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?


How effective are New Age PR Stunts?

Public relations is known for doing stunts to get publicity. Traditionally they have relied on journalists and media gatekeepers to publish media for them. They have also had to rely on new stations to pick up their story.

With the New Age PR stunts companies don’t need any of that. No need to contact journalists, gatekeepers or worry about buying costly media space.

Companies have found a new way to hone in on the highly digital age that we live in.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the changes that have been made in public relations just over the last five years. Public relations relied so much on others before, but now when it is done right you can have a successful PR stunt done in-house.

The latest PR stunt recently that drove me to write this blog was done by Ubisoft to promote their new game Watch Dogs.

Before you watch the video let me explain about the game in one sentence. The game Watch Dogs is based in future Chicago and the main character can hack into any system using his cell phone, whether than be shutting off lights or changing traffic lights.

In just over two weeks of the video being put on YouTube it has almost 13 million views. There are some video that have gotten more views in the same time period, but this is still impressive.

I can infer that the producers of the video are pleased with the 12.7 millions views, but want more.

These type of videos have been going on for about the last six months. The first one I remember seeing was the Jeff Gordon Pepsi MAX prank. This video has over 43 million views.

People thought that it was fake so they made another video to prove themselves.

Other notable one to watch if you have time is the Devil Baby prank in New York and the promo PR stunt for the movie Carrie. The Carrie video got 57 millions views.

I watched the behind the scenes video for the Street Hacks video and there were a lot of factors that played into the video. It was very complicated and intricate.

It may have cost a lot of money to make the video, but they didn’t have to pay for any commercials on TV. They didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a TV spot, which people could easily miss if they left the room.

By putting the video on YouTube they are able to know exactly how many people viewed the video. They know that the audience and demographic for Internet use is only growing.

They could have made a commercial and then placed the commercial on YouTube and then have people share that, but why use the middle man? Put it straight on YouTube.

I think that these New Age PR stunts are very effective. I am not saying that traditional media is a waste, but a lot of companies are going in this new direction.

The amazing thing is that people are choosing to watch your PR stunt a.k.a “commercial.” If a friend shares the video people are going to be more likely to watch the video themselves. They will also be more likely to share and mention the video to friends.

If their friends mention it to them they are most likely going type in “Watch Dogs Prank” on Goolge or YouTube, driving their traffic and impression through the roof.

If you look on Google trends, people searching for Watch Dogs has gone up exponentially since April.  Check out the picture below.








I think that they are effective for impressions, whether they impact sales or not is a discussion for another day.

Nothing is ever free, except in PR


With so many news outlets and different sources it can be intimidating to try and gain their attention for your company or PR campaign.

Have you ever had to pay for a journalist for an article? You better not have.

PR is generally free. What I mean is that you shouldn’t be paying people to get earned media. It needs to be earned, not paid for.  If the PR campaign is exciting enough newspapers, TV stations and other media outlets will pick up on the campaign and cover it.

Obviously there are the costs that go with producing a PR campaign, but it is nothing like advertising. Millions and billions of dollars are pumped in to companies talking about themselves. In PR, other people are talking about your company. Now that’s credibility.

I have the unique perspective of being a journalist while studying public relations. I see both sides. I am one of the editors for the school newspaper.

Once in awhile I will have someone come up to me and say we (a college department) want to work with the school newspaper and get a lot of articles in the paper this semester. I then ask them what they were thinking of doing, this is usually followed by a blank stare like I am supposed to have the ideas.

Don’t say you want to work with someone and come with ZERO ideas. Like I said it’s earned media, there has to be some work done.

As an editor I want current, timely and new material. I don’t want to write about a boring event that is going to happen. If you want the article or PR then you have to do the work and we the journalists will do the rest.

It is really interesting studying PR while working as an editor. I see the use of press releases, but if that subject line doesn’t stand out or if the email is constructed terribly I just delete it. Granted I do this and I don’t even get that many press releases. Imagine an editor who gets hundreds a day? He is definitely less patient.

Currently I am working on a PR campaign for Circle of Love, a local bridal and formal wear store in Rexburg, Idaho. We want to get an article in the paper about the owners and the event we are going to be having. However, this event isn’t going to anything that is really newsworthy or amazing.

On the flip side, if I give it an angle that an editor will like it could potentially become newsworthy and relevant. For example, the owners of Circle of Love own a lot of buildings downtown. Those buildings are over 100 years old and were once Hotels and other stores. My pitch could be something like this.

“Buildings that are over 100 years old in downtown Rexburg are not being used for their original purposes. Buildings that were once hotels are getting a face lift. The owners of Circle of Love are revamping them and turning them in 21st century building of business. There will be an open house on March 9th from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. to show off their store Circle of Love. There will be free food, raffles, grab bags for the first 25 people and lots of great deals on a bunch of items.”

Not the greatest pitch, but definitely more interesting than “Hey we are having a cool event can you cover it?”

You should have to work for your earned media, not buy it.

Remember that if your idea isn’t worth writing about that is not the editor’s fault, it’s yours.


Make sure that it is timely, newsworthy and exciting. Most of all remember that we shouldn’t be entitled. Earned media is not a hand out, hence the name earned in earned media.