Marketing 101 - Part 2


Understanding the differences between advertising, publicity (aka PR) and promotion makes any marketing discussion run more smoothly. If you don’t understand these distinctions, a quick review will clear up a lot of misconceptions.

Of course, everybody knows what advertising is. We bathe in it daily, like it or not. But for the sake of thoroughness, a short definition needs to be included. Indulge me.

Advertising is when you create a commercial message and pay for the communications channel(s) to disseminate it. It is a postcard in the mail, or space in a newspaper or magazine, on a billboard, website, or blimp. It is time on a TV or radio broadcast, before the feature at a movie theater, before the video on your cellphone, etc.

The key point to understand is that in advertising, you pay for the space or time, and you get to control the content of the message completely. In most media, you also get complete or partial control over when the message appears.

In advertising, the greatest expense is usually the space or time itself. The expense of creating the ad is generally dwarfed by the placement costs, especially when the ad is reused many times. The size of investment for space or time makes it worthwhile to spend a bit of extra effort, thought and money to create great, effective materials.

Publicity or PR (which might stand for either Public Relations or Press Relations) is the art of getting space or time for free. You do this by providing content for a magazine, newspaper, TV or radio show, website, etc. They get to use your content for free, which they like, and your message reaches their audience.

With a publication, this may be done by sending out a press release or electronic press kit that contains your message (couched in the form of news), which the publication’s own writing staff can then edit, rewrite, or enhance. It may also be done by arranging for the publication to interview someone who will tell your story to one of their writers, who then writes the interview into an article. You may also arrange to give the publication a “contributed article” that the publication will run - more or less - in the form that you write it. Most construction trade magazines and websites have little or no writing staff, just an editor or two, and get the majority of their content from contributed articles.

For audio and visual media, you may supply pre-recorded content, or provide a spokesperson who will appear for you.

The truth is, we bathe in publicity daily, too, but we are largely unaware of it. Most news media derive a huge proportion of their “editorial” content from the work of publicists. Press releases alert them to what the news is (and spin it to meets the needs of the issuer or the release). The fact of a press release hitting every news outlet simultaneously can, to some degree, create news.

The key difference from advertising is that Publicity is space or time you get for free - your only cost is the creation of the content – but you give up absolute control of how and when it will appear. Publicity is more of a negotiation with the publication, show, etc. The editor can edit it, add to it, and alter it. If PR is handled professionally, this is a collaborative process between the editor and your PR agency or in-house PR rep, who defends your interests and works with the editor to keep the content you want.

(Note: the aforementioned PR agency or in-house department also usually gets the job of Damage Control in the event of mishap or scandal. They get the job because they have experience and relationships with the media. However, it is a thoroughly different activity than what we’re discussing here.)

Promotion is a catchall phrase that covers a very wide range of activities and endeavors. Most people think of promotion as a free pen with your company’s name printed on it, but there are many other forms of promotion. What they have in common is that they have more direct engagement with the potential customer, and usually involve giving away something to encourage business.

The giveaway is sometimes just information (a gray area bordering on advertising), but more often it's in the form of a product discount, a gift-with-purchase, a tie-in with a related product, or that pen with the company name on it. It may be a personal appearance by someone connected with the product, or by someone utterly unconnected with it (i.e. a race car driver who has nothing to do with construction) who can attract the attendance of potential customers. It may be a trade show booth.

Promotion is a message, but it is more a communication of goodwill than of information. Promotion helps create a relationship.

Working Together
Each of these forms of marketing help in their own way to create awareness, recognition, and familiarity with a product, brand or company. There is little overlap between them, and well-planned marketing strategy uses each mode in its strength to raise the product’s marketing profile. Each of them, and all of them together, open the door for sales.

Next time: What Advertising Does Best