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What PR is – and isn’t

Bill Drake

Bill Drake

Specialists in the public relations industry throughout the area were asked a threefold question: how do you define public relations; in what ways is it most effective for business; and how does it differ from advertising? Here’s what the professionals had to say:

PR is channeled communications to an audience to build awareness, provide education and/or to motivate that audience to a specific action (buy something, vote, support, march, write someone, pass along information, attend an event, donate, etc.)

Its distinction with advertising is simple. Advertising is paid time and space in a medium. PR is often called “earned media,” where the medium itself covers the information as part of its journalistic mission.

Let me add, we strongly believe that the two disciplines work to complement each other to get a message out and should be used together as one plans a communications outreach programs. They each have certain strengths and weaknesses.

PR is more believable because it’s a third-party source. PR coverage is highly leveraged if it’s picked up by many different media outlets. PR promotes more dialogue and comment, extending the message life.

Advertising is controllable. One can control the message, the audience to whom it’s directed, when it’s delivered and what medium will carry the message. In PR, controlling the message can be problematic. In PR, most professionals will write their stories with the end-use consumer in mind AND to the editors who serve as gatekeepers to the information presented. In advertising, crafting the message is critical to getting through to an audience that is skeptical.
Bill Drake
Drake Cooper


Public relations is the process of engaging and influencing public opinion. This includes tactics such as media relations, social media and event-based communications.

Advertising typically produces something tangible, such as a print ad or TV spot. Public relations, however, is intangible and requires much more one-to-one communications. However, the biggest difference is that public relations has a level of credibility that advertising doesn’t have. If you want to build a new brand, it requires public relations.
Brian Critchfield
Chief Navel Gazer
Navel Marketing
Meridian and Chandler, Ariz.


Public relations by its definition is the selling to the public the image of a company in a manner that insures that its management maturity, future growth hopes, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and other issues of reputation and social responsibility are showcased in a relatively controlled fashion.

Unlike advertising vehicles or methods which are designed to present sales messages to specific target groups, PR is the fertilizer on the field of selling methodology that causes them to feel for the most part comfortable in receiving the advertising of the goods or services offered by the merchant or service provider (think Wendy’s, Xerox, AT&T ).

PR must have as its central goal a common theme throughout that everybody in the company is saying essentially the same way. PR is the selling of an image while advertising is the targeted selling of goods or service. Both are vitally important to a growing dynamic business as a one-two punch to make the marketing bottom line grow.
Lee Van Kirk
Van Kirk & Associates


Public relations is a strategic management function that strengthens your credibility, enhances your image and helps develop positive relationships.

Public relations is different from advertising because of the context and format of the messages. Advertising is primarily paid space or time in mass media, targeted at external audiences – consumers. Public relations uses a variety of tools to communicate with specific audiences, both internal and external. Public relations takes into account the “big picture,” not just the outward message. It resonates the organization’s core values and philosophy through communication mediums with internal and external audiences (public).
Lynda Friesz
Lynda Friesz Public Relations Inc.


My definition of public relations is: Earning notice with the media, without paying the media for it. This includes traditional public relations, such as working with the news media, holding events and influencing key people. But in the past few years, social media has really changed things. With social media, businesses can more effectively communicate with the people who love their brand and grow that group, without being at the mercy of news media gatekeepers. Each person can now be their own gatekeeper and decide for themselves what is important.

Advertising is paying media to carry your message and is usually associated with interruptive methods, like commercials and spam. Advertising is getting better at integrating itself into social media but it still as a long way to go. It needs to find its way, however, because advertising provides the funding that makes everything else possible.
Martin Johncox
Public Relations Director
Alexander and Associates


Public relations is connecting people and building relationships to add value to an organization or business. Good public relations, or lack of it, can be a key factor in business outcomes. Those of us who work in PR are, in a sense, information brokers – we create a strategy to send the right message to the right audience using the right mode of delivery.

The value of clear and honest communication is, well, priceless. It’s something we’re often reminded of in our crisis mitigation and brand management work. Be it through social media tactics or pitching stories to news outlets, the point is often to help our clients tell their story and start the conversation. Our firm specializes in developing campaigns for complex issues, often involving multi-member partnerships between the public and private sectors – which means clarity and candor is key.

A principal nuance is that there’s generally less control over the message with public relations than with advertising or marketing. However, public relations and marketing are flip sides of the same coin – advocacy. When well planned and implemented, they serve to reinforce one another. With some savvy, businesses and organizations can harness the power of both to their advantage. Whether it be to manage a brand, market goods and services, or to further a campaign, the public relations component adds major value.
Sydney Sallabanks
Principal, Gallatin Public Affairs, Boise Office
President, Idaho Chapter of the Public Relations
Society of America

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