For many college students, Summer Session I has begun. Whenever I start a new semester teaching Fundamentals of Public Relations, I ask my students to try to define PR before I even ask their names. Inevitably, several students will include the word “advertising” within their definition. I quickly admonish their answer.
When you advertise, you control everything. You decide the venues where your ads will run. You write the copy and choose the images. You determine how much time or space you buy, and where and when you buy them. You pretty much know who will see them. There is very little left to chance. The ads run as you wanted, where you wanted, and when you wanted.
Public relations, on the other hand, is about hope. You control nothing. You write the press releases, send them to your targeted media outlets and hope they’ll be printed. You pitch stories and hope reporters care enough to respond. When your stories do get media attention, you hope the outcome is positive, hope they get good placement, and hope they effectively communicate your message. That press conference you’re staging? You hope reporters will show up. Those blogs and social media posts you’ve created? You hope that readers respond.
It’s also about credibility vs. control. People understand that ads exist to sell them something, and audiences are hip and cynical. When people see informative messages in reliable media, they tend to believe them.
Of course, your success in PR actually depends less on hope and more on the relationships you develop with reporters, the audience you build in social media, and your ability to communicate effectively for all your targeted media venues. When you’re able to work these relationships and tools well, PR becomes less of a crapshoot and more about your skills.
So please don’t think that PR and advertising are the same thing. They’re most certainly not. Your thoughts?