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Why public relations is often the better option than advertising

WHAT are the advantages of PR over advertising? This is a question that has often hounded me, from the time I started to teach PR in University of Santo Tomas and Assumption many years ago. My students would always be confused about differentiating advertising from public relations. In the classroom, I would go into the formal textbook definitions and give actual examples to try and illustrate how the two are perceived as performing the same functions but are certainly dissimilar.

Many years later, I came across a more graphic differentiation coined perhaps by another pr practitioner who humorously put it this way:  “In advertising, you pay. In PR, you pray! “ In last week’s column, my colleague Mille Dizon stated some basic differences between advertising and PR. I would like to extend the topic further by citing from a book published in 2002 by best-selling authors and marketing strategists Al and Laura Ries (who also wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding).

The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR virtually spelled out the “death” of advertising and the growing importance of public relations and why advertisers should seriously consider the use of PR instead of always relying on advertising.

Today, 11 years later, I still continue to quote heavily from their book because the father-and-daughter authors were extremely in favor of public relations and publicity, consistently referring to brands that have succeeded mainly because of PR. To name a few, they enumerated Starbucks, The Body Shop,, Harry Potter, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Intel and BlackBerry.

The first part of the book basically debunks everything people have always believed about advertising:  that it’s effective. They say: “If you study advertising rates in all media, you will find exactly the same two trends. Increasing volumes, which reduce effectiveness, combined with increasing costs, which reduce efficiency.” These two trends have made advertising an expensive and difficult way to influence customers and the general public.

My favorite part of the book is when they listed down 14 differences between advertising and PR, all of them valid and compelling but for purposes of this article, I have chosen to cite only a few just to spark up some interest for those who haven’t read it yet to buy and appreciate the entire book. Here are my top five differences, according to Al and Laura Ries. I am giving local examples to illustrate   what they have stated:


Advertising Uses the Big Bang. PR Uses the Slow Buildup…

CONTRARY to the standard option that when introducing a new brand, it should be launched with a big bang, the authors say that PR is a much better choice to start with because advertising has no credibility. PR allows you to tell your story through a third-party outlet, primarily the media. PR should be first, then advertising follows.

A local example we can cite for this difference is the way a now famous celebrity-dermatologist used publicity and pr to slowly build up and create awareness and understanding for her cosmetic procedures before she even introduced her brand and named her clinic after her own name. She broke all traditions by getting the media to write about her celebrity clients who were only too happy to flaunt their liposuctioned bodies and sculpted faces. That was many years ago when she first became controversial for going against what doctors are sworn not to do: advertise their services. But technically, she wasn’t really advertising or paying for airtime and media space:  it was the media who wrote about her medical procedures and her patients who willingly talked about it and made it hot news….

She was just the source of the news.

Did it work?  Yes, it was a slow but consistent buildup but it did work with no “big bang.”

Today she is now a regular advertiser mostly via billboards but she also maintains the use of pr and continues to make the news with her growing list of endorsers.  It was a slow and long process (with a lot of controversies accompanying it) but PR certainly built up her brand.


Advertising is visual. PR is verbal.

WHILE pictures may paint a thousand words, and the best example for this is a billboard ad which may only grab the viewer’s attention, it is only PR that can properly deliver the credible side of the message. Remember that recent racy billboard ad on Guadalupe bridge showing some half-naked but very good-looking members of the Philippine Volcano team wearing only the skimpiest apparel of the sponsor?  Well it caused quite a stir not only on social media but also caught the attention of many vehicle owners  (mostly females) who appreciated the view of some “hot” men while driving to the North.

But did that visual ad achieve the objective of the team, which was to get them to be noticed by the sports industry for them to win support for their game? I seriously   doubt it.

What actually convinced the sports authorities and the public that these guys weren’t just a bunch of sexy bodies but a solid, promising team that can bring the country honors were the succeeding publicity and positive media coverage that they received after the billboard had to be put down after there were complaints about its propriety. It was PR that saved their reputation and paved the way for their sport to be appreciated and receive the much-needed financial and moral support.

