PR or advertising – which works better?

In order to build trust with customers, it’s important for businesses to communicate clearly with their target audience, which can be done through PR, advertising or a combination. Matthew Long discusses the options.

THERE are a range of platforms and techniques available to the modern marketer, whether it’s social media campaigns or traditional press releases, but everything falls into the category of PR or advertising.

The principal difference between the two approaches is usually summed up in the phrase ‘PR is earned media and advertising is paid media’. For some businesses, the chosen approach will be a combination of PR and advertising, but others may find themselves having to choose one or the other, driven perhaps by budgetary constraints.

Who’s your target?
Get to know your target audience as well as you possibly can, placing emphasis on their attitude toward a range of marketing techniques.

What kind of media do they enjoy consuming and what is it that they are looking for in a brand or business? For example, B2B clients might seek to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge of a specific industry via thought leadership pieces, articles and white papers.

It should also be remembered a specific advert placed within a particular magazine or newspaper is only going to reach a restricted readership, rather than the broader impact offered by a PR campaign targeting a range of publications with a constantly tweaked and evolving message.

According to research published in Forbes, a massive 84% of millennials say they simply don’t trust traditional advertising, while another study showed 89% of millennials trust recommendations from friends and family rather than claims made directly by a brand.

Great word of mouth developed through a combination of delivery and PR is clearly the way to reach this particular target market, although it’ll only happen if the story being told is compelling enough, and the PR content is honed and focused.

What are your objectives?
One key advantage of PR over advertising is that it enables a business to take a strategic approach to building a relationship with customers, and work over the long term to establish general brand awareness and a reputation for expertise and excellence.

A steady stream of articles published in a range of publications will help create a virtuous circle, one within which it’s easier to get the next article published because of the foundation laid by previous articles, and each subsequent article only enhances the reputation further.

A slow and steady PR approach of this kind is ideal for any business seeking to position itself as one of the ‘go to’ voices within an industry.

A short, sharp promotion, on the other hand, linked to something like a specific product or temporary offer, is likely to be better served by the high impact cut-through of advertising, which is one reason why it’s often preferred by business to consumer (B2C) clients.

What control do you have?
Another reason why businesses sometimes prefer to turn to advertising is the degree of message control it offers.

This degree of control, allied to the analytic potential of the data which almost any business is now able to gather, means that the adverts in question can be precisely targeted, something which should increase their effectiveness at the same time as lowering the cost when compared to the more random approach of aiming for maximum untargeted coverage.

Engaging on a PR campaign, on the other hand, means some control is ceded to the third party actually producing the content, something which enhances the authenticity of the message and makes it more likely the audience reading that message will take it on board.

At the same time, it means certain aspects of the story you’re telling may be cut by independent editorial forces, with the loss of control having to be balanced against the additional credibility.

Finding the right path…
There’s no such thing as the ‘right’ choice between PR and advertising, as it depends upon the priorities of your business, the size of the marketing budget and whether you’re looking for an immediate short term impact or a longer term reputational shift.

It should be remembered the best approach will sometimes involve PR and advertising working in tandem, such as when targeted twitter ads are placed to drive users toward specific publications and articles.

With the difference between a PR and advertising campaign made clear, it’s up to each business to analyse their audience in depth in order to target the right publications with content which will cut through the surrounding noise, eliciting the help of a specialist PR agency in order to facilitate both content creation and media relations.