• Dirk Foster

What is Public Relations Anyway?

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

Recently a company contacted me to ask if I could help them with their advertising. When I mentioned that my company specializes in public relations not advertising, there was a long silence on the other end of the phone. Then finally the response came: “But isn’t public relations the same as advertising?”

This is not an uncommon assumption. I’ve been practicing public relations for more than 20 years and I often encounter people who think PR and advertising are the same thing. The differences couldn’t be starker.

The official definition of public relations is “the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.”


Allow me to make it a little more clear in my own words:

Advertising = Pay tons of money to create a subjective advertisement. Then pay even more money to place the ad on the internet, or magazines or TV. Then cross your fingers and wait to see if your ad works.

Public Relations = Create a compelling story that offers a solution to a problem or issue. Then offer that story to relevant journalists, bloggers and influencers and let them write objective stories about what you are offering. Best of all, you don’t have to pay them to write about it. It’s their job.

The two most important words in my simplified explanation are “subjective” and “objective.”

The fact is most people are much more likely to trust information coming from a person writing from an objective point of view rather than from the subjective point of view of the company paying for the advertisement.

To offer two real-view examples; I’m much more likely to buy a new cell phone based on a tech writers product review rather than a pretty picture of the same phone I see on the internet. And if I’m going to book a room in an expensive hotel, I’m not going to rely on just a magazine ad to make my decision. I’m going to find out what travel writers and bloggers are writing about the hotel first before I commit my money.

Advertising does hold a valuable place in any effective marketing mix. But before you run out and spend an exorbitant amount of your budget creating and placing an old fashioned ad, think about how far your dollar will stretch if you can offer the same information to journalists, bloggers and influencers who will write about the same thing for free.

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