Any good businessperson knows that publicity and advertising should be indispensable parts of any campaign. The idea of both of these important communications tools is to get your business name or product out to the public in general. Publicity and advertising are ways for you to inform the public of what you offer. If no one knows about your business or product, it is very difficult for you to make any money. However, when first starting out, many people think that publicity and advertising are the same thing. In reality, however, they are two different approaches to getting the word out.
The three key areas in which publicity and advertising differ are control, credibility, and cost. Once you know how publicity differs from advertising, you are well on your way to creating an effective campaign that can get you good public exposure, and help you plan a way to best use the money set aside for attracting people to your business or product.
Publicity is, for the most part, out of your control. You can stage a photo opportunity or a stunt, but you do not control whether the event is covered, nor can you determine what is said of the event. You can write a press release and send it to television stations, newspapers, and radio, but there is no guarantee that anyone will follow up on it. If there are negative aspects of your company, you cannot stop those from getting in the media. And you certainly will not be asked if you want a premium placement.
When you advertise, you have control over what is put out to the public. You decide what the advertisement is to say, and you decide how it should look. You can preview the ad to see how it looks. If you do not like what you see, you can have the ad changed until it reflects your needs. In addition to determining what the ad will say and how it will look, you can even exert a degree of control over the placement of the ad. In newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and on Web sites, you can pay extra for what are called premium positions. This way you can determine whether your ad appears (or is heard) in a place that is most likely to have more of the public paying attention.
Publicity is generally seen as more credible than advertising. If a story appears on the news or in the paper and it contains positive information, this is seen as a more reputable source. This is why so many companies provide community service; it is a positive way to get a business name in the public consciousness. Unless you are pulling an obvious and shameless publicity stunt, most people will be more impressed with a quarter page news story than a half page ad. The downside, of course, is that if something negative comes out, it can be more damaging than a badly designed ad.
Advertisements are often viewed with healthy skepticism. Because most people understand that ads are paid for by a company, they are less inclined to accept an ad as the whole truth. Advertisements carry an inherent bias on the positive side that cannot be done away with.
Publicity is free. When you receive publicity, you are not paying to compensate someone for the space. Publicity means that someone thought that what you are doing is important enough, and impacts the public enough, to report on it without you having to pay another organization to mention your name.
The bottom line is that advertising costs money. Even though people are more wary of ads, the truth is that they are very good at catching attention. Advertising works, as evidenced by the fact that some companies spend millions of dollars a year on advertising. You do not have to spend millions, but paying for an ad, whether a TV or newspaper ad, a billboard, or an Internet ad, is a good idea.
On the most basic level, publicity is what others say about your company, and advertising is what you say about it. Both of these techniques are very useful, and when used in tandem as part of a plan to get your business or product name to the public, can impact your business in a very real way.