What exactly is public relations? This is a common question that we have received time and time again from various kinds of people, whether they are business professionals, managers of a non-profit organization, or normal everyday citizens. It appears that the profession of PR is highly misunderstood and is too often categorized simply as a sub category of advertising. This is false misconception that needs to be put straight. What exactly is the difference between public relations and advertising? The confusion between the two may come because both advertising and public relations typically deal with business and communication. But with that definition one could classify most journalism as being an appendage to both advertising and public relations as well. Yet no one seems to confuse journalism and advertising, and why is that? Simply put, advertising and journalism have distinct differences that are easy to see and understand. The purpose of this post is to help you see that public relations is just as distinct and different from advertising as journalism is.
The most important difference between the two is the cost differentiation. It is no secret when speaking about advertising that the conversation is going to involve a hefty sum. That is because advertising focuses on what is called “paid media”. This means that a company or organization will pay money to be placed in newspapers, televisions shows, films, magazines, and all other types of media outlets. As you can imagine, this is a major part of the company or organization’s budget. The United States spent $452 billion on advertising and marketing alone in 2015. That is a pretty significant cost no matter how you slice it. The cost of public relations you may ask? Less than $10 billion. You may think that is because public relations is less popular and not as well-known or effective as advertising, but it may surprise you to know that 90% of Fortune 500 companies use Public Relations firms on a frequent basis. The cost difference is not because public relations is any less popular than advertising; the difference is because PR work is focused on “earned media”, which means that media journalists publish stories, articles, spotlights, etc. on the company or organization on their own accord, which doesn’t cost the company a dime in advertising.
Public relations is focused on how key publics feel towards a company, if they feel compelled to the company in a positive way then the company will receive greater profit. This public opinion is gained through various strategies such as service, stunts, and surveys. None of which has to do with placing ads on your door or in your morning newspaper. Public relations is the art of gaining the favor of key publics, who will then promote the business through their spheres of influence. It is communicating what the company is doing on a frequent basis so that these key publics are well-informed; all in an effort to gain good standing in the public eye. It has to do with the company as a whole, not an individual product.
For a masterful example of a public relations stunt by WestJet click here.