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What's The Difference Between Advertising & Public Relations?

Curious what’s the difference between advertising and public relations?

Here are some simple definitions to help you begin:

Advertising is a form of communication that promotes a product, service, or need through persuasive messaging.

Public Relations (PR) focuses on forming and maintaining good relations with a company and the public through strategic communication.

Identifying The Difference Between Advertising & Public Relations

As these two fields are similar, it can be quite puzzling to pinpoint the contrast between these two services. To be completely honest with you, I used to mess up the difference between advertising and public relations too.

However, Key Difference settled the confusion with just four words: ‘advertising pays, public relations persuade’. Simple, right?

Not quite there yet? Fret not.

Let’s clear this confusion once and for all.

Media Coverage

Advertising companies pay for ad space or airtime on various media to publish an advertisement.

Remember those advertisements you see on TikTok, Instagram, Google and even websites? These are considered the ‘hot spots’ for advertisers as they are some of the most frequently used platforms by consumers.

On the other hand, the role of a public relations agency is to get free publicity for the company. This includes specific duties – news conferences, press releases, crisis management, editing speeches, and more – to get free media exposure for the company, its products, and services.

Extent Of Creative Control

Since advertising companies pay for the ad space, they usually have full control over the ad. This means they can decide how an advertisement should look or sound. Advertising companies usually have in-house graphic designers and content writers who can whip up amazing visuals and killer taglines for the ads.

Creative control shows the difference between advertising and public relations. 

Full control or not, both advertising and PR still require a certain level of creativity in their works.
(Image source: Unsplash)

Public relations focus more on brand cultivation and creating a good image in the eyes of the public. Furthermore, PR can only pitch a concept or story – they have no control over how the media would present the idea, or if they would even use the idea at all.

Limited vs Unlimited ‘Shelf Life’

Another way to tell the difference between advertising and public relations is their ‘shelf life’.

Yes, services expire too – but not in the way food does!

Trends come and go super fast nowadays. When a new product is introduced to the public, what a public relations agency typically does is to organize a product launch or a conference before sending out their press releases to the respective media to be covered. And they can only be circulated once.

Advertising companies, however, can run their ads for as long as their budget allows.

Why? Simply because they pay for their ad space and airtime. They can literally run on forever if they have sufficient budget!

Freedom To Present Creativity

Advertising agencies have the freedom to express their creativity in ad campaigns.

If you haven’t watched Burger King’s Whopper burger video advertisement, do it now.

The 45-second video is the brainchild of the fast-food chain’s agency partners, INGO and David Miami and Publicis. It featured the transformation of a freshly made burger over an entire month. The ingredients – shown in great detail – grew moldy from top to bottom, and ended with the tagline, “The Beauty of No Artificial Preservatives”.

It’s gross, I know. But they made their point!

In public relations, you can’t just create a story out of the blue to promote a product. You must be able to generate buzz from the news or story that you’re writing for a product, while exercising your creativity to convince the news media to publish your work!

Targeting Audience vs Convincing Editors

You must identify your target audience and advertise accordingly when it comes to advertising.

Knowing the target audience helps advertisers to effectively advertise a product.
(Image source: Unsplash

Some of the best ways to do so are to understand the benefits of the product, collect your target audience’s demographic data, send out customer surveys, and research competitors and trends. You wouldn’t advertise auto parts on a fashion and beauty website!

You’ll be convincing the editor or news director to cover your event or publish your article when it comes to public relations. Your ideas must be laid out properly with newsworthy, relevant, and current ideas that fit existing trends. It may sound pretty challenging, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite an interesting part of the job!

Getting Into The Minds Of Consumers

Credibility plays a huge role in determining a customer’s buying decision.
(Image source: Unsplash)

In advertising, consumers know when you’re trying to sell them something.  

This in turn will make advertisements appear to have less credibility than the press releases and event coverage done by a PR agency. 

In public relations, when consumers read a product article or watch its coverage event on TV, they view it as something credible and unbiased. Instead of just blatantly selling them something, it feels more like a journey towards discovering the product through articles and press releases. 

Writing Style

Buy Now! Limited Time Only! Call Us Today! 

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of these advertising mantras around. 

They are called CTA, or Call-To-Action, an instruction used by advertisers to convince you to purchase a product or subscribe to a service. 

Over the years, advertisers have created witty, funny, and even ironic CTAs just to make you hit the purchase button. They may sound fantastical (The Magic Begins), and some may feel irresistible (Launch. DO NOT PRESS). Either way, when you click the button, that means their mojo worked! 

A witty phrase can ignite curiosity in customers.
(Image source: Unsplash)

However, that is not the case in public relations. Your press releases and conference speeches must be professionally written in a no-nonsense format. You want to maintain your client’s reputation, not ruin it! 

There you have it! I hope this clears up any confusion regarding the difference between advertising and public relations! 

If you’re planning to major in Advertising or Public Relations, Eduloco can help! Just send a message to [email protected] and you’ll hear from us soon! 

Before you go, check out these articles by Eduloco! 

Jocelyn Cheng

Jocelyn Cheng

Jocelyn Cheng (JC) is an INFP writer seeking to spread inspiration and spark connections through her words. Her dedication to writing has gifted her with an ability to write for multiple platforms (e.g., website, social media, newspaper, magazine, etc) in different fields, namely Education, Travel, and Lifestyle. JC personalizes her works by adding a touch of her own experience into the mix whenever she can to relate to her readers. A self-proclaimed poet and currently a freelance writer, she's working on an untitled poetry book at home while juggling between writing for Eduloco, dancing, and keeping her only plant alive.

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