It’s the age-old struggle. In the left corner we have advertising, represented by Mad Men, while in the right we have PR, represented by Absolutely Fabulous. Obviously, in my eyes there’s one clear winner, however it’s probably fair to say that I’m ever so slightly biased. But what is more powerful, PR or advertising?
It would be unfair to say that advertising doesn’t have its place in the modern world, however to most commentators it’s seen as less effective than it once was in the past. If we rewound to even as recently as 20 years ago, advertising was still a powerful platform and was used to drive the consumer behaviour that organisations wanted. However, back then it was easier to convince buyers to do what you want and it would be fair to say that people were less savvy and, quite possibly, less cynical. Now in the modern, hardened, social media-led world it’s easy to see through often transparent campaigns, which can have damaging effects on firms.
You only need to look at the level of mockery that Manchester United, for example, received when the club released this monstrosity of an advert a few years ago.
Or the ridicule that Pepsi and Kendall Jenner were on the end of after seeming to make light of ongoing street riots in the US.
You could argue that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but wouldn’t it just be simpler to be seen as a thought leader, or an expert in your market, rather than an organisation renowned for embarrassing itself on an international level?
But what makes PR a better option than advertising? As the old saying goes, ‘Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” In addition, Michael Levine argues that – depending on how you measure and monitor – a PR-led article is between 10 and 100 times more valuable than an advert. A separate study by Nielsen suggests that the role of content in the consumer decision making process is almost 90% more effective than advertising. The bottom line is that, in advertising, you’re essentially telling people how great you are, in PR, others are singing your praises. Advertising is paid for, PR is earned and your story automatically has more credibility because it’s been endorsed by a third party. Which approach do you think is likely to be more effective?
The conclusion: PR or advertising?
Advertising is by no means a defunct industry and the advent of online advertising – as widely loathed as it may be – provides a new opportunity for firms to get their brand into the market. Traditional advertising can still provide value by promoting products, particularly in the likes of the FMCG sector, however if it’s a service or a skill you’re trading, then PR is surely the only option as it allows you to drill down deeper into the true value that your business can provide to its target market. Bill Gates said if he was down to his last two dollars he would spend one on public relations and Richard Branson suggested that “publicity is absolutely critical – a good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.” PR or advertising? I think I know which side to take.
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Author: Bruce Callander