The line between advertising and PR used to be easy to discern. If you paid for the message to appear in any medium -- that was advertising. If you talked to reporters or editors (who were independent arbitors and mostly neutral) -- that was PR. There was an iron curtain between the editorial department (reporters) and the advertising department (sales).
Things changed when digital media took away income sources from newspapers, TV stations and magazines. Free digital sales sites like Craigslist nixed income from classified ads - once a cash cow for newspapers. Free news websites and video diverted millions of eyeballs from the evening newscast - never to return. Many large media outlets folded or consolidated. Thousands of traditional journalists were sacked.
Content marketing started to take hold. High quality information of all sorts is free for the Googling. Digital advertising soon followed.
Now the confusing part starts. What content can you trust? Who is making sure it's well written and checks its veracity? That's the deal. No one is in charge. The iron curtain between advertising and PR is now more like a kitchen strainer.
Public relations practitioners have had to adapt by learning how to navigate the new landscape. The dizzying options available to companies looking to promote a product or service are definitely more complicated now than ever.
Here are some general categories to look at when thinking about promotion. I'm putting these in order from most effective to least (in my humble opinion).
- Public Relations - Done consistently and with the right message, public relations is still the least expensive and most credible source of positive attention that your business can receive. Reporters and editors are still influential sources of news and information and can still be a great medium for your message.
- Content Marketing - Creating content and posting it to a website and social media outlets will create an organic traffic source to your website and provide opportunities for you to get the sales when your prospect is ready to buy. The main advantage is that the content you create is YOURS. Use it as long as it remains pertinent.
- Digital Advertising - Using paid sources of advertising such as Facebook ads and Google Adwords can bolster the numbers of people who visit your website. It's not as credible as organic searches, but is effective when done properly and consistently. Price tag alert - guaranteed results can be very pricey! Research shows that banner ads are not only pricey but that people tend to ignore the ads.
- Native advertising - A combination of advertising, PR and content marketing - this type of article can appear in print or on a website. It can easily be mistaken for independent editorial content (see PR, above) but it is actually written by the company or someone hired by the company to promote a specific point of view. Since it looks like an editorial article written by a reporter, it can influence opinion for some, but easily be dismissed by those who notice its sponsorship.
If the budget is available, regularly spending money on the first three tactics listed is advisable. Native advertising has a time and place - but must not be overly promotional. I see daily examples of companies doing this wrong. Seek the advice of a PR professional to make sure the messages you want to convey are being sent in the proper way, to the proper audience.
Claire Celsi is a Communications Consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa.