Public Relations in Context

Study Preview Public relations messages rely mostly on mass media to reach their target audiences. This means that the messages need to make sense to journalists, who decide whether to include them in their news products. Public relations includes elements of advertising but is qualitatively different as a discipline. One difference is that public relations tries to win minds and to build honest consensus, while advertising tries to make a sale.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 8.2.1 Differentiate public relations and advertising
  2. 8.2.2 Explain how digitization has changed press releases

8.2.1 Public Relations and Advertising 1. Objective: Differentiate public relations and advertising

Public relations is at home in all the media of mass communication, whether with print, broadcast, or digital delivery. Persuasion is platform-neutral. It’s the message that counts, and, of course, it is essential that it reaches audiences with which dialogue can be facilitated.

Public relations and advertising often are viewed as synonymous, but at their core, public relations and advertising are different forms of mass communication. Although the differences sometimes are blurred in practice, neither advertising nor public relations can be understood without knowing their core differences.

Differentiating Advertising and Public Relations

Separate Purpose The purpose of public relations is to win favor, usually over time. The goal of advertising is sales as quickly as possible. Advertising’s success is measurable relatively quickly in revenue. Public relations, on the other hand, succeeds by creating and building on good will, which is not so easily measured but nonetheless important.

Different Means Public relations is a persuasive activity in the dialogic tradition. Advertising pitches are non-dialogic. Nobody, for example, expects an advertisement for a product to point out product disadvantages and flaws in making a reasoned case for a sale, nor does anyone expect advertising to seek a dialogic exchange. Advertising’s goal is commerce, not dialogue. In this sense, advertising messages are coercive in encouraging a decision by providing only enough information to close a deal. In contrast, public relations aspires to be persuasive with a full examination. Dialogics carries high standards for sharing the whole story, the bad as well as the good, to develop enduring commonality and a mutually beneficial relationship.

Management Role In many well-run organizations, public relations is an upper-management function. Organizational policy makers seek the counsel of public relations practitioners whose job is to be in tune with a wide range of constituents, or publics, and solicit their help in charting routes for mutual benefit. In contrast, advertising does not contribute to organizational policy. Rather, advertising practitioners do their work after policy decisions are made at the organizational levels of marketing or even higher echelons.

Media Time and Space Both public relations and advertising use mainstream mass media to carry their messages, but each does it differently. Advertising appears in the media space or time that is purchased. Advertisers control the messages they place. After all, they’ve bought the time or space. Most public relations messages are issued to mass media organizations, like to newsrooms and bloggers, in hope the messages will make it through a screening process and be passed on to mass audiences. Public relations practitioners have somewhat limited control over how their messages reach their intended audiences, but their level of control has increased significantly with the use of the Internet, particularly social media, which has increased an organization or entity’s ability to communicate more directly with its constituents.

The differences between public relations and advertising have exceptions. Nothing says advertising cannot be dialogic. The reality, though, is that word-heavy argumentation and exploration are rarities in advertising. There are quicker ways to make a sale. Another exception to the usual differences is in-house presentations, like a college’s alumni magazine. For in-house presentations and publications like brochures, even for a Facebook page, public relations people have total control over the message their audience receives. Even so, these exceptions underscore that there are core differences between public relations and advertising.

8.2.2 Public Relations in News 1. Objective: Explain how digitization has changed press releases

A basic tool of media relations is the press release. These are statements issued to newsrooms ready-made for publication, posting, or airing. The purpose of a press release can be informational or to promote a position, a product, or a special interest. News releases go to all newsrooms that public relations people believe will be interested. Editors in newsrooms then generally recast the press releases to avoid the risk of running a piece that matches a competitor’s piece word-for-word. Press releases include announcements as routine as calendar events, but are also used to attract reporter interest in hope of injecting a particular point of view in news stories. News releases take a hybrid form in media kits, in which public relations people provide journalists not only news releases but also fact sheets, publicity photographs, videos, charts, and graphs.

Press releases have remained the same over the years, except in two important ways:

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