MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions

August 23, 2012

McNeely Pigott & Fox is celebrating 25 years in business during 2012, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by answering the 25 questions we are most often asked about our business.

Question 11: What is the difference between advertising and public relations?

By Dan Schlacter

“You pay for advertising. You don’t pay for public relations.”

That’s not true, but that is the answer often given to anyone looking for a distinction between advertising and public relations. (Before I go further, I’d like to acknowledge that there are entire books dedicated to advertising and PR. So, for today, I’m going to focus on some differences between the two as they relate to media.)

One key difference comes down to two of the many different ways McNeely Pigott & Fox helps clients get messages out to various audiences:

  1. Paid media
  2. Earned media

Paid media is coverage received strictly because of monetary exchange, and often seeks to increase recognition. Traditional examples are advertisements and sponsorships.

Nashville Electric Service advertisement

This is an ad we created for Nashville Electric Service (NES) to raise awareness of its presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Earned media is coverage received due to perceived relevance, and often seeks to increase credibility. Traditional examples are television coverage resulting from a media advisory and articles in a newspaper.

This distinction between “paid” and “earned” can be confusing because companies can now purchase air time on news programs in addition to purchasing ads. And, many companies pay people (communications directors, PR agencies, etc.) to draft news releases, place guest editorials and manage all manner of earned media efforts.

So maybe a better angle to discuss is public perception. Seeing an ad for something – whether a product, service or issue – sends a different message to consumers than does a feature news story on that same topic.

Everyone knows that people with the money to do so can place an ad and say just about anything they want. Everyone also knows that there is a bigger challenge involved when trying to get a member of the media to devote time and attention to something.

As mentioned above, it gets down to recognition and credibility.

Both the paid and earned media approaches have pros and cons and neither is definitively right or wrong. It all comes down to what you are trying to promote and your communication goals.

Paid media is often a good match for branding efforts and announcements: brand recognition, services provided, contact information … just about anything the consumer would expect to hear directly from the company.

Earned media is well-suited for persuasive content: issues-based and awareness campaigns, grassroots efforts, and of course, political campaigns.

At MP&F, what we offer is the ability to use paid media, earned media and all of the other communication tools available to help you achieve your messaging goals.

So … what’s the difference between advertising and PR? It all depends on you.

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3 Responses to “MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions”

  1. Jane Frost Says:

    In a nut shell, well said. I have always defined it this way; advertising costs, but you have total control of the media content; interviews and other news worthy efforts are free of cost, but you lose all control of the media content. Again, as you state it is all up to the client.


  2. You make a great point, Jane. Control is another key difference between the two. One of the challenges of this post was to focus on just a couple examples, so I’m glad you’ve brought another to folks’ attention.


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