18 Jan 2008

PR equals free advertising

Public relations is not free advertising. I cannot even begin to express my frustration with this misconception.

Communications professionals tend to fall into two camps on this front. The first are charlatans who exploit client naivety and reinforce this fallacy by promising press releases as cheaper alternatives to paid advertising. The others understand the difference, but face an ongoing battle to educate their clients.

A quick Google search on “PR – free advertising” yielded more than two million hits. To my dismay, plenty of these touted PR services as a cheap way to help businesses promote themselves. The communications industry is sometimes its own worst enemy when it comes to perpetuating this myth.

In a nutshell, advertising informs the public about services or products and how to obtain them. Public relations seeks to influence, inform and shape perceptions.

For starters, placement of advertising messages can be controlled. Placement of PR messages usually cannot be controlled; what can be controlled is the timing, construction and distribution of the messages. But once it’s out there, it’s beyond your control and positive results are far from guaranteed.

My number one pet peeve is when organizations want to issue a press release that doesn’t have a scrap of news value but is crammed with marketing information in the vain hope that it will be reported by the media. Do they really think that journalists are interested in regurgitating a brochure?

The irony is that “free advertising” is not free at all. After all, the PR consultants aren’t working for nothing. So next time you think about picking up the phone to request a press release, perhaps consider whether you shouldn’t contact the advertisers instead?

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