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The difference between PR and advertising (and why they are sometimes the same)

What’s the difference between public relations and advertising?

I get asked this a lot, even by people in each respective field, and I’ve eventually settled on an answer that doesn’t cause eyes to glaze over and induce mild migraines.

In a very simple way it is this: PR companies earn attention whereas advertising companies buy it.

Saying “buy it” might be a little simplistic. People build entire careers analysing budgets and carefully crafting media spends to get specific message in front of specific target audiences.

That’s not to say PR is free. In PR there are countless ways to earn attention – events, articles, media releases, social media posts, celebrity endorsements and cute dogs  – as part of a strategy to once again drive a specific message to a specific audience.

Despite the different approaches, both forms of engagement in their very purest form aim to communicate something to someone.

If it was still 1999, I would be hanging up my Chicago Bulls cap at this point, finishing the article right there and heading down to Blockbuster. But times have changed.

Social media, online entertainment and websites about cats (seriously!) have eroded the traditional media principles on which we once relied.

Social media is both a paid and earned medium all in one. And it’s in this new media space that the two “disciplines” are beginning to merge. A funny advert can be shared, and reshared in a way more reminiscent of a PR campaign. Likewise, a humble press release can be promoted like an advert to achieve a PR goal.

In the old media landscape, clients would often pay premiums to access coveted media channels. The big names could dominate and even a bad campaign could do well.

But now success is generated from the best strategies and ideas. With creative thinking, great design and effective targeting even small budget campaigns can make a mark and be seen by very large audiences.

A standout – and close-to-home – example of this is the Elephant In The Wheatbelt campaign in country WA. Years after it launched, it not only continued to promote a vital road safety message but had taken on a life of its own.

With the continued rise of social media it’s more important than ever to get the right team on the job.

Cannings Purple’s Design and Digital team can help you brand, rebrand, refresh or pitch something entirely new. Take a look at our design package options and let us know if you are ready for a new look.

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