Five reasons why PR is better than advertising
Having worked in communications for a number of years, it never failed to surprise me when companies didn’t think twice about spending hundreds or thousands of pounds on advertising, but wouldn’t invest in PR.
I guess advertising is an easier sell – you are in complete control of what is printed, you can be as bold as you like with your call-to-action, contact details, etc. And as you’re usually charged by the column inch, you pretty much get what you pay for.
However, the lesser understood medium of media relations usually makes your buck go much further, and creates a lasting impression for your brand. Here are some reasons why:
- PR holds more credibility – As I mentioned in my introductory blog post ‘So what is PR anyway?’, PR is the art of placing stories in the media by pitching them to journalists. A journalist will only print your story if it’s interesting or newsworthy to their reader, and it’s printed as an article rather than an advert. A PR piece would be placed in the press as though it were just a regular news story or feature, rather than being boldly highlighted as a paid-for placement. This of course gives it much more credibility than an ad as it has earned its place on the pages of your favourite newspaper or magazine through the merit of its story alone. So while an advert may boast about how brilliant a product is, you may be left thinking ‘well, they would say that’, a PR story is effectively an external endorsement, so holds more weight.
- PR is less of a hard sell – you can go ham with an advert, use a large sale sign, sales-y wording and bright ‘look at me’ colours. This is great if you’re holding a ‘must-end soon 80% off’ sale, or if you have a short-term promotion. However, if you want to build or enhance your brand, or raise your profile in a more subtle way, PR may be just the ticket. Of course PR has also been known to deliver imminent results. A story I wrote about a free gait scans for the over-60s resulted in an influx of enquiries. But a lot of PR is about the drip-drip process, planting the seeds of your story or brand offering to reap long terms results.
- You often get more than what you paid (and not just in column inches) – The beauty of PR is partly in the unknown. While with an advert the size and exposure is determined by your budget alone, PR relies more on drawing out what is good and great about your brand or organisation. So while £1,000 may get you a decent quarter page spread in your local paper, a well written case-study with a strong human interest angle, or an expert quote on a topical issue could emblazon your story in a large regional or even national publication. With PR you really are as good as the story itself, and the skills of the consultant who’s telling it.
- PR promotes your brand to your almost-captive customers – Advertising is a bit like getting a filling at the dentist, you either need it, or you don’t, and there’s not much of a grey area. Yes, you may admire the chaise lounge being advertised on the TV, but unless you’re current sofa is a bit shabby, or you’ve got just the right space for an extra one, chances are you won’t bite. However as PR is much more subliminal, your audience is reading your article just like any other story. So while they may not require your legal services, scented candles or other wares now, chances are, if they see your name and associate it with a positive story, they may just remember you in the future.
- Good PR goes beyond traditional media – with advertising you’d have to negotiate space with each and every individual news outlet. If you wanted to take to the social landscape, well that’s a whole other set of advertising that comes with its own nuances (pay per click anyone?). However with PR, you can effectively kill a few birds with one stone. For example, a story can be pitched to multiple newspapers – it’s not unknown for one story to feature in several places. The same story can also be repackaged for social media. So while you won’t want to publish the whole press release on your company Facebook page, you may want to share snippets with a link to your website. I have created a series of tweets around a story, taking different facts each time, and linking under a common hashtag. And let’s not forget, in this digital era, most papers will publish their stories online too.
So those are my five reason why I feel PR is better than advertising. Of course, this all sounds terribly biased, and advertising does have its place. For a flash promotion it works wonders, and it of course proves useful if you don’t have a ‘set the world on fire’ tale to tell. However, don’t underestimate the power of your brand and your story. You just need to know how to tell it.