“What?” “HR?” “So you’re in advertising?” are the common responses. Many people have a fairly clear idea of what advertising is, but tend to throw PR into the same bucket.

Allow me to clarify some of the most common misconceptions:

  1. PR and Advertising are the same

    No, they are not. At all. They can certainly be used as tools by marketers, and are seen as ‘cousins’ within the industry, but the skill sets of the people who work in these fields are decidedly different.

    Advertising was termed ‘above-the-line’ and has now morphed into paid/owned media, while PR is what was coined ‘below-the-line’ and is known as earned media. As this implies, advertising tends to be largely creatively based campaigns, where the message is tightly controlled by the marketer and are placed in media via paid means.

    PR, on the other hand, is more about story telling that organically weaves in the brand’s key messages and hooks in audiences via the media, generally without a spend behind it.

  2. PR is fluffy, while advertising is better respected

    Some of the highest paid government staff globally are Communications Directors. They are integral to the success of the ministers and establishment they support.

    This is no different in the commercial world. Crafting the right message for an individual or brand and achieving cut through is some of the most powerful and strategic work you can do. This is because earned media (via a third and largely independent voice) influences perception and ultimately actions taken by the public.

  3. PR and advertising should be valued identically

    Many believe that promotion of a brand is just that, promotion. Whether it’s advertising, PR, etc, it’s all the same. However, it differs significantly. Consumers have become more and more savvy to the hundreds of advertising messages they are bombarded with daily. As such, they have developed filters and a level of cynicism, which has significantly watered down the potency of most paid campaigns.

    With the digital revolution that has consumed us over the last number of years, audiences have also become fragmented. Younger generations are chiefly influenced by their own peers.

    PR has always connected with audiences via a third party — independent media endorsement — and is now able to achieve this even further through engagement with bloggers, vloggers and Instagram influencers, who can be even more important when connecting with a youth demographic, for example.

    With changing consumer tastes and influences, the cut through via independent sources has made PR even more valuable than ever before.

  4. PR and advertising speak the same language

    It’s really interesting working with clients who have not been exposed to PR in the past. We generally have to work through the campaign as well as an educational piece on what PR can achieve and say versus what advertising can achieve and say.

    In adland, you fully control the message and you can say things like ‘call us today’, ‘two for one at the same price if you order online by 5pm on Sunday’.

    In PR, it’s about being able to organically talk about qualities/values and make subtle calls to action (which may or may not be picked up). While extremely powerful, as the client is not paying for it PR can have limitations. You can never quite control the end outcome. That’s where relationships are everything.

    But even the best relationships cannot overcome strict commercial guidelines in place editorially, so client’s expectations of what PR can do must be managed from the outset.

  5. You can run an ad campaign in the same way you can run a PR campaign

    Because a client pays for an advertising campaign creative and placement, they can essentially run it for as long as their budget allows (before audience fatigue kicks in of course).

    However, for a PR campaign to run for the same amount of time, the public relations practitioner needs to be extremely creative and strategic around how to hook media and audiences in different ways, while essentially delivering the same message.

    This is truer than ever today. With digital media cycles, exclusives offered to more traditional media outlets such as TV/radio and print, are king. However, if you have promised an exclusive, once it runs, it’s unlikely to get picked up by other top tier media again.

Therefore, the need for PR to be highly creative is a skill that has become exceptionally vital.

Ultimately, while advertising and PR are there to achieve awareness, sales and traction for a brand, the disciplines are unique. It pays for C-Suite executives to understand how to leverage them to their advantage at the right times.