Public Relations vs. Advertising

In today’s fast paced world, where a lot of things are fighting for our attention, many brands and organizations have been forced to device strategies  to get their goods, services and information to a myriad of consumers and this often seems to be a dauting task. 

Many organizations, in this regard, therefore would then fall on either Advertising or Public Relations. Public Relations and Advertising are often confused to be the same but are very different concepts. In my view, I would say, they complement each other. 

Public Relations, by dictionary definition, is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and the public. It is great for reaching out to one’s audience, promoting brands and building reputation and credibility in the minds of the public. 

Advertising, on the other hand, is a means of communication with the users of a product or service. Advertisements are messages paid for by those who send them and are intended to inform or influence people who receive them. 

In a nutshell, Advertising and Public Relations are strategies to promote clients and make them seem as successful, honest, important, exciting or relevant as possible. They are both used to influence public perception. 

How do the two then complement each other? In order to persuade, influence and encourage the public to buy into or buy an idea, item or service through different types of media including online, print, TV, out-of-home and radio, advertising would be the best approach.

What makes Public Relations and Advertising distinct from each other?


Public Relations strategies are a sure way of building credibility of a brand. This is done through the provision of adequate information that aims at shaping public opinion for subsequent publishing by a media house. Credibility can only be built once the organization provides all the necessary information to their PR agency or PR practitioner. In addition, an article written by the media will most likely be presented in an unbiased manner and contain the journalist’s third-party endorsement, unlike advertising. The attempt to build credibility and influence public opinion through advertising sometimes is difficult since many consumers are of the view that  advertisements are paid for and cannot be altered to suit the publishers interest. 

Message Control

Advertisers more often than not have a say as to where and sometimes when their adverts are to be published. Unfortunately, sometimes, the same is not too easy for public relations practitioners. Media houses may choose to alter the write up from a PR agency/practitioner or even not publish it at all. To salvage such situations, PR agencies often provide media training to their clients so they can make maximum use of opportunities given to them by the media to put their messages out there.

Duration of coverage

Advertising is a tool for keeping a client/product in the news for as long as one’s budget can support. Nevertheless, PR practitioners can syndicate a story to journalists for publication. This is a great way of reaching out to an organization’s target audience via a variety of media, while reinforcing the message. However, the multiple publication of a press release by the same media house is highly unlikely hence the reason why many PR practitioners often pitch to sustain the stories syndicated with a variety of angles. 

To effectively reach out to an organization’s target audience, the PR practitioner uses various means to ensure that their client is well placed in the public eye. Some of these PR tactics include:

a)    Writing and syndication of  press releases, news stories, articles and features to tell the story of the brand or client being represented. 

b)   Speech writing for various occasions to ensure that the client tells their story.

c)    Creation and execution of special events and campaigns.

d)   Employing proper crisis public relations strategies in case of any crisis issues that the client faces. 

e)    Encompassing Digital PR to complement traditional PR strategies. 

Public Relations is necessary to build credibility, tell one’s story, drive awareness and promote brand values in a cost effective manner. Nonetheless, the ability of advertising to promote products, services and ideas and to help achieve business goals cannot be downplayed. 

Communication Experts therefore have to be able to get the balance of using both techniques to complement the efforts of the other as opposed to choosing to focus on one or the other. 

Share your thoughts with me.

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