Is PR more effective than advertising?

As a PR person you’d expect my answer to be “Heck yes!”  But in reality I’d give a qualified yes.  Why qualified?  Here goes:

PR is often described as ‘earned media’ versus advertising’s ‘paid media’.  In other words the space or time we get, we have earned through clever argument or persuasion rather than simply having bought it.  It’s argued that earned media is more valuable per square inch than advertising because it carries real weight.  However, there are a few things that lean in favor of paid media:

  1. READING VS SEEING – Many people will look through magazines and newspapers and read only a fraction of the content but notice a lot of the ads.
  2. SENTIMENT – It’s not always clear cut whether a piece of press coverage is actually positive, whereas as adverts are designed to be.
  3. ENTERTAINMENT – paying for space gives you license to use it how you want to.  That includes being funny.  This gives you the chance to entertain people as well as educate them.  PR (as a I referred to in a previous post) is often restricted to educating which can be … boring.

These, and other factors, tell you there’s a reason advertising continues to take such a large slice of the marketing budget.  But, the arrival of digital communications brings about a chance to shift the balance in favor of PR and away from advertising.  Why?  Well:

  1. PR CAN = PAID & EARNED – In a digital world PR can create and own the equivalent of paid media real estate in the form of blogs, twitter feeds, YouTube channels etc.You own it, you control it (sort of).
  2. PR CAN BE FUN – With your own platforms, you have broader license and the chance to create content that is down right entertaining.  This creates a new way for PR to engage brands and customers.
  3. PR Can be measured – technologies to measure the effectiveness and even the sentiment of earned media are now available at alarmingly low prices (free even).  This is where advertising has usually had an advantage.  Large ad budgets have supported measurement, whereas low PR budgets haven’t.
  4. PR can be found – advertising has owned SEO but thanks to digital, PR is starting to fight back.  A great product review found through a search is far more valuable than a great advert for the product….
  5. Social – social networks are made up of people, not adverts.  PR knows how to influence people…

My point here is not to say that PR is better than advertising but rather to say that each has a real role to play.  However, it’s getting harder to see where one starts and the other stops.  The middle ground is the battleground that some larger companies are already using to their advantage by getting ad agencies and PR firms to compete for their $$$.  If only there was such a thing as a truly integrated marketing services agency….

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11 Comments on “Is PR more effective than advertising?”

  1. Excellent, measured post. One client can get a good responce to ads while another doesn’t. Depends what sector you’re in and how well targeted the ads are. With online PR, of course, customers select themselves by finding your brand, usually via search.

  2. Paola Pavan says:

    Good job Tim. Of course, the thing to know is also the size of the companies. If they are small, PR can play a huge role: they have less budget to spend but with some strategic PR they can obtain a lot in term of brand visibility and also of getting information about their market. For example, creating a small event, partecipating in a fair. This is what I’m experimenting in Italy, where I work. Moreover PR is fun and, of course, as you said, it’s social: when I explain a product (on line or “live”), I get the immediate feedback and if people don’t understood, I’ll have the chance to explain it again…

  3. timdyson says:

    I feel like PR has been trying to pick a fight with advertising for years but advertising has largely ignored the small rocks PR has been throwing. It is now starting to take notice of course but the truth is both industries actually need each other to succeed. So I hope PR starts to figure out better ways to work with advertising and vice versa.

  4. Arun Sudhaman says:

    Be interesting to hear your comment on this post below, as it links into some of the themes you have discussed.

    http://streetmedia.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/the-numbers-dont-lie-do-they/

    Also Mark Pinsent wrote an excellent post on this topic here:

    http://bit.ly/d705CE

    • timdyson says:

      Just responded on your blog. I think you are right to be skeptical. PR has yet to really grasp the opportunity that is digital. If it doesn’t do it soon, it may be too late.

  5. Measuring placements is very old school and diminishes the power of public relations to influence and change the tone of conversations about a program or business. Advertising measures response to a campaign, while PR should be focused on measurement of tone, reputation and influence. Measuring inches earened fails to show how the audience reacted or changed opinion about the issue. Advertising and earned media may result in more sales, but I think the goal of PR should be to managed the company’s reputation in such a way that it encourages loyalty, trust and a guarantee of future sales.

  6. Mysoft101 says:

    I live in Canada, do we just not have iAds yet? Cause I have a crap load of apps and haven’t seen iAds in any of them.

  7. I still use both and feel they still effective for me.

  8. Tim, there is such things as a truly integrated marketing services agency … check us out at Mortar. Thanks for the article. We’re putting together some recommendations for a client fairly unfamiliar with the PR practice. She’s used to working with ad agencies only.


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