Publicity or advertising?

Publicity or advertising?

IT marketers have a wide range of promotional tools: advertising, exhibitions, sponsorships, publicity, direct mail, telemarketing, etc. In this article we'll compare two of them, advertising and publicity.

Publicity is the coverage you get in the media without paying the media for it. You may have to pay your PR people to make it happen but you don't pay the media.

The media runs the article about you because they think their readers/ viewers/listeners will find it interesting. Advertising you pay for, publicity you don't pay for.

You can divide a publication into two areas: the advertising content and the editorial content. Editorial is all the news items, feature articles, photos, columns, etc. That's where you get your publicity.

There is a halfway area called advertorial. This is really just advertising dressed up to look like editorial. As John Laws found out, advertorial is a tricky matter. It should be regarded as advertising and clearly labelled as such.

There are eight issues you need to consider in choosing to deliver your message as advertising or publicity:

1. Timing

With advertising you can decide exactly when and where your message will appear. If you're setting up a major product launch where timing is vital, advertising is the safest course. It's not always possible to predict whether journalists will regard your news as interesting. Even if they do, they may not find enough space for it in the current issue. It may not appear until weeks after you needed it.

2. Readership

People buy publications to read the editorial section. They will only read advertising if it catches their attention and raises their interest. Their attention is primarily on the editorial content. Journalists have carefully selected and prepared articles that they know will interest their readers. Ads, on the other hand, have been selected according to the interests of the advertiser. Plenty of ads will appeal greatly to readers and make riveting reading, but most readers will spend most of their time on the editorial.

3. Precision

Journalists very rarely rave about IT products. You won't find them saying, "This is the latest, greatest, state-of-the-art whizgig and you ought to rush out now to buy it." If you want to say that sort of thing, you'll have to take out an ad. But, hype aside, you may want to deliver a complex message that has to be precisely worded. If you do, use advertising.

4. Credibility

In the bad old days of advertising there were a lot of claims made that were totally untrue. Things are better now but the public is still highly suspicious of what is claimed in ads. They are far more likely to believe something in the editorial section of the publication than in an ad.

5. Cost

Costs are difficult to compare because they are so variable. At Recognition Public Relations we believe the total cost of a publicity job should be less than half the cost of the same amount of space if it was bought as advertising.

6. Saturation

Journalists will only give you as much coverage as they think your product or service deserves. If IBM announces a whole new range of e-commerce products, it will be discussed in the media for months. Minor products reach a saturation point very quickly. So, if a company wants to continue to get its product in front of people, it will need to use advertising or other forms of promotion.

7. No news

A great many products and services are important but aren't newsworthy. When a new version of a major accounting package is released it will get good coverage. But between versions there's not going to be much interest in the product itself. Advertising will be the most effective way of keeping the product in front of the market.

8. Specialised non-technical media

Many specialised publications don't carry IT news. Some law journals, for instance, are all about legal issues and don't discuss the technical matters in running a practice. But they're being read by 100 per cent of your target audience. If you want to use that journal as a vehicle for your message, advertising will be the only way to do it.

Steve Townsend is managing director of Recognition Public Relations. Contact him at

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