Diary Of A Mad Media Specialist: Differences Between PR And Advertising

Earned media, owned media, PPC, sponsored posts—we’ve heard all the industry jargon used for online marketing and media strategies. Do you know the difference between them all? More importantly, what’s the major difference between PR (earned media) and advertising (sponsored posts)?

If you work in content marketing, particularly in the earned media sector, you know that PR and advertising can get convoluted and confusing for bloggers and media. As a media specialist, I outreach to hundreds of websites a week, offering them relevant, helpful guides, graphics, and information for their sites. Some of them want monetary compensation—and it takes extra clarification to help explain what non-promotional online media material is and how it works.

First, let’s break down the primary differences between PR and advertising in online media:

Advertising, aka sponsored posts

  • Advertising is paid for with the intent to introduce or remind an audience about a product, service, or company with the goal of making a sale.
  • An ad typically uses colorful or descriptive language with an easily distinguishable call to action.
  • Advertising relies heavily on catchy slogans and eye-catching graphics to attract consumers’ attention.
  • The purpose of advertising is to get people to buy.

Public relations, aka earned media

  • Public relations professionals help outlets produce captivating, factually correct material that educates and helps readers.
  • PR is concerned with creating goodwill and keeping a company, product, or service at top of mind with the media and consumers.
  • PR captures a media outlet’s attention by relating to the current news, events, or trends on its website.
  • The purpose of PR is to build relationships with the media and help their readers with their problems by giving them the right information.

Here’s how non-promotional, non-sales online media material works for media specialists:

A publishing company produces books for readers to read, enjoy, discuss and share, right? The company’s goal is to get the book out in the world for readers to read and appreciate. Since the publisher produces the book, its logo or brand is stamped on the title page for recognition—just as the author of the book is given recognition as well.

If a brand produces a book or a piece of media to help consumers, to give them something to read, discuss and socially share, that brand deserves recognition as the producer of the piece of content. Just as a photographer has rights to her photos, a writer to his stories, or an artist to his art. Earning coverage for a brand’s helpful book, video, webinar, or any other piece of media is not advertising, it’s PR.

In a Janrain survey about personalization, 74 percent of respondents claim to get frustrated with websites when content, offers, ads, and promotions appear to have nothing to do with their interests, which in turn drives traffic away from the site. Web sites want high-quality content that serves their readers. PR professionals are there to give new, helpful information to these websites that are relevant to their readers; it’s useful, topical, informational, and helps solve problems—which leads to less subscriber frustration with irrelevant, unhelpful, sponsored posts and ads.

When PR professionals can help media outlets, media specialists, and their readers solve problems, earned media is the result. Advertising can be part of a brand’s outreach plan, but PR can give a brand an affordable alternative to advertising. Learn the difference and reap the benefits.