Advertising and PR: What’s the difference?

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Advertising and PR can often be lumped in together when it comes to marketing strategy, and even seasoned business professionals can find it confusing to distinguish between the two. While both fall under the marketing banner and both involve media placement, these activities have very distinct functions.

Advertising is any media placement that you pay the media outlet for, and includes things like print, radio, television and digital ads, advertorials (where the media outlet receives a fee to write a favourable piece about a brand, organisation or product), out-of-home advertising and even product placement in television shows or movies. Advertising is controlled media, with the client having the final say on what content appears, which product or brand information is highlighted, and where and when the ads will appear.

Public relations, on the other hand, is media coverage that is secured without the media outlet being paid and is also known as earned media. PR is the art of subtly nuanced storytelling and relies on the ability to craft a story with a unique, newsworthy angle, and identify aspects that will resonate with journalists.

As the old saying goes, “advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for”.

Both advertising and PR have their own pros and cons, and both have a place within a strategic marketing plan. In fact, advertising and PR can work well in partnership – an advertising campaign may be used to leverage editorial opportunities for a PR campaign, or vice versa. However, a clear difference is that with advertising, you tell people what you want them to hear, and with PR, you persuade a credible, independent third party to tell the story.

PR has also been shown to be significantly more effective than advertising [1] as it has the unique quality of objectivity; that is, it is an independent, trusted third party sharing your information. One study found that earned expert content (i.e. editorial) lifted brand familiarity by as much as 88% more than branded content (i.e. advertising)[1]. However, ideally, the two are complimentary and effectively reinforce your message in different ways.



  • Advertising is controlled – the client has total control over what content appears, where and when
  • Can be very effective in creating a brand identify and influencing purchasing decisions


  • Can be very expensive
  • Audience can be sceptical about claims made in advertising (i.e. lacks credibility)

Public Relations


  • PR, or ‘earned media’ has significantly more credibility than paid advertising as an independent third party has deemed it newsworthy
  • Very cost effective
  • Can be very influential in raising brand awareness and enhancing reputation
  • Provides an opportunity to share detailed information with the target audience, to educate or influence


  • It may be difficult to control the story beyond providing accurate and persuasive information to media outlets

The Power of PR

A well-executed PR campaign has the potential to shape your organisation’s reputation, boost sales, drive activity and even build a community. Contrary to what you might think, PR isn’t just about submitting a media release to journalists; it can also involve crafting opinion pieces, promoting new research, holding launch events and positioning individuals or organisations as experts in their field.

Effective PR takes skill, patience and a well-developed reputation as a trusted source of information.  

If you’d like to learn more about the power of public relations and how Lanham Media can help you please get in touch .

1. A 2014 Nielsen study, commissioned by InPowered


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