“Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for”

Written by Grace Jones, 2017 PRINZ Student Ambassador, Unitec Institute of Technology

“Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for”

(Helen Woodward, 1938)

As a PR student and a professional practitioner to be, we are surrounded by uncertainty as to what our future roles, goals and challenges may be – even whilst living and breathing the public relations course at Unitec. PRINZ has been invaluable to helping us understand exactly what PR is about in tangible practice, understanding the intricacies of the current public relations ecosystem and where the future opportunities might lay through exposure to experienced industry professionals. In extension to this, there is a lucky few of us that have become PRINZ student ambassadors for our university. I have the liberty of being Unitec’s ambassador.

I attended a PRINZ learning lunch hosted by Nikki Wright from Wright Communications. I was most intrigued by the “Exploring the value PR brings to an organisation” discussion, as this is how I can directly showcase value delivered by my skills. We discussed how others often misunderstand the value of public relations outside the industry and it is becoming undervalued in comparison to other associated fields, such as marketing and journalism. It’s critical as PR students, that we understand how our practice is perceived by clients (both current and future) – particularly when being compared to other communications disciplines as previously mentioned.

3 things you should know about Public Relations

1) What is Public Relations?

Unlike more traditional ‘Jobs’, Public Relations is not easily defined or understood by those who aren’t familiar with the industry. If you’re a builder, policeman or a mechanic everyone knows your job functions – in PR, it’s less understood. Here’s what the Public Relations Society of America PRSA agreed upon after a few thousand submissions in 2012: “Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” and the PRINZ definition (approved in May 2012) is: “Public relations practice shall be defined as the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding and excellent communications between an organisation and its publics.”

Unlike advertising, we persuade our external and internal audiences through unpaid or earned methods of communication. Whether it is traditional media, relationships or social, we communicate with our audience through trusted and established methods, creating lasting brand impressions, not through paid sources.

“Public Relations is the way organisations, companies and individuals communicate with the public and media” (Parsons, P. J. 2016). For example, brands should use PR agencies or their own in-house corporate communication practitioners when seeking to build, maintain or enhance their reputation with the public. A good public relations practitioner can analyse the organisation, generate positive, targeted messaging and translate these messages into a beneficial media story that builds and sustains positive and mutual stakeholder relationships.

Our tools can include the following:

  • Write and distribute press releases
  • Speech writing
  • Write pitches (less formal than press releases) about a firm and send them directly to journalists
  • Create and execute special events designed for public outreach and media relations
  • Conduct market research on the firm or the firm’s messaging
  • Expansion of business contacts via personal networking or attendance and sponsoring at events
  • Writing and blogging for the web (internal or external sites)
  • Crisis public relations strategies
  • Social media promotions and responses to negative opinions online
  • Critical thinking
  • Analysis and measurements of reputation

2) What do our skills include and can PR be measured?

Yes, but measurement is often difficult to categorically define. It’s important, that as practitioners, we can demonstrate the value of our skills – proving the ongoing necessity of our services for our clients. Public Relations activity can be measured in impressions, responses and value of coverage (publication/channel/platform dependent). We often use tools like the publication media kit’s to understand the value of different coverage.

As Nikki said at the learning lunch, Public Relations brings “purpose and relationships” which directs our clients and add value to their organisations or products.

3) How is PR different to advertising?

Paid VS Unpaid, Earned VS Purchased, Trusted VS Sponsored

A single tweet from a Kardashian can be worth more than a full advertising budget but it can be a very smart move, given her expansive audience. Although, PR is increasingly paid as it is about professional communication practice to build desired stakeholder relationships and corporate identity.

The key differentiating factor is that advertising is paid media, Public Relations is earned media. In PR, we tell relevant stories to interested outlets/individuals and they then chose to publish related content or not – different again from advertorial. These categorically different (yet deceptively similar) channels often cause confusion for consumers of standard media messages. The underpinning benefit is that your story has more credibility because it was verified by a trusted third party, rather than purchased advertising.

Here’s a good chart from a Forbes blog written by Robert Wynne a Public relations practitioner:

This blog is about inspirations received from just one PRINZ networking event. I encourage all my fellow students to attend upcoming PRINZ events, for the networking opportunities and conversations you will have with like-minded and interesting practitioners in Public Relations.


Parsons, P. J. (2016). Ethics in public relations: A guide to best practice. Kogan Page Publishers.

Woodward, H. R. (1938). It's an art. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.

Wynne, R. (2014, July). The Real Difference Between PR And Advertising. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwynne/2014/07/...

Young, S. (2015). Public Relations versus Advertising. Retrieved from http://www.appmasters.co/public-relations-versus-...