As a small business owner, an entrepreneur, the new marketing manager at a thriving company, you may be wondering how to grow the business and make the best use of your marketing budget.

With a $50,000, $5,000, or even $500 budget for the year, you might be wondering to yourself… Where is this money best spent? Which form of promotion is going to get the most eyes on your company, product or message?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re currently debating between what seems like a sure thing in advertising or a lesser known aspect of marketing in public relations. Or, better yet, you might be reading this because you aren’t really sure of the difference between the two.

So, let’s start there.

When my friends or family ask what I do for a living, the simple and easily understood answer is, “It’s like advertising without the money.” While that’s the uncomplicated answer, it doesn’t capture the essence of what PR truly is.

To break it down into more technical terms, advertising is paid media, whereas public relations is earned media. While both advertising and PR help build brands and communicate with consumers, public relations is working with journalists/reporters to help tell your story, versus paying for a message to be sponsored.

So, why should you put your money towards PR (other than the fact that a PR professional is telling you to)? Let me offer my opinion, and over ten years of experience, condensed into the top five reasons you should put your money into public relations.

PR messages are more authentic: Every year I watch the Super Bowl, mainly for the ads, and I’m blown away by how many of them pull at heartstrings, or make me laugh. While some advertisements can surely be authentic, I would argue that public relations media placements are more authentic. I love my job because it puts me in a position to tell my clients’ stories and get reporters/writers just as excited about an organization as they are. Instead of paying a media outlet to run a client’s message, I’m leveraging my client as an expert in their space, and an expert for the media.Think about it this way… when you see a blog post of a product review and at the top it says, “I was paid by XYZ Company to review this products,” readers may think it’s bias and not as honest as someone who reviewed the product and wrote their review for free – no strings attached other than receiving product to try.

PR gives you more holler for your dollar. This is a more fitting way to essentially say you’ll get “bigger bang for your buck” or “more value for your money” with public relations. I cannot emphasize enough that in terms of expense, PR costs a fraction of what you’d pay for advertising. Full-page advertisements in weekly newspapers can cost upwards of $100,000. And that’s for one ad! Meanwhile, typical monthly retainers for public relations agencies will range from $2,000-$5,000. And while PR isn’t guaranteed, you’re surely going to get more out of that budget than one media placement. If you don’t, you’re not working with the right public relations firm.

Media stories reach more people than advertising does. In our industry, we describe reach as the number of times humans have seen a post or article. If you place an advertisement in the same magazine that runs an earned media story, technically you’d reach the same number of people. However, not many people engage with advertisements. In fact, if they are anything like me, they ignore or skip advertisements. This is vastly different from a news story, in which people will stop and read or watch, and actively engage with. Along with that, oftentimes, press releases and news stories are picked up by other media outlets. For example, if a press release runs on a national media website, local media outlets may pick it up, increasing the number of people seeing it.

Public relations will benefit your brand, more than an individual product. Companies often misconstrue the purpose of the PR for their organization. While many business owners would like PR to ultimately lead to sales, that’s not the main goal. The primary goal of executing public relations is to maintain and strengthen the reputation of the company, as well as engage with its audience/consumers. Advertisements are utilized to sell products, which should absolutely be a goal of your marketing strategy. However, public relations is utilized to strengthen the image of your company as a whole.

PR is nearly 90% more effective than advertising. I found this statistic, pulled from Nielsen, when I was researching and writing this piece. It doesn’t surprise me, as I’ve seen media placements draw more eyes to a website, visits to an event, or purchases of a product, than ads. Through public relations, your company appears more credible to the world because it’s being written or told by a 3rd party source. The 3rd party validation by a reporter or writer is much more persuasive than an advertisement where the message goes one way. Public relations builds trust and a relationship with your customers.

Every business is different and has separate strategies in terms of growth. Advertising can be the right option for many. But, having worked in the PR business for 10 years and having seen many business owners, who are either unaware of PR, or unsure of how to utilize it, I recommend doing your research and considering it.

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