“The essence of PR is to verbalize the brand in a way that will encourage the media to run stories about the product or the service.”


Advertising is incredible. PR is credible.

AL RIES says, “No matter how creative your advertising is…even if you use the most appropriate media, there is just nothing that can replace the issue of credibility. ”

Advertising tends to exaggerate and is always trying to only say the best things about a product, which is why it is often seen as too hard sell. Consumers now want or demand to know the truth. Why else are reality shows so popular these days? It’s because truth sells better than false claims, and the public can no longer be deceived easily. Ask yourself if you believe everything you read in advertisements. Most people don’t, which is why most people don’t give much attention to print, radio or television ads.

PR, on the other hand, is about building trust in a brand or a product, which is why it takes a longer time to build up that trust, unlike an ad which will just catch somebody’s attention because it is witty, or shows a strikingly dramatic photograph.

The objective of PR is usually to tell a story indirectly through a third-party outlet, and the best outlet would be the media. Media have credibility and if media deliver the messages that are presented to them by PR people, then those messages become credible, since people generally believe what they read in the newspapers or magazines or what they hear on radio or watch on television.


Advertising is Brand Maintenance. PR is Brand Building.

“EVERY brand that gets to the top got there by favorable publicity.” When building a brand, PR essentially must start by first pushing it up the media mountain, and this is never easy because you have to convince the media that it is worth the space or the time they are willing to give you. On the way up, the PR strategy is to “roll out the brand” so, more often than not, one can start with the smaller and more obscure publications or tv networks before “rolling out “ the story to the more important media.

The important thing to remember is that PR should be given sufficient time to produce results. Every brand needs its own timetable because if it’s a new idea and it’s different, therefore it will be under suspicion and media people can be more skeptical and suspicious than the customers themselves.

What do these brands have in common? Starbucks, Microsoft, Zara, Amazon and Viagra. They were created not by advertising but by publicity.

Coca-Cola was established in 1886, while Microsoft started in 1975.  Microsoft is only 38 years old but it has become the second most valuable brand in the world, second only to Coca-Cola. Advertising may have built the Coca-Cola brand, but not Microsoft. Most people cannot remember a single Microsoft ad.

It was also publicity that built Bill Gates into one of America’s best known corporate executives and a powerful personal brand name. Not advertising.

Al and Laura Ries, therefore, recommend that to introduce or build a new brand, PR should be first, followed by advertising. PR must establish the brand first, and advertising comes in to maintain its position and remind the public of where the brand fits in the overall scheme.


Advertising is Expensive. PR is Inexpensive.

FINALLY, here is the big, striking difference between the two that may be the most important, especially to marketing people who are most concerned with the bottom line.

In general, clients overspend on advertising and underspend on PR. I can attest to this, after having worked with some of the top companies in the Philippines that would budget millions for their advertising campaigns, yet allot only 10 or maybe 20 percent of their total budget to PR. These are the same companies which will turn to PR when threatened by any potential crisis situation or when they need extensive media coverage for a very important corporate move or development.

As authors Al and Laura Ries keenly observed: “Some people who wouldn’t spend $100 on a Timex will willingly spend $5000 on a Rolex.  Value and price are often firmly linked in the mind. The higher the price, the greater the value.”

When it comes to branded items such as a Rolex versus a Timex (both of which are advertised in their own unique manner), perhaps the pricing preference may be justifiable to some people, but between advertising and PR costs, I maintain that no one can give an appropriate or absolute value to  the power of credibility and  the importance of  building a brand which only PR can achieve over a period of time.  At less costs.

If you don’t believe that PR decidedly has more advantages over advertising, get a copy of the book.


PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the UK-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior communications professionals around the world. Joy Lumawig-Buensalido is the President and CEO of Buensalido Public Relations Agency.

We are devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .





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