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….