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Why mixing up PR and advertising is barking up the wrong tree

Posted 11.04.2018
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Reviewing marketing spend often leads to a simple debate: how will we allocate budget? This can lead to discussion around PR and advertising, what will provide most ‘bang for buck’, and best support brand building? It’s all too easy as a marketing practitioner fighting your corner to overlook the obvious; that each element of the marketing mix does a different job, and it all comes down to the business objectives.

This is why getting back to basics and talking about the psychological principles of marketing, PR and communications is essential to understanding the different roles they play.

But first, I’d like to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog reading with a commercial break.


This is a great ad, it’s emotive, it pulls you along with it, and most importantly it tells you everything you need to know about the brand – Pedigree is traditional, Pedigree is a bit folksy, but most importantly Pedigree loves dogs as much as its customers do. But interestingly, that’s all it does.

Advertising, print, broadcast and online is trending more and more to the allegorical, working to create a values-based impression of a brand or product rather than presenting functions and features. Even in the wordier B2B advertisements within the energy and marine industries, you’re looking at 100 words maximum for an advert. From an academic perspective, this is taking advertising further up the so called ‘hierarchy of effects’.

The hierarchy of effects model in marketing explains the psychological steps between a consumer and a purchase. These can be travelled through in split seconds or drawn out over a period of months depending on the involvement and complexity of the buying behaviour involved. Think buying a chocolate bar at the supermarket checkout compared to making a software purchasing decision on behalf of your business.

The hierarchy of effects tells us there are two cognitive stages; awareness and knowledge, three affective stages; liking, preference and conviction, and finally the behavioural stage of making the purchase.

 As advertising increasingly focusses on attention grabbing and brand building, it’s becoming almost exclusively an awareness tool. This is hugely important as you can’t get towards liking or preference without awareness, but it also means there’s a lot to do to get to purchase that isn’t being done by advertising – enter PR, stage left.

B2B transactions are predominantly complex and involved purchasing decisions. Companies need significant levels of information and understanding before they can commit to a solution. That’s why your brand needs to be represented authentically (as it always should be) at every stakeholder touchpoint from your website, to your social media, to how your business is reported in the media, to presentations at conferences, to how you communicate in the room.

It may have slipped past unnoticed, but all of this is, in fact, public relations; whether your business is consciously defining it as such or not. PR essentially gets you from brand recognition to your salesperson, walking your stakeholders down the road to your product with a consistent and effective presentation of both the facts and your brand and values.

Of course, there’s a whole academic sphere of understanding and models for how PR can be implemented to do this - far too much to go into in a short blog. It is the application of that PR understanding that leads to a detailed strategy, based on brand and objectives, that can be implemented through tactical means. This is particularly relevant for B2B markets such as marine and energy, where – as mentioned - purchasers require significant levels of information before they can make a purchase decision.

This is why a high spend on sponsorship or advertising without a clear objective and communications pipeline can backfire. Of course, it’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rule. There are PR campaigns with the creativity and cut-through to negate the need for paid-for placement. And advertising can still choose to push into sharing knowledge that influences the ‘liking’ and ‘preferring’ stages of the hierarchy. However, the clear trend for rich content shows that the need is to think broader rather than narrower. Getting hung up on a single channel or buzzword results is the tail wagging the dog. And if you think 30 seconds during the Superbowl will solve all your problems, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

By Kate O'Connor, Consultant

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