Things Aren’t Always As They Appear

By Arieh Levi, 2010 Spring Intern

Before interning at Fusion, the most common idea that I heard about PR was its similarity to advertising. In fact, many people told me that the only difference between PR and advertising was that of money: a PR company’s job is to persuade and recommend media venues to promote their client through various means without outright spending money to get that position, while an ad agency is tasked with finding their client the highest-profile – and therefore, oftentimes quite expensive – media outlets and spots to appear in, as well as creating an advertisement. As I understood it, the paramount difference between the two was one of money, or how a PR firm or ad agency gains control over the media. After interning at Fusion for a couple of weeks, I found my original assumption to be incorrect. The true difference between PR and advertising is one of appearance – or disappearance, depending on which way you look at it.

Allow me to explain. While the public recognizes that a full-page ad for a given product has been paid for and created by an ad agency, the public might not recognize that the mention of that same product in an article may be the result of diligent work by a PR company to attain that spot and persuade the reporter that s/he needed this scoop. The difference lies not in the two industry models themselves, but how the public reacts to the sight of either industry in public. This is perhaps the reason that ad agencies do not simply put the company’s name out there, but devise a creative advertising campaign in order to (hopefully) create an easily recognizable brand. It is understood that an advertisement is meant to sell a product; hence the public will take to the advertisement more kindly if it is not just a name, but humorous, sentimental, or creates a bond of some kind between the advertisement and the viewer. A public that does not know whether the product has been placed in the article by a PR company or a reporter’s honest curiosity is none the wiser.

Hence, I believe that the main difference between the two is one of appearance. PR firms are promoting a company through articles, briefs, press releases, etc., hoping that the public will listen to the media as a source of reason. Media is knowledge, and therefore when the public sees a company’s name in the media, it is not seen as an attempt to sell or promote, but as a piece of information. Ad agencies are outright selling a product, and therefore must use methods to convince the public that the ad is not just there to sell the product, but also to make the consumer laugh, cry, or feel some kind of gain after seeing the advertisement.

The question, then, is posed to the consumer: what moves you to buy? Is it an emotional connection – a joke perhaps – or knowing a product has worth according to a prestigious magazine or blog. Maybe it’s a combination of both? Marketing is an attempt to understand the human psyche, and use it to a company’s advantage. So, from personal experience, which form of marketing do you think is more persuasive?

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