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Public Relations: The Latest False Dichotomy: PR vs. Advertising

People love to set up dichotomies and the latest one circulating around the web is that age old duel: Advertising vs. PR. It sort of reminds me of the war between the sexes. Sure there are certain things men can do better than women and vice versa but in the end there are a lot of similarities along with the obvious differences.

People love to set up dichotomies and the latest one circulating around the web is that age old duel: Advertising vs. PR. It sort of reminds me of the war between the sexes. Sure there are certain things men can do better than women and vice versa but in the end there are a lot of similarities along with the obvious differences. And, over the years, as women have gained more equality and taken on roles traditionally handled by men, the differences have become more muted. 

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The she same erosion of differences between PR and Advertising has been subtly occurring as PR assumes more advertising roles with the advent of the Internet. Like the proverbial woman behind the man’s success, however, PR’s role is not always obvious, and it’s still often seen in its pre-Internet days as simply a media-feeder. 

There is no reason, however, that that has to be the case. With the web enabling anyone with an Internet connection to become a publisher, public relations doesn’t have to depend on the media to tell a client’s story. Instead, it can act as both publisher and promoter. A perfect example is PR man extraordinaire David Meerman Scott, who by authoring books and skillfully promoting them, has turned himself into a brand name and high-priced speaker and consultant. Similarly, individuals with the worldwide megaphone of the Internet and shrewd personal branding can at any age turn themselves into successful brands and businesses. I’ve written before about the successes of some millennial Internet whizzes like Dan Schwabel and Shama Hyder.  

Companies today like Jet Blue and Zappos can amass over a half million Twitter followers while brands like Adidas and Nike can have millions of Facebook fans and engage directly with customers and prospects. Viral marketing campaigns like the Blendtec’s “will it blend” campaign have amassed far more attention at lower cost than paid advertisements. This is not to say that advertising is going away. It’s just that both professions are evolving as more and more advertising and media move online.

As Chris Fiorentz commented on my last blog post, “If anything public relations continues to evolve and integrate with other disciplines such as marketing, to the point where PR and marcom are almost used interchangeably.”

The New York Times recently wrote about the evolution of traditional advertising into what it calls “free advertising,” with the growth of the Internet. This is especially interesting since its definition of “free advertising” is everything public relations does.

Here is how the Times defined “free advertising.”

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“It can take many forms: Getting a journalist or blogger to review a new mobile phone, placing a video on YouTube, spreading the word via bloggers, and starting a Facebook group dedicated to a brand or product.”

In my book all of that “free advertising” can easily be subsumed under PR. In fact, it’s what we do everyday for our clients.

Consider too what Jennifer McClure, executive director of the Society for New Communications Research, has noted, “Over the last 20 years, PR has been primarily about media relations. As an industry, we’ve forgotten that PR doesn’t stand for ‘press release.’ It means public relations. That means assessing, establishing and counseling companies on how to have good relationships with constituencies.”    

Here is some great advice from MClure on doing just that: 

– Learn to use new communications tools (social media) effectively

– Expand the number of communicators in your organizations and empower colleagues across all disciplines to have a voice by teaching them how to use these communications tools

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– Give up stringent control of the message and sole control of your  relationships with media and instead allow for relationships to develop organically and dynamically and robustly with all our audiences and across all levels of the organization

– Fundamentally change the image of PR and re-educate your organizations, clients and our own industry about what the true role of PR is and always has been – that of relationship-building.

Wendy Marx, PR and Personal Branding Specialist, Marx Communications

 

Technorati tags:  Public Relations, PR, Personal Branding, advertising, online advertising

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About the author

Wendy Marx is President of Marx Communications, an award-winning boutique B2B Public Relations agency known for turning companies and executives, including start-ups, into thought leaders. Follow her on Twitter @wendymarx and on Google+ @ plus.google.com/+wendymarx.

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