Advertising and Public Relations: Do You Know the Difference?


Ads, ads, and more ads. Today it feels like these various advertisements are all we see – brands begging us to buy their product over their competitors, commercials for upcoming streaming shows and movies, and Pavlovian posters for food that practically make us salivate. Everywhere we turn, we are inundated by marketing initiatives and campaigns. But, do we know what we’re actually seeing? Is it all just advertising or is there a public relations component?

First things first, let’s talk about what advertising is and its general role within the overarching context of marketing. Marketing largely involves research about consumer behavior and the market in which a company exists so that certain advertisements can succeed. Advertising provides more of the creative aspect of these marketing initiatives, and hopes to accomplish the ultimate task of informing potential customers on a product or service and then making that sale. There are countless types of and mediums for advertising, including social media, broadcast media on radio and television, print in magazines and newspapers, and product placement.

Advertising and Public Relations (PR), however, have a very unique relationship and play different roles. Here are some key differences between the two related fields:

  • The strategy: Advertising seeks to generate more profit and revenue from sales initiated due to specific advertisements. PR seeks to create awareness and a larger reputation for the company or brand through networking and similar manners of communication
  • Advertising is media you pay for, public relations is media you earn through the building of a brand or product or the like
  • Enhancing public relations involves building trust and credibility, whereas advertising includes building basic exposure and company overhead
  • PR has been said to hold more weight than advertising; anyone creating a brand can make an advertisement, but word of mouth among colleagues or a positive endorsement from a third party is truly valuable
  • The timeline: typically, advertising initiatives happen on a shorter timeline and public relations initiatives occur over a longer time – building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, but a particular discount or ad can catch someone’s eye and result in an immediate sale

Despite all of these differences, PR and marketing can and often do function jointly. When these two seemingly different operations work together, more can be accomplished than if isolated. Examples of their similarities include:

  • Though they utilize different strategies, the goals are similar in that they are results-directed
  • Data gathered through PR initiatives can be used to inform what consumers look for in advertising campaigns
  • With the insurgence in popularity of social media marketing, public relations’ long-term objectives for utilizing social media platforms can overlap with the objectives of smaller advertisements that frequently appear online
  • The audience is always the focus: advertisements primarily seek out new customers and PR seeks to maintain positive relationships with customers that are already invested or have an interest, but each still works to keep those relationships alive and engage the audience which they target
  • Positions in PR and marketing require a lot of the same transferable skills, such as well-developed oral and verbal and verbal communication, creative and critical thinking, and the ability to multitask

With a greater understanding of the differences and aspects of similarity between these two large components of consumerism, you can now recognize facets of each in daily life. It’s all around you!

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in either of these fields, there are a number of CCD resources that can put you on the right path. Come into our office for a 30 minute personal career coaching appointment with one of our professional staff to discuss various opportunities and ask any questions you may have! We can also offer insight in how to best curate your resume to showcase the aforementioned transferable skills that are crucial when working in advertising or PR, and help you prepare other application materials, such as cover letters! Check out our website to explore more of our resources at, and make your first appointment today by registering through Handshake at!



By Clarice Pennock
Clarice Pennock Career Intern