10 Ways Advertising Is Different From Public Relations

PR Is Not Advertising, and Vice Versa. These Are the Key Differences.

Times Square Billboards. Getty Images

If you're searching for a career or trying to promote your company, you may have questions about advertising vs. public relations. These two industries are very different even though they're commonly confused as being one and the same.

The following 10 properties just scratch the surface of the many differences between advertising and public relations, but give you a good foundation to the two different disciplines.

1. Paid Space or Free Coverage

  • Advertising:
    The company pays for ad space. You know exactly when that ad will air or be published.
  • Public Relations:
    Your job is to get free publicity for the company. From news conferences to press releases, you're focused on getting free media exposure for the company and its products/services.

2. Creative Control Vs. No Control

  • Advertising:
    Since you're paying for the space, you have creative control over what goes into that ad.
  • Public Relations:
    You have no control over how the media presents your information if they decide to use your info at all. They're not obligated to cover your event or publish your press release just because you sent something to them.

3. Shelf Life

  • Advertising:
    Since you pay for the space, you can run your ads over and over for as long as your budget allows. An ad generally has a longer shelf life than one press release.
  • Public Relations:
    You only submit a press release about a new product once. You only submit a press release about a news conference once. The PR exposure you receive is only circulated once. An editor won't publish your same press release three or four times in their magazine.

    4. Wise Consumers

    • Advertising:
      Consumers know when they're reading an advertisement they're trying to be sold a product or service.  "The consumer understands that we have paid to present our selling message to him or her, and unfortunately, the consumer often views our selling message very guardedly," Paul Flowers, president of Dallas-based Flowers & Partners, Inc., said. "After all, they know we are trying to sell them."
    • Public Relations:
      When someone reads a third-party article written about your product or views coverage of your event on TV, they're seeing something you didn't pay for with ad dollars and view it differently than they do paid advertising.

      "Where we can generate some sort of third-party 'endorsement' by independent media sources, we can create great credibility for our clients' products or services," Flowers said.

    5. Creativity or a Nose for News

    • Advertising:
      In advertising, you get to exercise your creativity in creating new ad campaigns and materials.
    • Public Relations:
      In public relations, you have to have a nose for news and be able to generate buzz through that news. You exercise your creativity, to an extent, in the way you search for new news to release to the media.

    6. In-House or Out on the Town

    • Advertising:
      If you're working at an ad agency, your main contacts are your co-workers and the agency's clients. If you buy and plan ad space on behalf of the client like Media Director Barry Lowenthal does, then you'll also interact with media sales people.
    • Public Relations:
      You interact with the media and develop a relationship with them. Your contact is not limited to in-house communications. You're in constant touch with your contacts at the print publications and broadcast media.

      7. Target Audience or Hooked Editor

      • Advertising:
        You're looking for your target audience and advertising accordingly. You wouldn't advertise a women's TV network in a male-oriented sports magazine.
      • Public Relations:
        You must have an angle and hook editors to get them to use info for an article, to run a press release or to cover your event.

      8. Limited or Unlimited Contact

      • Advertising:
        Some industry pros such as Account Executive Trey Sullivan have contact with the clients. Others like copywriters or graphic designers in the agency may not meet with the client at all.
      • Public Relations:
        In public relations, you are very visible to the media. PR pros aren't always called on for the good news.

        If there was an accident at your company, you may have to give a statement or on-camera interview to journalists. You may represent your company as a spokesperson at an event. Or you may work within community relations to show your company is actively involved in good work and is committed to the city and its citizens.

        9. Special Events

        • Advertising:
          If your company sponsors an event, you wouldn't want to take out an ad giving yourself a pat on the back for being such a great company. This is where your PR department steps in.
        • Public Relations:
          If you're sponsoring an event, you can send out a press release and the media might pick it up. They may publish the information or cover the event.

        10. Writing Style

        • Advertising:
          Buy this product! Act now! Call today! These are all things you can say in an advertisement. You want to use those buzz words to motivate people to buy your product.
        • Public Relations:
          You're strictly writing in a no-nonsense news format. Any blatant commercial messages in your communications are disregarded by the media.