“Advertising is what you pay for; publicity is what you pray for.”
I’ve worked in communications for a long time, and I strongly believe that both public relations and advertising play an important role in your business strategy at different times and for different reasons.
But I play favorites. Why? Because PR has repeatedly proven itself more effective than advertising.
Step into the classroom and let’s review for a sec.
Advertising is media you pay for. You spend money on a Facebook or Instagram ad, a one-minute commercial on a podcast or radio program, maybe a half-page ad in a magazine, maybe even a 30-second TV commercial (that the audience will fast-forward through). It reaches a limited audience, for a limited time, and it’s done. Every time you want to reach an audience, you pay again.
On the other hand, PR—in this case, we’re talking specifically about the branch of PR called publicity—is media coverage you earn (we’ll get to that shortly). Publicity can take the form of a magazine mention of your product, your service, or your expert knowledge. It can be a guest post you write for a popular blog. Publicity can be an in-depth discussion with your favorite podcast host or a short interview on a national morning show.
Publicity is your story, product, service, or expertise offered with an objective third party’s stamp of approval. When you get publicity, it’s essentially the media saying you’re good at what you do.
And that’s powerful.
In fact, research proves again and again that publicity yields much higher conversion rates than advertising. That’s easy to understand: imagine you see a magazine ad for a T3 curling rod. Chances are likely your eye will skim over it. But imagine in that same magazine, you read an article from a stylist that says the T3 is this year’s must-have hair tool, the best product on the market for creating the perfect tousled look with the longest lasting curls. The likelihood that you’ll buy that product just skyrocketed (I mean, it definitely worked on me…).
It’s all about the endorsement. You see, anyone can pay for an ad, and with our increasing, finely-tuned advertising radar, we spot advertising a mile away and we understand that ads don’t have to be backed with credibility. There’s no barrier to entry when it comes to advertising. Conversely, publicity can’t be bought. It has to be earned through expertise and innovation, so your brand is perceived as having greater credibility.
Here are 6 more reasons to fall in love with PR in this season of your business.
Ads, by their nature, are limiting. You pay for your message to reach a limited number of people over a limited amount of time. In contrast, nobody places a limit on your publicity reach. You can target an audience that is as diverse, as niched, as intimate, or as enormous as you want, and everyone that encounters your message has the potential to share it with their circle of influence. Your message, if crafted strategically, has the potential to expand in reach, but when an ad campaign is done, it’s done.
Think of it like this: buying an ad is a little like buying Halloween candy. You have X dollars to spend, so you either buy the cheap stuff to hand out more, or buy the nicer candy, but only a few people get any, or you have to come up with more money if you want to hand out more candy. Either way, you’re going to run out of candy.
When you get publicity, it’s a little bit like having the candy manufacturer give you unlimited chocolate bars to pass out to visitors. And then giving you extra chocolate for them to pass out to their friends. And not the fun size candy bars—we’re talking the king size stuff. And they just keep giving you chocolate to hand out. Whose house do you think will get the most traffic?
Ads cost money. The more people who see your ad (what we call, “impressions”), the more it costs you. Reaching your target audience gets expensive, and the bigger and better your reach, the more dollars you spend.
In contrast, media publicity is free. Public relations connects you with reporters, bloggers, podcasters, and broadcasters who would love for you to provide interesting stories to help fill their content requirements. Great PR strategy is a win-win for everyone, with no money exchanged. You get a more effective reach, and you can use the money you would have spent on advertising to develop a new product. Or go on vacation.
At its core, good PR is about building and managing your reputation, and that of your business. When you get positive publicity, it is perceived by the public as a stamp of approval.
Sometimes your thoughts on a subject are featured in an article as the opinion of a recognized expert, enhancing your reputation as a thought leader in your field. Often in a publicity piece, you offer your unique approach to a client pain point, improving your reputation as the go-to solution. No matter what kind of positive press you’re getting, being featured by a media outlet is an endorsement of your credibility. This encourages potential clients to look in your direction when making purchasing choices. When someone stumbles across your website, seeing those press placements positively encourages them to buy from you. And recognition from one media outlet gives you leveraging power for other, larger and more diverse media coverage options, significantly increasing your impact.
You might be a seasoned biz pro with a huge mailing list and lots of sales, so you can use publicity to help position you as a true thought leader in your industry. This opens all kinds of doors for business growth, partnerships, mentorships, and philanthropy. For the business that is trucking along but is ready for big growth, publicity extends your reach significantly. For the new business struggling to break in and make sales, the right press placements can make you stand out from the competition, or get traction for a new and innovative idea. For the dreamer, pairing your expertise with a simple PR strategy can enhance your credibility and make your name recognizable before you ever develop a product to sell.
Publicity has a long lifespan. Any time someone searches for a topic you’ve written about, your guest post or featured article will continue to show up. I recently went searching for a specific topic, and the first article that popped up was 10 years old! It was a fantastic piece, and I’m now following the author’s work and services.
Ads can’t do that.
Think about podcast interviews: podcasts are famous for reaching new audiences months and years from the original publication. And with significant effort going into podcast discovery, your interview is better positioned to reach new audiences for a very long time to come.
I know, I know, “authentic” gets tossed around these days like confetti at a birthday party, but it’s still a good word. PR done well is a strategic system that connects your unique story with the news and trends of a specific moment in time, and offers value to everyone involved: the audience, the media, and you. In other words, publicity works best when we can get the most real, genuine, passionate–most authentic–part of you into your message.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can create a streamlined public relations strategy to build your authority and increase your impact, I’d love to help! Every month I work with a limited number of small business owners to craft custom plans that fit their businesses and their lives, and I would be honored to work with you.