Public relations: Don't tell people what to think

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Q. What are the benefits of spending money on public relations vs. advertising?

A. Everyone knows that when you read a story in a publication, see it on TV or hear it on the radio, you take in the message and come away believing what you read, saw or heard. While we know the news media isn’t always accurate, it is viewed by consumers as a credible, objective source for information. News stories allow the public to formulate their own opinions on issues, unlike advertising, which tells people what to think.

Consumers view ads with skepticism, whether they are advocacy ads or product focused. I’m not saying they don’t work, but advertising is limited in the impression it can leave on a consumer. For example, there has been a rise in physicians and dentists launching advertising campaigns for new and existing patients. I’m sure you’ve received direct mail items like postcards inviting you to visit that healthcare provider. I think direct mail items from doctors are effective for their existing patients; however, when it comes to finding a new healthcare provider, most people rely on referrals from friends and family members.

But if people in a town read a positive story about a doctor’s practice in their local newspaper—perhaps about his or her innovative treatments—they would be highly likely to make an appointment with that person. The rule of thumb in trying to create a positive image about a company, product or issue is that it’s always better to have someone else talk about it.

If a company uses public relations in tandem with advertising, it is important that the two efforts compliment one another. Most smart public relations people will ask to be made aware of the advertising campaign so they can repeat and/or augment those messages in all communications materials. It just brings the company even closer to achieving its goals. hme

Crystal Wright is a public relations strategist for Baker Wright Group in Washington, D.C. Reach her at 202-829-0848 or