Public Relations Or Advertising – Which is Best For Your Business?

On Tuesday night, I caught a couple minutes of my favorite television show – The Big Idea. Hosted by Donny Deutsch, a long-time advertising executive, The Big Idea is an excellent source for getting daily advice from a wide range of entrepreneurs.

Tuesday’s topic was how to make your company a household name. Included on the panel were professionals from the public relations and advertising industries.

Donny is always eager to create a little controversy (one reason why the show is so entertaining), so I wasn’t surprised when he presented the following question to his guests:

If you’re a business owner on a limited budget and you could pick only one area to concentrate on, would you focus on advertising or public relations?

Without hesitation, I blurted out my response.

Ask this question to a random set of business owners and it’s likely many will tell you there’s little difference between the two. But the truth is these industries are completely different, especially when it comes to print.

While advertising requires payment for space in a publication, effective public relations results in free exposure (assuming you don’t hire an agency) for your product or service.

What’s more, readers realize you’re trying to sell them something when your information is presented in an advertisement. As a result, they’re naturally cautious. With public relations, you get a third-party endorsement from the media – a factor that boosts your credibility.

An issue some people have with public relations is that you have limited control over the way the media portrays your company, but I think that’s a risk worth taking.

If you’ve read to this point, my answer to Donny’s question is pretty obvious. But there’s one big reason why I believe in public relations … and it has the potential to impact your business on a grand scale.

You can multiply your message with public relations.

Here’s what I mean: When you’re featured or your product/service is mentioned in some type of print media, there’s a strong possibility your news will be seen by more than just that publication’s audience.

Most media these days have an online presence. Thanks to social bookmarking sites such as Digg, StumbleUpon and reddit, information – including news articles – is shared more than any other time in history. Regardless of your industry, social media makes it possible for you to reach a global audience without spending big bucks.

Also, the popularity of blogging has turned anyone with Internet access and an opinion into a reporter. Underestimating the blogging community’s publicity power is a huge mistake.

And, remember, writers and editors don’t just read their own publications. Fresh news comes from many sources, including competing publications. This is one reason why you sometimes see similar features in multiple publications.

So now that you know public relations is a cost-effective tool for your business, how do you use it?

As a regular contributor to several publications, here are my suggestions:

o Learn which writers cover your industry. This task is as simple as studying the publications you want coverage in and watching to see who writes about topics related to your industry.

o Volunteer yourself as a source. As a writer, it’s not easy finding qualified sources for articles. Once you learn the writers covering your industry, contact them and offer to answer questions for future articles.

o Request editorial calendars. Most trade journals determine themes for future issues months in advance. Editorial calendars are a great way to find out planned topics so you can offer your knowledge or, in some cases, submit your own article.

o Send out press releases. I don’t think enough companies send out press releases. Newsworthy events happen all the time. You just might not realize it because you’re too close to daily operations. Start asking yourself the following question: Would what we’re doing today interest someone outside of our company?

o Pitch article ideas to writers/editors. This is a challenging task for many people, but it’s worth the effort. When you pitch an idea, grab the writer/editor’s attention by describing why your topic is unique. Also, explain why it will benefit the publication’s readers.