Ways PR Is Not Marketing Or Advertising

People often confuse public relations work with marketing or even advertising. While it’s understandable why they might be linked, and the lines between disciplines are blurring, confusion can be frustrating for PR folks when it comes to meeting client expectations for PR services. We wrote earlier about how marketing and advertising can inform the PR strategy, but it’s also helpful to clarify how PR is usually distinct from those two practices.

Here are some ways PR is not marketing or advertising.

PR can get you “earned media.” When we say “earned media” in the PR business, it generally means being included or featured in an article written by a journalist or writer working for a publication. Advertising can land you in that publication as well, but you pay for the space or time directly. And though the wall between advertising and the newsroom has grown more porous, there’s still a distinction between paid content and non-paid. The main difference is perceived credibility: when you appear in the editorial section, it’s like an implied third-party endorsement, because someone has dug in a bit and determined you were worthy.

PR is not promotion. Doing PR for a company or brand can mean being a cheerleader, but it uses a different set of tools and tactics than marketing or promotion. Marketing can tout the characteristics of a product or service that add value. PR doesn’t promote directly, but rather puts it in context or seeks to highlight what is new or noteworthy. Why does this matter now? A consumer brand might make coupons or special offers available as a marketing promotion, while PR would share the story behind the maker, or explain why the product is part of a new trend.

PR is about awareness. While PR certainly focuses on specific audiences, it’s different from marketing, whose goal is to target consumers (or other businesses), convert them into customers, and keep them coming back. PR generates awareness and interest among target audiences. The best combination is when PR, done well, creates a healthy environment for marketing, and marketing uses those PR results for its more direct or more commercial selling.

PR is more challenging to measure. The media world now has sophisticated algorithmic tools to measure reach, clicks, and conversion, making it much easier for advertising to gauge the effectiveness of dollars spent. In public relations, it’s not as consistent, and the more sophisticated tools come at a price.

PR cannot guarantee perfect control over outcomes. With advertising and marketing, paying for an ad or campaign secures message control and guaranteed placement, but there is no comparable control when it comes to PR. Smart, skilled public relations people with deep experience can offer their wisest estimate for what to expect, but it’s never a sure thing. It’s still about the art of persuasion over power, third-party endorsement over promotion, and credibility over control.

What (PR) Clients Say, And What They Really Mean

A skill that can be particularly important for PR agencies or any client service business is what’s known as “active listening.” What clients say isn’t always what they mean. At least, not entirely. There’s sometimes an unspoken communication beneath comments from clients and business associates – if you’re listening for it, that is.
We decided to have some fun with this notion through a cynical roundup of what clients really mean when they say seemingly ordinary things. Don’t take it too seriously.

When a client says:   Don’t spend too much time on it.

What they really mean is:   Don’t bill me, and whatever you do, don’t let anything else slip.

When a client says:   I’m confused.

What they really mean is:   You’re making no sense.

When a client says:   We’re looking for an agency to grow with us.

What they really mean is:   You will never make any money on this business.

When a client says:   This is a great opportunity for you.

What they really mean is:   This is a test.

When a client says:   I’m looking for a flexible team.

What they may mean is:   We’re hard to work with.

When a client says:  There’s no budget for this.

What they really mean is:  It’s not important to senior management.

When a client says:   We’re happy to reward great work.

What they really mean is:  We’re cheap.

When a client says:  Put on your creative hat.

What they mean is:  This project is probably impossible. Good luck!

5 PR Strategies For Today And Tomorrow

Top PR professionals are always sharpening their B2B or B2C PR skills, whether it’s developing messaging, creative program ideas, or specific tactics for earning media coverage. Creating owned and paid content that works to engage customers and meet business goals is now also an important part of the PR team’s objectives. So, in this evolving landscape, what are some strategies the successful PR team must implement for today, and for the future?

Decode your target audiences

Are you constantly putting yourself in the shoes of your target? To effectively communicate, PR teams have to know not just who they’re trying to reach, but what story to tell them and where to tell it. Traditionally, PR teams have tried creating noise to attract the attention of the crowd and persuade them to care about a product or service. The data is now available to move from broad target views to more pinpointed ones.

