When advertising isn’t publicity

When advertising isn’t publicity

In your own industry you tend to take for granted the level of understanding ‘outsiders’ have of the terms you use every day. While IT is renowned for its use of initialisations, acronyms and in-house terminology, marketing is really no different. In many respects it’s worse because most of the terms are in general use and, as such, their meaning is widely interpreted. Many people talk about advertising, marketing, publicity, promotion and sponsorship as though they were completely interchangeable, but they aren’t.

I thought it could be useful to start the year by defining some of these terms, as well as putting some easy-to-apply boundaries around what you’re going to be asking your ‘marketing people’ to do in 2009.

Firstly, advertising is paid for. There is a definite cost associated with placement; whether you’re advertising in a newspaper, magazine, online, a billboard, at the movies, the back of the bus or on the radio or TV. It will cost you for the space or time during which your advertisement runs and for the cost to produce the material. Even if you’re given a ‘free’ ad, it’s directly convertible to a real, defined and published cost. If there is no cost associated with placement it isn’t advertising.

Publicity has 'free to air’ placement and generally is deployed at someone else’s instigation. This covers the press release you may have printed, the interview on TV, your signage being captured during the filming of a TV show or the team you sponsor being filmed as part of a race. Publicity cannot be guaranteed, nor to a large degree can it be controlled. Throwing any amount of money at an activity is not necessarily going to secure you publicity; neither will it guarantee that the publicity you receive is favourable.

Employing a smart public relations company will construct opportunities that are likely to gain you good publicity and in the right places. Get this wrong and you spend big time for releases to be pushed out to every media outlet. There may also be costs involved in putting you in a position to gain that publicity; for example, sponsoring a team or an awards category. The budget for this, however, is generally considerably less than a comparable ‘inch-by-inch’ or ‘second-by-second’ advertisement placement. The resulting editorial is also considered to be highly believable by readers and viewers, giving a pretty even balance against the guaranteed placement of running an ad. Ideally, advertising and publicity run hand in hand, making a good relationship between your ‘ad-man’ and your ‘PR person’ highly desirable.

While publicity is only a small part of ‘public relations’, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Your company’s public relations should include a gambit of other promotional and strategic marketing activity, which covers every aspect of your customers’ experience and how your company is perceived by its stakeholders from your staff through to investors.

Promotion and its sister activity sponsorship are another key part of the mix. Applying your logo and message to goods and services is an effective means of getting yourself known. It can take many forms – from your building signage to pens, drink bottles, t-shirts, bags and other promotional items. While there is a cost involved in promoting your brand, you generally own the branded item and are responsible for distribution. This is the difference between having your ‘advertisement’ applied to a commercially distributed soft drink and having your brand promoted on a drink bottle you give away.

Similarly, as a sponsor you’re reaching your audience through promoting your logo and key messages through the vehicle of association with a charity, sport, awards programme or other event. You get to associate your brand with other complementary and aspirational brands. A good sponsorship package will include opportunities for engagement with the audience or participants and promote your company beyond what can be communicated through a one-off advertisement. It will also include some elements of publicity; but again, this is only part of the package and there can be no guarantees.

In large events and campaigns you can end up with a mix of sponsors and advertisers. The differentiator being that a component of advertising is often part of sponsorship arrangement, with considerably greater benefits being offered to sponsors than just the simple, paid for, placement of a message in an event programme or through signage by an advertiser.

All of the above are, very simply put, a means of communication. They each form some of the deliverables of a marketing plan, but should never be considered interchangeable. Marketing generally sets the strategy against which all of these are delivered. One of the best descriptions of marketing is that it is the ‘process’ of interesting your customers in purchasing your products or services. It is a process that not only covers the deliverables I’ve discussed, but includes other factors such as research, brand development, pricing and the means of selling and distributing your product or service.

So, before you start your marketing/communications' plan for the coming financial year, please take some time to think out what it is you’re really seeking. Don’t go looking for publicity from your advertising agency or have your marketing consultant develop a promotional campaign, when what you really want is simply to place an ad.

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