PR for the rest of us: Publicity vs. Advertising

Almost everyone I know thinks of PR as being synonymous with publicity – television appearances, radio interviews, reviews, mentions on popular blogs, features in newsletters (print or electronic), articles in the newspaper etc etc – all for FREE!

I have a couple of quibbles with that perception. First of all, publicity isn’t always the most effective PR. It’s just one tool in a whole cabinet of possibilities. And second, publicity is never free. Its cost is human labor . . . most of the time yours.

And there’s another kink; publicity is totally unpredictable. You can spend hours thinking about and writing news releases, designing press kits, and contacting the media—for naught. If there’s a fire, or the president chokes on a piece of candy, or a movie star is caught with a politician’s wife . . . you’re screwed. All your effort will go down the drain. Today’s news is tomorrow’s toilet paper. Today’s PR is, um, well . . . let’s not go into that.

The big pro with publicity is that people believe it. As much as we complain about the news, we still tend to believe it. And if a story is in the news, it must be newsworthy  — and true (even if the whole idea was planted with savvy PR).

What about advertising?

We’re all too smart to fall for it, right?

Not so fast. Why do corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising annually?

Because it works.

Advertising is the stuff you pay money for: ads, product placement in movies and television programs, banner ads on websites, websites themselves etc.

While some people may dismiss advertising precisely because it’s purchased, most people don’t. Most people also don’t realize that they have only a little say about how, when and where their ads will appear. Sure, you buy within certain large parameters. Say you purchase 20 ads during a three-hour block of drive-time on the radio. They might run ten in a forty minute block and then another ten across the remaining two hours. Or, they might run one after the other in a miserable row until people absolutely hate the mention of your business and swear they’ll never buy your products again.

You might purchase a ¼ ad in the newspaper – requesting that it be printed in the entertainment section —  and it appears as the only ad on the page. Or it could be among three other ads and lose most of its impact. When you purchase real estate on a website you run into the same problems.

So which one is better? Publicity or Advertising?

Neither. Both.

I think there’s a place for both in the same campaign. The key is to be consistent. I don’t know who said this first, but I think of people as having Teflon ® minds. Most messages don’t stick. The only way they do is if they’re memorable (usually that means entertaining or attention-grabbing) and repeated several times.

Which leads into next week’s subject: Frequency.

Until next time,



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  1. #1 by Darynda Jones on October 14, 2010 - 2:14 am

    Great post, Pari!!! And timely for me. 🙂

    • #2 by parinoskin on October 25, 2010 - 5:04 pm

      Yes, Darynda, I think it might be useful. I suspect your publisher is going to stand behind you well too. And that will be dynamite!

  2. #3 by Gerald M. Weinberg on October 25, 2010 - 5:01 am

    Fine post, Pari, as usual.

    I hope you post in the future about free ads, like for nonprofits or community events–or anything that I might use to publicize my books, even though I’m not a non-profit Oh, that’s a double negative.

    Okay, so does that double negative mean I’m “for profit.” Not really. I’ve passed the point where I need to keep all that money. I’ve already given away about 1/2 mil, and now all the money I make from my writing goes mainly to two charitable organizations (which are non-profit). So, more specifically, can I use that fact to get some free advertising or other publicity?

    • #4 by parinoskin on October 25, 2010 - 5:04 pm

      Thank you. You’re already very good at PR. I just hope that I can offer some ideas that will give you even more tools.

      Good suggestion re the nonprofits. They can take advantage of a lot. But those of us who are “for profit” can too.

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