PR and advertising are the two most popular ways for a company to communicate with their audience and potential customers. What is the better of the two and what makes them so different?
The first difference we will look at is the investment needed for either of them. There are billions of dollars spend annually by companies on advertising. Not only that, but reports show that there is a constant growth in money spend on different tools of mass advertising, such as TV/radio commercials, magazines, newspapers and of course digital advertisement (McKensey Global Media Report 2015).
Public relations on the other hand, comes often for free or if not, for a much lesser price. Look at it this way, advertising is outbound, the company is the one that wants to show you their product or service and in order to do that they need to spend some money, a lot of money. Basically it works like this – the more money you spend on advertising, the more people will see it and more will therefore buy. Unfortunately for the companies there is no tool that could measure the ROI in advertising.
PR on the other hand is inbound. In other words, through different kinds of media you – the customer is becoming aware of the company or their product or service and you are becoming interested in what they have to offer to you. In this case you – the customer is becoming the one searching for the company and are more reluctant to purchase whatever they were offering to you.
Through PR, the customer does not feel the pressure that an advertisement would create, or the fakeness if you wish. The customer is more likely to believe that a product is worth buying if some other than the company offering it to you says it is.
For example, think of an advertisement in a magazine. A whole page with a big beautiful picture of Daniel Craig, wearing the latest watch from Omega. What are the chances of you just glancing at it rushing to get to the next page and read the articles you bought the magazine for? I would say pretty big.
So, you finally got to the first article and it is about an adventure the writer had. He or she went to climb a mountain or was diving deep in the see or exploring the Amazon forest. He/she takes you through that amazing experience and you get lost in the words imagining you are also there. In the middle of the article the author pauses and tells you in a few sentences about the watch he/she was using during that adventure, telling you how reliable it was and that thanks to its features the watch made his/hers trip much easier and it was such a helpful tool to have.
Now, probably after reading that article, you will not go ahead and start looking for tickets and expeditions to Kilimanjaro or at least you will not finalise the purchase, because let’s face it, it’s too expensive for a week trip to a place where you will be very cold, where it is very hard to breath and no shower.
What you will probably do though is, maybe buy some hiking shoes, a waterproof jacket, a tent or the watch he/she was wearing. Why would you do that? Well it is probably the closest you will get to trying and be the author of that article and you trust that the gear used by the writer is quality.
The product was communicated to you by a third, trustworthy party and in a way that it makes you want to buy it. In conclusion PR is much more effective way of communications tool than an advertisement will ever be.
The next question is then:
‘If PR is much cheaper and much more effective, then why the hell would anyone spend hundreds of thousands on advertising their product?’
The simplest answer here is, quantity. An advertisement will reach much more people than a PR campaign. It is still believed that this is the best way of communicating a product to the masses.
Let’s go back to our example from the magazine.
Think of the last time you bought a magazine and you read it from head to toes. Every single article. If you are like me and I believe in this case you probably are, that have probably never happened. You only read the things you are interested in. You read the articles with the titles that grabs your attention and suits your interests. But how many of us were leafing through the magazine when we first bought it. I think I am safe to assume, all of us. So in this case while going quickly through the pages, the chances of seeing the face of James Bond and the latest Omega are huge. And unless you are some sort of superhuman who can read with the speed of light (if you read this and you are working for Marvel or DC, please contact me for the creation of Speed Read Man), there is no chance you would have found out about the watch from the article.
So who wins the battle between PR and mass advertising, or which method of communication should you choose to reach your customer. Unfortunately, there is no one winner here. A combination of both is the best practice that will get you to communicate your product or service.
Advertising is for your broad audience and PR is for your targeted audience. Choose wisely where, what and to whom you need to communicate.