Difference between Advertising and Public Relations

By: | Updated: Nov-18, 2017
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If you are looking for a career in communication, you have a variety of options. There is social media, e-mail marketing, vlogging, blogging, general online marketing, marketing, advertising and public relations, for example. For anyone thinking promotion is promotion, they may all sound the same. In reality, all of the above have specific sets of rules. Let us start with advertising and public relations. Do you know what the difference between these two is?

Summary Table

Advertising Public Relations
Paid exposure. Free exposure; connection/news generated exposure.
More control of the campaign: what the message is, where it airs, for how long. Less control over the campaign: editors can make or break the campaign.
Has direct, commercial messages. Needs to convince.
Its obvious purpose is that of convincing. Its purpose is that of creating a relationship with the consumers and making the brand seem credible.
One way communication: from brand to consumers. Two way communication: from brand to consumers and from consumers to brands.
Recognized creativity. Creative PR campaigns are usually not acknowledged as PR campaigns.
Relies on ideas and creative associations. Relies on a network of connections and on creating news worthy content.
Repetition and a constant presence on the market are key. Consumer loyalty and brand consumer appreciation are vital.


Time Square in New York, ground zero in advertising

Advertising is a form of mass communication done with the purpose of promoting products and services via video, audio and other types of visual materials. It serves a commercial purpose but can be used to raise awareness about social issues as well. Early forms of advertising include the signs placed on top of businesses like inns and small family stores. Modern advertising as we know it today started developing in the 1920s, when competition soared and when making sales and getting ahead paid off more.

Advertising was at the root of what we now call “consumerism,” a trend that encourages people to buy without actually needing something. It is a mark of capitalism and a problem of our modern society. The ’90s represented the peak in advertising-induced unnecessary purchases, a situation that culminated in the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Advertising is still just as important for any business, and the techniques are being perfected by incorporating online promoting techniques.

Public relations

Public relations, or PR, manages the spread of public messages with the purpose of raising awareness. The final goal is either to sell a product or a service or to make a person more known to the public. It can be used for commercial or social messages, and it can be as creative as possible. The main idea behind public relations is that of making an issue, person, product or service so interesting that the press starts covering it without charging for this coverage

Good PR is done without people noticing that it had a specific purpose. It may involve getting an underlying message across without stating the obvious intention. For example, if a company gets involved and makes donations to a children’s hospital, the news can be delivered in a way that hints at the good intentions and good deed and underlines the company name associated with it. The most basic form of PR is the simple press release. It can be a simple statement of facts, or it can sugarcoat the facts to make the events seem bigger and more important.

Advertising vs Public Relations

So what is the difference between advertising and public relations?

The main difference between the two fields of communication consists in the fact that advertising makes paid promotional campaigns, whereas public relations are in charge of creating a buzz and getting people and the press interested, thus generating free exposure.

Another important difference lies with the amount of control the client has over the outcome of the campaign. Advertising is done more to the liking of the client. PR needs to seem natural and generate engagement and unpaid press, so it can sometimes seem out of the control of the client. Advertising gives control over the message – what that is, where it will be shown and how long it will run. PR offers less control; editors can make or break a piece of news, and they are the ones who decide how long it can run.

The third difference between the two consists of how upfront they are. Upon seeing a commercial, any person would know that someone is trying to sell them something. On the other hand, the same person could be reading an article about an interesting issue with a well-placed mention of a brand without ever noticing that the article was paid for by the company and is considered an advertisement.

Both advertising and public relations are creative in their own way. However, given the fact that PR must sometimes be more subversive, the best PR campaigns are the ones you do not really acknowledge as such but succeed in getting a message across.

Networking is an important part of public relations, whereas a person in an agency who may not even have come in contact with the product can come up with a brilliant ad campaign. The same cannot be said when, as a PR agent, you need to pull strings and get the brand known based on connections alone and not on money.

Advertising is needed when you must give a product a shove on the market. This means direct and obvious commercial messages. On the other hand, PR handles the relation of the product with the public, apparently outside the interests of purchase and consumption. It is a relationship built on loyalty on behalf of the consumer and appreciation on behalf of the company. This separation from the intention to purchase makes PR techniques more credible in the eyes of consumers.

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