Since public relations and advertising both work toward accomplishing the same goals for a business or organization, it can be difficult to determine the difference between the two and which is more effective. At their core, advertising and PR are tools that brands use to reach their target audience and promote their product or service. The most basic difference between the two is that advertising spots are paid for, while public relations placements are earned through media pitches and press releases. With money on the line, marketers feel immense pressure to decide where they should focus their efforts and with all due respect to the fictional advertising genius Don Draper, we believe PR is better than advertising.

When it comes to advertising, you get exactly what you paid for and nothing more. Let’s use TV commercials as an example. If a law firm pays for a 30-second ad to promote its criminal defense practice, the law firm gets a 30-second ad to promote its criminal defense practice. However, with public relations, messages and information can be delivered time and time again.

Instead of a commercial, let’s say one of the firm’s attorneys scores an interview with a business publication about a recent case. While the message is out of the firm’s hands, that article could then be picked up by another publication, shared on social media or used in a media pitch to secure another interview. Now, instead of just one ad that was over and done with in less than a minute, the firm has generated far more exposure and reach through its PR practices.

With advertising, there is generally a specific goal in mind. Advertising copy is geared toward certain outcomes, such as pushing a new product or service, promoting special deals and other methods to boost sales. PR on the other hand looks at the big picture, delivering meaningful information about the brand to build a sustainable and loyal base of brand followers that includes customers and other stakeholders.