Public Relations vs. Advertising – The five key differences

Businesses often need support from public relations and advertising to achieve organisational and marketing goals. Going by a basic explanation, these are essential communication tools that help bridge the gap between company offering and consumer needs. Marketing and communication practitioners in Pakistan, and perhaps around the world as well, often rely on advertising to drive their company and brand image. However, this traditional approach to communications planning has been steadily shifting over the years in favour of public relations. Industry experts are beginning to realize the essential role of PR-led communications in managing their brand image and corporate reputation.

While public relations and advertising need to work closely with each other and support each other, there are certain instances where it is best to use one over another. The following outlines five key factors that determine which route will best serve the communication need:

  1. Campaign purpose: Public relations can effectively earn consumer trust by building a positive reputation for the company. The goals and objectives of a successful PR campaign are driven by the fact that consumers place their trust in companies and brands they know well and most admire. However, advertisements are published for the sake of promoting a specific product or a tactical offer with the purpose of generating sales, and for building recall. Advertising objectives are more focused on promoting a product or a service with the intention of influencing a consumer’s purchase decision, rather than building a reputation or building trust.
  2. Communications strategy: PR professionals look at the bigger picture while planning strategic communications. They work on delivering factual and meaningful messages to convert their target audience into loyal believers.  However, advertising professionals pursue short-term communication goals that are geared towards specific buying seasons, or promoting special deals and offers to boost sales.
  3. Credibility: This is a big differentiator between public relations and advertising. Consumers are well aware that all advertisements are paid for by companies that are promoting their products or services on mainstream media. Because of this fact, such advertisements are always seen as promoting positive attributes to the consumer instead of painting the real picture and leaving it up to the consumer to evaluate and decide. This is why many consumers ignore such advertisements and rely on their personal research and word of mouth before taking buying decisions. On the other hand, public relations tend to promote real facts and information to shape public opinion. Such messaging is also communicated through trusted third-party influencers or media reporters, which stands more credible in the eyes of the consumer.
  4. Stakeholder targeting: While advertisers are mostly targeting primary consumers for tactical messaging, PR professionals cast a wider net to lure in their target audiences. This includes internal stakeholders such as employees and business partners, as well as, external stakeholders including public influencers, policymakers, and Government officials, who are engaged for the purpose of endorsing or amplifying the key messages.
  5. Control: Advertisers have perfect control over the content of their advertisements. They decide how the advertisement will look like, what it will communicate, and the required tone of voice. They also tend to decide how much exposure their advertisement should receive and when they can remove it from public attention. Comparatively, public relations practitioners have limited control over content implementation. They often work in collaboration with media editors and reporters whose input cannot be ignored while preparing communication drafts.

In conclusion, the right mix of public relations and advertising activities is crucial to achieving the company’s bottom line. One should never be completely replaced with the other under any circumstances. We are living in a complex world where the consumer is constantly being bombarded with new information and updates all the time. It has become significantly important to break through this clutter and maintain top-of-mind awareness through unique communication angles that carry a strong technical and emotional appeal for human intelligence.

About Author

An experienced management and communications professional with more than 15 years of exceptional track record in driving business growth through strategic operations planning and implementation, Zeeshan heads our Lahore office.With a Master’s degree in Business Studies and a specialisation in marketing, Zeeshan has a diverse skill set with key strengths in strategic leadership, key accounts management and development and implementation of PR & communications strategy.Zeeshan likes to explore good movies, Netflix serials and loves to read about human psychology and what drives our instincts and influences.

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