A lot of times people confuse the attributes of Public Relations, to mean advertising; or mistake marketing for PR. On many occasions, I have told people that I work in PR and almost immediately, get a retort like, “Wow; you guys make big money; advertising budgets are huge”.

This made me realize that while there are differences between the two, there are a lot of similarities as well. Before we delve into the similarities and differences, let us take a look at different definitions of Public Relations and Advertising.

While Oxford Languages defines Public Relations as ”the professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person”, The Princeton Review notes that: “A Public Relations specialist is an image-shaper whose job is to generate positive publicity and enhance their clients’ reputation.”

Public Relations is well-known to be “the persuasion business” where leveraging relationships to create top of the mind awareness is key; as well as shaping the perception and narrative about your clients.

Advertising, on the other hand, is ‘the activity of attracting public attention to a product or business, as by paid announcements in the print, broadcast, or electronic media”. It can also be defined as “communication whose purpose is to influence potential customers about products and services.”
From these distinctive definitions, we can already understand the differences between PR and Advertising.

Public Relations and Advertising are similar in concept as they are both designed to raise awareness of a brand, company or individual in a positive manner. Both PR and Advertising target their message to a particular target audience which could comprise people of a certain age demographic, in a particular location, with similar interests and hobbies.

The major difference between PR and Advertising is the “Cost” factor; Public Relations is unpaid, while Advertising is paid. Earned vs Purchased, Public Relations tastes great, advertising is less filling. There’s an old saying: “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.”
Public Relations is a mix of the proactive and reactive; either when it’s promoting a narrative or is reacting to a scandal or a contrary view.

Generally, Advertising is usually proactive. Where Public Relations earns trust with exposure as a bonus, Advertising earns you strictly exposure. With Advertising, the audience is sceptical; but with Public Relations, the media gives extra validation. Advertising guarantees content placement, while Public Relations must persuade the media of newsworthiness before placement can take place.

In the midst of this, however, one thing is certain: both Advertising and Public Relations are two sides of the same coin; really like the ying-yang factor, but when deployed strategically, are of immense benefit to brands.

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