When should you use PR instead of traditional advertising?

There’s a common misconception that PR and advertising are completely interchangeable but that isn’t true:

Advertising enables one-way communication with a company’s target audiences (company to audience), whereas PR enables two-way communication.

Typically, advertising is paid media and PR is earned media (no cost to your business!).

In my previous article, Marketing lessons from 2015 to keep in 2016, I explained why PR is more effective for start-ups than advertising; however, no matter where in its evolution a company finds itself, PR is of great importance if you want to increase your brand awareness and stimulate action (i.e. close more sales!).

Here are four examples of when using public relations is more effective than advertising:

When you selling your story instead of your product
The public is accustomed to seeing ads everywhere – and distrusting the messaging that they see reflected in these ads. If your company wants your public(s) to have a positive impression of your company and/or products (and increased trust in purchasing from you), PR is a better approach. “Many consumers see an advertisement as biased and one-sided. Since a company can’t buy a news story, consumers will regard it differently than advertisements because it’s the equivalent of a third-party endorsement for the company,” said Lisa Goldsberry.

This is especially effective when a company is trying to promote a new campaign or initiative, rather than a product or service. An example of this is Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.

When are you are on a budget
Traditional marketing is usually less cost-efficient than PR, as traditional advertising mediums – such as billboards, TV commercials and radio ads – can be quite costly. If your company is hoping to convey your message without breaking the bank, public relations is a more cost-effective approach than advertising. For example, a press release only needs to be distributed to media once (if you have a strong angle) and it will be picked up in numerous publications, on- and off-line, over time. This gets your message/product ongoing attention but does not require an ongoing financial investment to ensure ongoing exposure. Not only does PR help you to cut your costs, it will also increase the ROI that is earned on your marketing spend.

When you want to create a relationship with your public(s)
If you are hoping to develop a relationship with your audience(s), PR is a much better approach. Advertising “tells” your audience your message but doesn’t start a conversation. PR is two-way communication and works to build a relationship with your audience, which makes it more appealing (and therefore more effective) to consumers. “Public relations executives excel in storytelling and, typically, present a perceived problem (i.e. childhood obesity) and their client’s unique solution (i.e. a new type of fitness equipment designed by, and for, pre-teens),” said Robert Wynne.

To maintain your reputation
Establishing and maintaining your reputation is the essence of PR. As previously mentioned, having a journalist write about your company or product establishes a sense of credibility with readers/viewers.

There are also other ways of managing reputation through public relations. During and post-crisis, audiences are not as receptive to traditional advertising. By using PR, a company can mitigate the negative effects of the crisis and rebuild their reputation.

Though many people may not be aware of the differentiation between PR and advertising, there are significant differences between the two – both in terms of best practices and ROI.

Has your company chosen to use a PR approach instead of advertising as promotion? If so, did you find it more effective?


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