Line Between PR and Advertising is Blurry

I have been working in Public Relations for just over two years now. In college it was very easy for me to tell the difference between advertising and PR. Advertising is paid and PR is free (earned). The more I continue to work in PR the more I see that is not true.

Here is an example. I mostly see this with magazines, but it can occur anywhere. Some magazines are not be willing to publish editorial content unless my client is advertising with them. I have only been in the game for a couple of years, however my more seasoned colleagues tell me the editorial and advertising departments used to be completely separate. The line is now blurred.

Here is a direct quote from an Editor/Publisher after I pitched a great well-research idea for their magazine. “We usually run editorial in conjunction with our advertising packages.”

Even though the idea was interesting and relevant to the publication it would never see print because my client wasn’t advertising. To an extent I get their dilemma, it’s because print is dying.

Occasionally I will also submit different clients for awards. One Marketing Director told me that my client would have a better chance of winning if they were a regular advertiser. When I heard this for the first time I was shocked. Shouldn’t the product be chosen because it’s a good product? That is not always the case. I have one client that consistently wins an award every year because they are a regular advertiser.

I was also talking with a co-worker that was a former editor of a magazine. He specially mentioned that they wouldn’t run editorial on a product if they stopped advertising, or weren’t advertising a lot. Even though the information was newsworthy enough for the magazine it was not included. AS the publishers they have the discretion to do that, but it was very eye opening.

I don’t run into this every day. I have a lot of success working with social media influencers and other publications that are willing to publish relevant content. I just think it is interesting that the line between PR and advertising is crossing.

This has been my experience, but I am excited to see if this anyone else has had a similar experiences.

Here are a two examples. One more recent and one from a couple of years ago.

My friend showed me this video where Martin Garrix did a concert for deaf people. It was awesome! So, is this advertising or PR?

In my opinion this is PR. My rationale is because the video was made to evoke emotion and to make you think highly of 7UP. Most advertisements are meant to push products and they have that “buy me now” feel. Those aren’t the feelings that I get from this video. I would also have no problem sharing this video on social media but I would definitely not share a 7UP commercial. I don’t even like 7UP.

This is where things get complicated. This video wasn’t free. Martin Garrix was obviously compensated and there were thousands of dollars spent on the concert and video production. Per my definition above, PR is anything that is free, right?

Here is a definition that I came up with for these type of videos.
PR Driven Content: Content that is created in order to evoke emotion, but is not necessarily focused on pushing or selling products. Most of the videos that I have seen like this are funny and relatable to any audience.

Here are two other examples:

Recently Lyft has created a campaign by having celebrities go undercover as Lyft drivers. They are hilarious! It’s a funny video that people would have no problem sharing even if they were a constant Uber user. Their undercover videos have a combined amount of around 16 million views.

By my definition all of these PR-Driven Content videos cost money and were sponsored by a product or service. So what do you guys think, are they advertising or PR?


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