In the days of yore, there was generally a fine line between advertising and public relations. Ad men — and they were almost entirely men, at least back in the “Mad Men” days — created advertising for print, TV and radio. Public relations, or PR, was an amorphous practice, which generally involved trying to get the media to cover your clients.
Coles Marketing originally started as Coles PR and then evolved into a full-service outreach firm that includes copywriting (like yours truly), ad creation, graphic design, web design, photography and videography, social media outreach and targeted online advertising. It’s a whole new world, where you can see ads tailored to your personal interests, based on your web traffic.
As the game has changed, though, it’s left many people confused about the difference between marketing, PR and advertising.
The old saying in the biz was “You pay for advertising, you pray for publicity.” Despite all the changes in technology and new platform paradigms, that still basically holds true. With advertising, you have control over the message, which you pay to create and (usually) pay someone with a means of reaching the public to carry it — websites, billboards etc.
With modern PR, you’re not necessarily dialing up a reporter or editor and asking them to consider writing/broadcasting about the client. That’s one of the biggest changes with the web, email and social media: brands can bypass the traditional lines of communication to reach the consumer directly, on their own terms.
Then there are hybrid activities like content marketing, also known as brand journalism, where the brand becomes its own publisher, creating and distributing articles and information that is helpful or interesting to people. You’re not necessarily pitching products, just creating a sense of expertise that people will turn to when they need help.
“Marketing” is the umbrella term that includes both PR and advertising, as well as the hybrid permutations that have arisen. It means all the efforts and resources you devote to convincing people to buy your product or service.
Put it this way: Marketing refers to the overall strategic plan for outreach. Advertising, promotions, e-newsletters, publicity, content marketing — these are all just tactics employed to make that plan happen.
So if your company is only talking about advertising, or restricts its outreach planning to just social media or PR, then you’re only using a portion of the tools available in the box.