Public Relations and Advertising

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Public relations is often compared with advertising; the two disciplines have many similarities. Both are persuasive and communicate through print and broadcast media. Both often strive toward the same goal or promote the same product or service. People who enter the two fields are commonly creative, full of energy and stimulated by responsibility.

Both public relations and advertising are at their best when they work side-by-side. Most of advertising's messages are communicated through paid media. And in advertising, unlike public relations (where material appears at editors' discretion), the agency has control of what appears in that space. It also tries to use variations on the same theme in each advertisement. Well-known themes repeated over and over include "Coke Is It," McDonald's "You Deserve A Break Today" and Miller Lite's "Everything You Always Wanted In A Beer-And Less." The public relations practitioner then employs these themes, expands on them and adds others.

The Marketing Function

The uses of the themes stem from the marketing function. Especially during a recession, the public relations professional must be more involved in marketing than ever-helping the client's cause or improving the client's profits. During inflationary periods, the client can buy considerably less advertising for his money than during good economic times, allowing a greater relative impact to be made by public relations.

In marketing terms, there is much more to the public relations function than "pushing a product." The economic impacts of our society have changed buying habits drastically, and the public relations person must help interpret why her or his company's product or service is a good buy.

To be an effective aid to marketing, the public relations craftsman must know as much about the whole marketing process as the marketing manager; this process includes distribution, dealership, cooperative advertising and warranties.

Public relations professionals must never lose sight of the fact that a major part of their mission is to persuade people. And this persuasion is not limited to clients. As we've seen, people make up diverse publics. The true test of public relations is its ability, through the expertise and capabilities of those who practice it, to market client's products to these myriad groups of people.


In order to reach, or "sell", these various groups, the public relations specialist must first identify them, ascertain what they do and how they fit in, and, above all, determine how best to influence them. Success in these areas is what expert marketing is all about.

A good public relations marketing effort is a pre-conditioning force which alerts customers to new products, new uses of products and new ideas in the marketplace.

Hard-hitting, straight product publicity is one of the oldest functions by the public relations expert. As the professional practices craft, he or she should not leave this vital function by the wayside to cope only with what challenges his intellect the most. Without publicity, which is the heart of marketing, clients will sell too few products, and when their cash registers don't ring, neither do those of the great corporate public relations departments and public relations firms.

Public relations serves marketing and sales. Sometimes it operates on its own, when there is no advertising campaign. But at its best, public relations is part of a combination punch.


A first-class public relations advisor will fight the trend of many insecure companies to retreat from the press. In doing so the public relations specialist improves the position of the client and the client's product. It is absolutely necessary to keep lines of communication between a client and the press open at all times.

As public relations experts, we must convince our clients that sometimes the press must report bad news, even if, temporarily, it may not present the client in the most favorable light. After all, it is a two way street. We can't go back to the press with all the good news if we're not ready to inform them candidly about the bad.

It is the public relations person's job to serve as a bridge, a liaison, between the client and the press attempting to persuade the client to change her or his mind. We must make the client recognize what news really is, because often the person has no idea.

The best public relations firm in the world cannot help keep a company out of the newspapers. If it has a public profile at all, the firm must realize that it has a certain accountability to the public, including the media. A public relations firm can help by counterbalancing a bad image which may occur from time to time.

Many corporations have well-trained, sophisticated and competent public relations departments within their own corporate organization, but they still seek the expertise of other outside firms. Why? There are as many valid answers as there are companies. Each has its own reason. On many occasions, the client seeks external help without really knowing exactly why. If there is a problem, the client may not realize the full extent of it.

Public relations firms represent corporations that want to examine themselves more closely to see if they want to present different images of themselves to their publics-to be seen in better or more positive lights than those in which they feel they are currently being viewed.

Often a firm hires a public relations specialist to help it avoid problems. Often, the public relations firm will put management through a host of questions and answers, discussing subjects they may be asked. When a corporation hires a public relations firm, it wants the communications expert to make sure that the firm stays out of trouble with the television stations and newspapers. Candid feedback to the client, early in the game, can be bitter medicine, but it goes a long way toward avoiding eventual pitfalls.

Once problem areas are discussed up-front between the public relations specialist and the client, the task is to persuade the media to cast them in the desired perspective. Given the overwhelming abundance of news-international, national, state and local-which bombards the news media every day, there is an extremely limited amount of material which makes the evening television show or the morning papers. Selectivity has become the byword of the people who decide what makes news and what doesn't. Consequently, any corporation which wants to get its message across, using the airwaves or newspapers and magazines, must mold its messages in such a way that the decision makers choose it to be publicized.
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