How PR is Different than Advertising


“If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is – that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is – that’s PR.” – S. H. Simmons

If understanding the fine line of difference between public relations (PR) and advertising leaves you perplexed, you wouldn’t be alone in your predicament. Truth be told, the two are often perceived as one and the same, and even used interchangeably, especially because the thin line of distinction keeps blurring further.

There are, however, several distinguishing factors between PR and advertising. There are also quite a few misconceptions about PR, which lead people to believe that it is the same as advertising. Understanding the difference between the two begins with busting the misapprehensions.

Mentioned ahead are a few common fallacies.

Difference between PR and Advertising

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PR is the Same as Advertising

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Although they emerge from similar territory, PR and advertising are unequivocally dissimilar. Advertising is a more of a unilateral interaction between the advertiser and the willing customer. Public relations, on the other hand, involves two-way communication with numerous opportunities of interaction between both parties.

As Dr. Catherine Sweet, a PR and communication practitioner in the UK puts it, “PR’s value lies in the fact that no business is possible, no revenues can be earned, no reputation established, no shareholder value returned, if there isn’t effective two-way communication.”

PR is the Same as Public Affairs

The nomenclatures may be a tad alike, but PR functions differ from those related to public affairs. The latter has bearings in legislative and regulatory authorities, whereas the former is more about generating public interest in an organization’s events, products and services.

Professionals dealing with public affairs convey issues directly to the public, as their opinion is crucial to the development of policies. PR professionals forge relationships with the media and other influential parties who can help deliver newsworthy public affairs story.

This, however, does not mean the getting and delivering news is the mainstay of PR. Getting people to write about your organization, and actually creating a market for it are two different things. Thanks to the emergence and the influence of social media in the modern times, PR professionals can now do both.

PR is the Same as Marketing

“If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget I’d spend it on PR!” – Bill Gates

The above statement speaks volumes of how PR precedes marketing and is critical to the success of the marketing plan. The role of PR is to create awareness and interest, after which marketing plays its part by converting customers and keeping them coming back.

As per Anne Sorenson, founder and director of strategy marketing specialist firm, Marketing is Us, “Actively leveraging PR, particularly publicity, to communicate these newsworthy stories, can be a powerful, cost effective promotional activity in a strategic and integrated marketing mix.”

PR is Just about Writing Press Releases

“Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”  – Richard Branson

When companies want to make important announcements, they almost always resort to publishing press releases. While news releases continue to serve as a valuable tool, PR has evolved over time to encompass other formats and channels to release a story. In fact, several companies have started using various forms of owned and social media
to get the word out.

Media has also enabled PR professionals to place their stories directly into mainstream news, providing them with opportunities to generate more interesting, yet balanced content about the companies they serve.

A study from 2014 by Nielsen commissioned by inPowered on the role of content in the consumer decision- making process concluded that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising.

Despite this, several businesses continue to believe that PR and advertising do the same thing and if they do advertising, they don’t need PR and vice versa. However, both are pivotal in helping you reach your target market and achieve your business objectives.

Advertising refers to creating paid announcements to be promoted through media such as online, print, digital, out-of-home, radio, and so on. PR is all about striking a chord with your audience and promoting important messages with the help of third parties. PR is more effective probably because consumers are more likely to believe and remember something if they read about it in an informative article, rather than coming across it in
paid advertisements.

Still having trouble differentiating between PR and advertising? Read on to get more clarity.

More Reasons Why PR is Different than Advertising

Paid versus Free

  • In advertising, you pay for an advertisement to be placed in the media.
    In PR, you create strategies that will aid you in getting publicity in the media.
  • PR practitioners work towards getting positive media attention for a brand, which helps in increasing awareness for it among its target audience.

Coverage Interval

  • In advertising, you can pay for an advertisement to be showcased in the media only as long as your budget permits.
  • In PR, you have the benefit of sending your story or idea to several journalists who will publish it in as many mediums as possible. This will expose your story to your target audiences in varied forms, which may work well in reinforcing your message.

Establishing Credibility

  • In advertising, your target audience understands that your advertisement has been bought by a company trying to sell them something they may or may not need. Because of this, advertisements tend to carry less credibility.
  • In PR, content is presented in an unbiased manner and contains the journalist’s third-party endorsement. PR practitioners provide information and stories related to a brand to journalists, who write articles about it, if they want to. This means your target audience will attach more credibility to the brand because it is not obvious sales. PR, therefore, can be extremely helpful in shaping public opinion.

Reaching Target Audience

  • In advertising, you pay for an advertisement to be placed only in the kind of media your target audience uses the most. This could become very specific and narrow down your choices, for example, men’s/women’s magazines, day-time television or drive-time radio.
  • In PR, you can communicate your message to your target audience through a range of channels, including the one they are most likely to use. The channel, for instance, can be an article, a newsletter, an email, a blog post, a social media post, and so on. This makes PR more effective in broadening your choices, having a better reach, and conveying your message to more people.

Staying Power

  • Paying for the space makes it possible for advertising agencies to run their ads several times or until the budget permits. This is the reason why an advertisement stays around for much longer than a press release. However, this content can start to feel stale after a while.
  • A PR agency submits a press release about a new offering, event or a new conference only once. Hence, the exposure received is limited. However, the opportunity to create and work with fresh content is higher in a PR agency. What more could creative folk ask for!

Scope for Creativity

  • In advertising, you can create new advertising campaigns and related material.
  • In public relations, you not only need to be creative, but also keep your eyes peeled and ears open for news and create tremendous buzz through that news. There is immense potential to showcase your creativity here. Plus, it also takes ingenuity to sniff out fresh news content to release to the media.

Scope for Interaction

  • Those working with an advertising agency typically tend to interact only with their co-workers and agency clients.
  • If your agency purchases and plans advertisement spaces on behalf of clients, you may get a chance to interact with media sales people as well.
  • Those working with PR firms tend to interact a great deal with the media and develop healthy working relationships with them. Apart from internal communication, PR practitioners keep in touch with their contacts at print publications and broadcast media.

Word Play

  • Call-to-action words and phrases such as “Buy now!”, “Call today!” and “Rush now!” are widely used in advertisements. Advertisements make use of buzz words to motivate people to buy their client’s product.
  • A press release is a formal, plain-speaking document or news format. The idea is to provide the masses with content that is informative (rather than evidently promotional), gain their trust, and inspire them to buy the client’s product.


Both, public relations and advertising are important in their own right. Earning customer’s trust is crucial to making sales, which is why making PR an integral part of your marketing strategy is an absolute must. The above information should help you understand what PR is and isn’t, which in turn should give you a good idea of why you should take it seriously.

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