The difference between PR and advertising


It’s one of the most common questions we receive, and arguably one of our favourite questions to answer - what is the difference between PR and advertising?

Over the years, we’ve heard business owners say ‘we don’t need PR right now, we are happy with our advertising agency’ way too many times, proving that there is still a strong misconception about what PR is, what we do, who we are and how we play a role in your business.

So let’s deep dive into it. Advertising is paid media; public relations is earned media. Advertising professionals buy space in traditional media outlets and various locations, whereas public relations professionals convince reporters and editors to write a positive story about your business, brand or an issue pertinent to you, which will typically result in the story appearing in the editorial section of a media outlet, such as a magazine, newspaper, TV station or website, instead of the ‘paid media’ section where advertisements and advertising messages appear.

As a business, you are buying ad space to tell people about how great your business or brand is. Whereas, with publicity, you are convincing others to sing your praises and endorse what you do, what you offer and who you are.

A recent study from Neilson shows that 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations and editorial content, and only 33% trust ads. The study also concluded that on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process, PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising.

PR can have incredible value and is about more than just earning media. PR also involves reputation management, stakeholder management, community engagement, crisis communication and more. But that’s not to say that you should only focus your spend and energy on PR alone. We’ve all heard of not ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’ and that can be incredibly relevant when it comes to marketing your business.

PR can play an integral role in the mix, but if you want to be successful in attracting consumers to your business, it’s vital you utilise as many channels as possible to ensure your target consumers are coming across your brand at least seven times before they really notice it and take action. At least seven times. Consumers are bombarded by information now more than ever, and the number of competitors competing for consumers attention is rapidly growing, which ultimately means it takes a lot more than seven times to get cut-through to your consumer.

Using a combination of disciplines including PR, advertising, sales, social media, influencer and guerrilla marketing can deliver impressive results for your business, and should be keenly considered.

We’ll leave you with one of our favourite analogies that illustrates the difference between the disciplines. If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus is coming to the Fairground Saturday’, that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion.

If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If you did all of this on purpose, that’s marketing.

If the towns citizens go to the circus, you show them the entertainment booths, explain how much fun they will have spending money at the booths, answer their questions, and ultimately, they spend a lot of money at the circus, that’s sales.

Interested in learning more about how PR can benefit your business, get in touch with us today at