Advertising and Public Relations: Understanding The Key Distinctions

Advertising and Public Relations: Understanding The Key Distinctions

This article examines the two publicity concepts of advertising and public relations. It takes an analytical stance in assessing the differences between advertising and public relations

Modern advertising dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Newspaper companies in London issued advertisements, and by the 18th century, advertisements flourished in Europe. Public relations, on the other hand, has a relatively recent history. It began in the U.S. in the early 20th century when the country began hiring publicists to support its policies and programs.

Advertising has been defined in official climates as an industry specially geared to calling the public’s attention to a product or service. In other words, it is the means of communication by which a product or brand promotes itself to its viewers so that they attract interest and sales. Advertising can involve promotional messages, display advertising, native advertising and video advertising. On the other side of things are public relations which are said to apply the promotion or projection of an organization or company’s image to the general public.

The lines between advertising and public relations can be a bit blurry sometimes because both have to do with public interactions. However, even at that, they certainly have some key differences. Before delving into these differences, it is vital to assess their similarities. The immediate section below does a quick work of contemplating these similarities between advertising and public relations.


Similarities between Advertising and Public Relations

Advertising Vs Public Relations

For one, advertising and public relations are geared toward raising public awareness of a product or service. Both techniques represent the media for significant knowledge about the product to the target audience. An apt conclusion would be that both strategies aim for one thing alone – sales.

Another similarity would be that both systems require strategic and intentional planning. Advertising and public relations are not the ones to rush into. Both require careful planning and strategy. This planning may include collaborating with other stakeholders such as media houses and journalists, organizing events and product enlightenment programs, etc. Advertising and public relations require some form of media platform; these platforms can be single or multiple. With recent technological developments, many organizations seem to prefer public relations over social media, with advertisements run through print, television, radio, and online platforms as ads.

Lastly, advertising and public relations require specific outreach to a target audience. Often, advertising is influenced by particular target audience characteristics, such as demographics, behavior, and geographical location. Public relations may involve consideration of age, media platform, investors, and stakeholders of the company.


What are the Differences between Advertising and Public Relations

There are indeed pronounced differences between advertising and public relations. These differences help to identify complementary opportunities between both systems.


1. Payment Requirement

It is common knowledge that a significant difference between advertising and public relations is that while the former requires payment to be made, the latter does not. Advertising is a technical and sensitive venture that requires the skills of professionals. In the case of visual advertising on television or social media, the company has to pay for such services. The same applies to advertisements in print and online, including coverage by media houses and professionals. Conversely, public relations essentially concerns how the public perceives an organization. This perception requires a company to deliberately put out content related to its purpose, mission, and services to give the audience a comprehensive understanding. Recently, organizations would instead build position public relations by employing the tool of social media, which requires no payment whatsoever.


2. Target Audience

Although advertising and public relations involve directly reaching out to a specific audience, this audience may differ based on both techniques. Advertising certainly has a narrower reach and is suited for a limited audience in demographics, age, interests and geographical location. In other terminology, public relations have a more expansive space and can be spread simply by word of mouth or a phone call. Due to the broad base of persons using different media, it is possible for an organization’s reputation – public relations- to precede it in terms of geography, audience, and subscribers.


3. Monitoring and Analysis

It is essential not to sit back and relax after putting out an advertisement or engaging in public relations. A company must be sure to get feedback and analysis regarding the effectiveness of what it has put out. While this monitoring and measuring are common to advertising and public relations, the metrics for measuring both differ significantly. Advertising considers metrics such as frequency, reach, subscription rates, etc. However, many have argued that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of public relations as this is the general overview of the company’s reputation and may depend on several other factors, hence the saying’ you pay for advertising, but pray for publicity’.


4. Specific Controls

Another difference is an organization’s control over both. In the case of advertising, an organization essentially determines the content and media channels depending on cost, preference and target audience. Controlling how the public perceives an organization is somewhat more complex for public relations. While the organization can attempt to put itself out in a positive light, the public’s ultimate conception of the organization still depends on factors like media outlets and what is generally accepted.


5. Goals and Objectives

The primary objectives of advertising and public relations are very different. Advertising is primarily geared toward promoting a product or service and bringing it to the knowledge of the public. Alternatively, public relations focuses on influencing the public’s view about an organization and maintaining a positive image to increase the chances of patronage and promoting their specific service in the long run.



It is evident from the argument above that advertising and public relations both have a considerable part to play in the success of an organization or venture. There are some similar characteristics and differences as well. Thus, organizations will do well to properly understand both in order to achieve their goals.