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Which is better, advertising or public relations?

Reprinted from News-To-Use, Vol.7, No.2.
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Which is better, advertising or public relations? The proper marketing mix is the key to success.

Which is better, advertising or public relations? The answer may surprise you.

It's easy to find proponents of both disciplines in marketing departments, and indeed, it's not too hard to find whole marketing communications efforts that rely on a single marketing component.

But the fact is that advertising and public relations communicate in fundamentally different ways. The guy sitting at his desk reading a trade magazine ends up with different perceptions depending on whether he reads about the introduction of your new Millennium Widget in an ad or a news story.

According to marketing guru Regis McKenna in his book, Relationship Marketing, advertising and PR perform many of the same functions, but "information coming from the press is usually more credible. Articles in the media are perceived as being more objective than advertisements. If a company can win favorable press coverage, its message is more likely to be believed."

On the other hand, paid advertising maintains control of the communication in ways that are just not possible in a country with a free press, including what, when, where and how much communication will be seen by the prospect.

There was a golden time in advertising when there were relatively few communications outlets and huge percentages of the population read the same few magazines and watched the same television shows. Today the market is wildly fragmented, and consumers choose very selectively from scores of TV channels, thousands of magazines and millions of Websites. These are hard times for marketers, who are expected to meet short term sales goals and still build brand equity in a communications environment which is infinitely more complex than even a decade ago.

The fact that you can no longer reach a mass market with a single communications tool leads inevitably to the strategic concept known as Integrated Marketing Communications or IMC.

The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University defines IMC as "the process of managing all sources of information about a product or service to which a customer or prospect is exposed which behaviorally moves the customer toward a sale and maintains customer loyalty." What it really means is that the marketing department has to to see that the message is appropriately (effectively, memorably) translated into a total communications program that includes advertising, public relations, database marketing, packaging or whatever.

Your marketing effort can only benefit in terms of increasing its effectiveness by auditing the available communications vehicles, determining which do the best job of reaching your audience, and coordinating the message to "behaviorally move the customer toward a sale and maintain customer loyalty."

It's a big job, but now more than ever, it's worth doing. And worth doing right.

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