over how their message is recreated once they push the press release. (Surbhi, Key Differences).

4. Product

An advertisement uses imperative language to tell the consumers to buy a product. A press release is a “no-nonsense news format” including the 5W’s about the brand. The expectation of sales exists for advertisements, but it would be unexpected to see sales pitches in a press release. (Duncan, The Balance Careers).

Advertising and Public Relations are very similar otherwise.

“Public relations and advertising are similar in concept: both are designed to raise awareness of a company or product in a positive manner. Another similarity is that in both cases the company will often target its message toward a particular audience. This could be people living in a particular location; people of a particular age, gender or social background; or people with particular interests or hobbies.”

Lister, Chron

What if, instead of drawing a line between the two, communications industry professionals embraced the benefits of each simultaneously?

What if, an advertisement highlighted the positive image of the brand behind the product, or a press release mentioned the best products offered by a brand?

Can we combine the creative control provided by advertising space, and the format and credibility (Mudd, Axia) of public relations products, to build a super message-sender?

What if we didn’t have to choose between advertising and PR, and students could study how to use both paid and unpaid space to push a message, rather than trying to figure out the nuances of staying in one lane (i.e. you are a PR rep, you cannot buy ad space to put a video about your brand, leave that to the advertisers, who don’t know how to do that because they learned analytics and how to sell a product instead.)

A fitting advertisement, Google Images

Imagine a world where a company can more easily gain the trust of their intended audience, and sell products through proving themselves as a company that benefits humanity.


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