PR vs. Advertising: Still the Same Competition?

Forbes just published a piece discussing, in some detail, “the real difference between PR and advertising.”

This realness in difference begins with an old saying: “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” Or, boiled down even further, advertising is paid media, public relations is earned media.

A simple maxim from a simpler time. But does it hold up today?

Author Robert Wynne believes that it does. Not only is PR still different from advertising — it’s still better.

“With advertising, you tell people how great you are. With publicity, others sing your praises. Which do you think is more effective?” asks Wynne.

The unspoken answer is supported by a 2014 Nielsen study on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process, which concluded that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising: “On average, expert content lifted familiarity 88 percent more than branded content…”

Expert sources also agree.

“The idea is the believability of an article versus an advertisement,” says Michael Levine, a well-known publicist and author of the book, Guerilla P.R.

“Implied third-party endorsement by an editor can carry more credibility among potential customers,” writes Crosby Noricks over at Independent Fashion Bloggers.

Steve Cody of Inc. magazine takes things a step further by dictating a few reasons why traditional advertising is the worst:

 “Advertising continues to embrace an antiquated, top-down, inside-out way of communicating. It reflects senior management’s view on what a consumer or business-to-business buyer should think is important. PR, on the other hand, depends upon listening to the conversation and understanding the who, what, when, where, why and how of engaging in the discussion. Public relations executives excel in storytelling and, typically, present a perceived problem and their client’s unique solution…”

The easy read of this article gives publicists multiple feathers for their caps: PR trumps advertising in credibility, price, quality, effectiveness and usefulness — both to the consumer and the journalist, who is struggling now more than ever to churn out good stories in record time for shrinking audiences and budgets.

But that’s the easy read. Advertising isn’t want it used to be, and branded content has come a long way from the advertorial. One only has to look to Netflix’s incredible paid post in the New York Times for enough oohs and ahhs to give us all pause.

PRNewsers, what do you think? Is the difference between PR and advertising growing more distinct or less?

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