Public Relations vs. Advertising ? Differences and Similarities

PR vs. advertising. What’s the difference? Advertising and public relations share a common goal, which is to improve their clients’ visibility, usually with a goal of increasing sales or other tangible benefit. In a corporate setting, you’ll often find advertisers and PR professionals working alongside each other in the marketing department along with people from related areas.

However, though they both relate to marketing, advertising and PR are two entirely different disciplines. Here’s one way to illustrate the difference: If you purchase air time on a radio station so that you can talk about a service, that’s advertising. If you are invited by that radio station to talk about your product, that’s public relations.

These two ventures are tightly bound with sales, and each of them supports the other. The cohesiveness is synergistic so that a great advertising campaign can strengthen the powers of persuasion held by the sales team while also increasing the perceived trustworthiness of an organization built by public relations teams. Let’s take a closer look at the methods of both advertising and public relations, and talk about how they relate.

Advertising is What You Pay For

Ranging from fast and easy to subtle and technical, advertising is a dynamic concept (and one popularized in the mainstream by hit shows like Madmen). Advertising can be boiled down to this definition: the creation and implementation of sponsored messages designed to publicly promote or sell a product, service, or idea.

There are several ways to carry out advertising, and there are more ways yet to determine the success of an advertising campaign. So, to further drive the difference between advertising and PR, let’s explore the two main ways advertisers target their audiences.

Inbound Versus Outbound

Marketers implement advertising through two distinct methods: inbound and outbound.

Each has its place in the wide world of advertising, and each can be successful.


A traditional style of marketing where advertisers reach into the customer’s world and put the advertisements right in front of them. Commercials, billboards, banners, etc, are all types of outbound marketing.


A non-intrusive modern method of advertising that doesn’t always look like advertising. The main difference is that instead of reaching out to consumers, this method draws potential consumers in. A company blog or native advertising (or “branded content”) is an example of this style.

Both tactics are still widely utilized, especially in the online world, as evidenced by nearly every page on the web. The pervasiveness of outbound marketing on web pages is so prevalent, in fact, that users have developed banner blindness, a phenomenon where users ignore locations on web pages where ads are altogether. Overcoming banner blindness with outbound marketing is a tricky business, but there are methods.

Public Relations is What You Pray For

If advertising is what you pay for, good PR is what you pray for. A potential consumer is more likely to trust the word of someone being interviewed on a radio show than the same words from that company in an advertisement on the radio. People don’t like being sold to; but they don’t mind learning about a product or a service from someone they trust.

That’s where a good public relations team can enhance the power of advertising and give those campaigns a strong backbone.

A great example of building trust, credibility, and awareness all at once is a public relations campaign by Carlsberg, a beer company in the UK. In a mash-up of advertising and PR, they installed a billboard on the outside of their brewery in London with the words “Probably the best poster in the world” in the plain font on a soothing green background.

The kicker — the billboard had a tap right in the middle that would dispense beer, monitored by an employee of Carlsberg. Anyone over 18 could pour themselves one free lager from the tap. Talk about building trust!

The Inherent Value of Trust

Since the ultimate goal of advertising and public relations is to increase sales, it’s important that we talk about sales here. The most valuable quality in a salesperson is, you guessed it, trust. According to cumulated Gallup polls, the only people trusted less by the public than salespeople are members of Congress.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see the value of having a dedicated public relations team establishing trust so that sales teams can have that foundation to work with. Without public relations, even advertising would be less effective since the foundation of trust wouldn’t be there. Understanding the differences between public relations and advertising is a boon to the industry professional and is crucial to empowering the salesperson.

PR vs. Advertising FAQs

What is the difference between PR and advertising?

Advertising and public relations share a common goal, improving their clients’ visibility, usually to increase sales or another tangible benefit. In a corporate setting, you’ll often find advertisers and PR professionals working alongside each other in the marketing department and people from related areas.

What is advertising?

Advertising is creating and implementing sponsored messages designed to publicly promote or sell a product, service, or idea.

What is PR?

PR is the activities that support releasing and spreading information about your company to the general public.

Tags: Corporate Reputation.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Get in touch with our team and we’ll take the first steps toward making you look better online.

Talk with Us