Let insights drive thinking

While insights have always been a part of smart PR, there has been a huge shift in how data is collected, and how insights are generated and used. Surveys have and continue to be the most common way to know the pulse of consumers. But with social media, we get real-time data. PR teams must work alongside data scientists and other marketing partners to understand the market and collect and leverage these insights to create messaging with real impact.

Generate and leverage loyalty

Sure, the world is a fickle place, but savvy PR teams know that their internal and external clients live and die on customer loyalty. With increased competition and an ever-more-cluttered marketplace, it’s harder to stand out and reach the right set of customers. Understanding what it takes to appeal to and keep loyal customers is the best way PR can turn these customers into brand advocates who share their positive experiences, drive conversations and continue to engage.

Advocate for PR’s place

The rise of ad blocking is a huge source of irritation for advertisers. Some in the PR industry take a real “glass-half-full” perspective here – more earned media and native content may be the best way for advertisers to reach audiences they could lose through blocked ads. It’s a challenge PR can rise to, both in terms of selling in smart campaigns designed to generate more earned and working alongside advertisers to help with smart native and other content.

Nurture a passion for collaboration

Whether you are in PR, marketing or advertising, the battle cry for collaboration has been popular for awhile. But has it been realized? Not fully enough, we would argue. As the ways to reach target audiences evolve to include more and more overlap in the disciplines, there should be healthy overlap in the practice groups as well. Healthy camaraderie can lead to breakthrough thinking that benefits all.

PR And The 6 Signs Of A Successful Broadcast Placement

For top PR teams working on B2B or B2C campaigns, it’s hard to dispute the power of a broadcast placement for driving web activity or even foot traffic. When planning a broadcast campaign, first ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve – specific goals such as site visits or downloads, or broader general awareness of a company or brand. Although there are more news and talk show opportunities than ever, the guest booking universe is very competitive and restrictive. It’s important to know what constitutes success in such rarefied media air. Start by using the following to help set your own metrics.

Nothing is left to chance. It’s part of the PR pro’s job to sell in a segment that really works for the product or service. This often means negotiating up front with a producer to make sure proper images are used, a website address is provided (verbally, but especially visually) and there is enough time to get the message across. There are no guarantees, of course, but work as hard as you can to make a segment compelling enough so that a producer will do her level best to keep her end of the bargain.

The key messages are conveyed early and naturally. Success here results from proper spokesperson prep. This usually entails at least one formal media training session and follow-up with less formal discussions about messages. It pays to employ a seasoned pro who has done several TV interviews, understands the hectic broadcast environment and can “punt” when necessary.

The piece wasn’t too “cluttered.” An element of effective spokesperson training is the mock interview. Our advice here is to stage simulated interviews for broadcast that incorporate all the elements of the “real deal” to make sure you aren’t including too many complementary items in your “round-up” or trying to get across too many messages. Keep it simple!

The interviewer was interested and engaged.  When the stars truly align, the PR team has done its homework and knows, for example, that CBS medical reporter Dr. Max Gomez has suffered from a back injury and is genuinely psyched about your company’s new wearable device for pain. Short of that, it’s still your job to know as much about the interviewer as you do the outlet, and play to your strengths wherever you can.

Phones rang, downloads increased, site traffic spiked. Here’s where the rubber meets the road with a successful broadcast placement. Have you got the tangible analytics that link your perfect segment to demonstrable results and quantifiable outcomes?

Post-appearance, the company merchandised the piece well.  A broadcast segment has many lives. The smart PR team takes the clip and posts it to all its social media sites, the company website and YouTube, for starters. It can also be leveraged for sales team efforts and to potential marketing partners. And, because broadcast begets more broadcast, the segment becomes part of your spokesperson “sizzle reel” to help score more placements.

Interested in guidelines for how to pitch broadcast journalists? Download our Broadcast Pitching Tipsheet. . . .

