Public Relations vs. Advertising. Earned media vs. Paid media. Huge budgets vs. tiny ones. Advertising and Public Relations have been engaged in a love-hate relationships for decades. What’s more effective? What offers better ROI? How should they work together? Should they work together?
For years, advertising has been the big brother in this often tenuous relationship. Whether it’s the massive budgets or the Super Bowl ad campaigns, or the allure of millions of YouTube views, advertising always seems to receive the most attention from an organization’s executives. Public relations, on the other hand, tends to operate more in the background. Need to make budget cuts? Take it from PR. Need a job for that intern? Just give him to the PR team – anyone can do that stuff anyway.
Things are starting to change though. Google became the dominant search engine yet it didn’t air a single TV ad until last year’s Super Bowl. Product launches are now done via strategic leaks, keynotes, and even by purposely keeping your customers away. For the first time in 20 years, Pepsi ditched the 30 second, $4M Super Bowl ad, and instead sunk $20M into the Pepsi Refresh project. What’s going on here? Is this the beginning of the end for advertising?
Of course not. But social media has forced some changes to the advertising industry, whether the old-school likes it or not. And if advertisers want to keep up, they would do well to take some lessons from their PR brethren. In many ways, PR professionals are better equipped for successfully using social media – whether it’s their ability to build and maintain real relationships or their reliance on plain language instead of marketing fluff, PR pros have largely adapted to social media better than than the advertising industry. Here are a few areas where advertising would do well to follow PR’s lead:
- Advertising should always be looked at as a means to an end, not the end itself. In some ways, advertising itself is the goal (see USA Today’s Ad Meter or the press releases that companies issue about their ads) and has led to a greater focus on views, friends, and Tweets than on sales, revenue, or market share. Your ad campaign isn’t successful because it had a million YouTube views – it’s successful because it’s led to increased sales or customer loyalty or some other actual business objective.
- Be honest. Consumer trust in advertising is low and continues to fall. When it comes to your company, I’m more likely to trust, well, anyone, other than you. Stop with the boastful, deceptive marketing messages and be honest about your strengths AND your weaknesses. If something didn’t go right, tell me why and what you’re doing about it. Don’t gloss over it and try to blame someone else.
- 50% of 10,000 > 1% of 50,000. PR hasn’t had the benefit of massive budgets like advertising does. Bashing the public over the head with your ads and hoping for one and two percent returns doesn’t work anymore. Instead, spend more time crafting messages that relate directly with the audience you’re trying to reach.
- Speak like a human being. I’ll take a line from one of my favorite books, the Cluetrain Manifesto – “Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.”
- Show me, don’t tell me. Stop spending millions telling me how fantastic your product or your customer service is and show me. Virgin America’s advertising budget is less than 10% of American Airlines‘ yet Virgin consistently outpaces the traditional carriers in things like customer satisfaction, customer experience, and customer service. I don’t know about you, but I will often pay more money to fly Virgin America, JetBlue, or Southwest just to avoid having to deal with one of the big carriers.
PR and advertising are going to continue to work together more and more – each would do well to learn from each other. If you’re interested in hearing more about how social media is impacting the PR and advertising industries, I’ll be participating in DC Ad Week where I’ll be joining John Cangany and Karen Untereker for a panel moderated by Robert Udowitz called “What Can Advertising Learn From Public Relations When It Comes To Social Media.”
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