Download Now

7 PR Lies To Avoid At All Costs

Are PR people unethical? I don’t think so. But our profession is dogged by the stereotype of the fast-talking spinmeister, or the unscrupulous flack. Recently a small but troubling study caught the industry’s attention at the International Public Relations Research Symposium. Anonymous interviews with more than 20 high-level PR executives in South Africa revealed that the PR executives admit they lie to the news media they work with, as well as subordinates and bosses.

“Lying to Protect the Organization: An Occupational Hazard?” revealed that 17 of the participants had lied as a matter of course in doing their jobs and that 16 said they would do it again. The pull-out quote – “Of course I lie — I lie because my CEO expects it” – from one participant made me cringe, evoking a shady Doug Stamper sent to do dirty work for a vile boss.

I’m overdramatizing after binge-watching Season 3 of “House of Cards,” of course. And 17 PR people in South Africa is a pretty tiny sample. But there are other, larger studies that show problems. Earlier this year, video communications company D S Simon reported that 90% of digital journalists said they have been misled by PR pros, pointing to a problem with proper disclosure in video content distributed to media.

Lack of transparency can clearly do damage to the PR-media relationship and to brands, as seen in the Volkswagen emissions test debacle. Millions of dollars are on the line and the reputations of brands can hang in the balance. The studies made me think about other embarrassing gaffes and ethical breaches committed in the name of PR, which are often uncovered and – thankfully – shut down.

Deceptive stunts. The Cartoon Network’s 2007 “Boston Bomb Scare” is infamous in this category. It involved scary-looking LED signs placed in random locations in Boston as part of a guerrilla marketing promotion for a new show. When they were reported as possible explosive devices, the campaign was scrapped. But at least Cartoon Network never intended to scare the public. This week, the game Call of Duty posted 20 apparently “live” tweets from a real-looking news aggregator Twitter feed that reported a terrorist attack in Singapore. The stunt was a social misfire.

Astroturfing. What we today call astroturfing goes back at least to the unofficial “father of modern public relations,” Edward Bernays, who in 1929 hired women to march in support of their right to smoke for a tobacco client. For a latter-day example of fake citizenry, look no further than “Walmarting Across America” back in 2006. What seemed like a celebration of the retailer by a couple of superfans traveling across the country in an RV turned out to be a plan by Edelman PR, who hired the cross-country team as paid endorsers without disclosing that fact. The result was an industry scandal and embarrassment for Wal-Mart.

Sock puppetry. It’s the digital equivalent of astroturfing. One case that shook up the PR biz involved Reverb PR’s fake reviews for videogame clients, which ended in a settlement with the FTC. But my favorite example is that of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who posted pseudonymous comments in praise of his own executive performance – and even his hairstyle – on Yahoo stock market message boards.

The faux hack. This one’s tired and especially annoying in my book, because it trivializes real concerns. Last year Chipotle drew attention with a series of bizarre tweets, then admitted to staging the hack to mark an anniversary promotion. It’s a cousin to another sin committed in the name of PR, which is the fake ad ban.

The fake ban.  It’s inevitable. Before the Super Bowl, a few brands claim that they’re outraged that the ads they submitted were too shocking/racy/controversial for whatever network to air on game day. Fortunately, the offending ads are available on YouTube for all to see! Some are established advertisers looking for extra spin, like GoDaddy, but many are smaller players who don’t have a Super-sized ad budget anyway. A tired and transparent end-run that’s not even interesting.

Social hijacking. It’s not a lie, but it is a PR sin. These include people or brands who invite digital hijacking with ill-advised Twitter chats or other social media promotions, like the Goldman Sachs Twitter IPO conversation that was torpedoed before it began. One example is comedian and accused serial rapist Bill Cosby, whose PR team invited fans to “meme him” on Twitter just as fresh assault allegations were starting to emerge. They got more than they bargained for.

The faux relationship. It’s as old as the (Hollywood) hills. The “showmance” and its counterpart, the faux feud. These are arguably entertaining sins committed in the name of PR, and even today, they sell newspapers and drive web traffic. Were Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson really an item? What about the bad blood between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift? Donald Trump and Just About Everyone?

We’ll never know for sure, but for ethical PR pros, it’s better not to go there.