What is the difference between PR and publicity?

If PR is media coverage, what is publicity?

This is a question I’ve asked both industry peers and customers alike.  While it’s a rhetorical question with customers, I’m always hopeful that somebody in my industry can explain it to me.  Either that, or they’ll realize that what most ‘PR’ firms sell isn’t public relations at all – it’s publicity.

Most of the time my question is met with silence.  It’s an awkward silence when the conversation is face-to-face and when the conversation is online I get no response.

I thought I’d ask it again today.  The topic of the Future of Communications was being discussed at an event in London, England and so I hoped somebody might be able to offer an answer.  I was disappointed, again.  Or perhaps I wasn’t.

The best I got was from John Brown, Hotwire PR’s Head of Engagement [also known as @brownbare on Twitter] – and it was remarkably honest.

John Brown Hotwire PR Publicity

He’s right.  It’s something I’ve long said.  The problem is that publicity, or awareness, is what most PR firms charge thousands of dollars per month to deliver for their customers.  And now John Brown says it has no real purpose, other than excruciating indulgence.

When I suggested PR was about building and maintaining relationships John was equally candid:

John Brown PR Bollocks

He went on to explain, when I cited the PRSA definition, crowdsourced from PR industry ‘pros’ that people where talking about Google + in 2012.  It’s perhaps worth pointing out that some people still are – and I’m one of them.

So, if PR isn’t about relationships and publicity has no value, what exactly is it that most PR and publicity firms do?  What is their value proposition?  How are they justifying their expensive retainer fees?

Ah, I know… they’re content marketers these days! And, it’s all about storytelling and engagement.



Without A Call To Action Your Content Is Not Marketing

There’s a lot written about content marketing these days.  If you believe the gurus, ninjas, PR pros and ‘experts’ content is the solution to all business ills.

Want to find more customers? Content marketing is the answer.  Want people to believe your company is the Uber of X, Y or Z? Content marketing will help you convince them.  Want to attract millions of dollars in funding? Content marketing is a sure fire way to achieve it.

There are many problems with these assertions but one in particular you should know about.  Content used for marketing purposes – a true piece of marketing communications content – MUST have a call to action.  What’s a call to action?  In its simplest form it is a clear request to the reader to take a defined action.

“Visit your local dealer and book a test drive today”

“Call 1 888 123 1234 to buy the 2016 Chevrolet X’

Sign up today to receive your free gift”

If there’s no call to action then a piece of content is not a piece of marketing communication, it’s promotion. Awareness. Publicity.  Why does this matter?  Simple: because marketing is about getting people to take actions to support your business.  Awareness is simply that.  There’s no attempt to get people to take action and, as as result, can’t be marketing.

Without a call to action, your content isn’t marketing, it’s just content.

Stop Creating Content. Start Building Relationships.

What if you stopped creating content to post on every social network and publishing platform and focused instead on building relationships?  Think about it.  How much time, money and energy are you wasting by creating content in the name of marketing that has no noticeable impact on your business?

Sure, you might get a few people sharing a post; you might feel good that somebody liked what you wrote; but what’s the tangible value from spending hours every week creating content?  Don’t know?  Don’t want to know?! If you’re doing it because your ‘PR’ or ‘marketing’ company told you to there’s a pretty good chance the only winner in the process is them!

What if you stopped creating content and, instead, focused on building and maintaining relationships with the people who matter most to the success of your business?  What if, rather than creating a piece of content you picked up the phone and talked with somebody? A potential investor; a prospective customer; a journalist; a former customer that just became an ex-customer.

What if, rather than trying to sell them something you asked questions? What if you tried to gather insight, rather than convincing them you’re the Uber of X or that you have a unique, innovative whatever that they simply must buy?  What if you spent the money you’re wasting creating content that nobody reads; nobody cares about; and invested it in the relationships that matter most to the success of your business?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Arianna Huffington Says The Press Release Is Over…

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

… but she hasn’t a clue what she is talking about.

I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago for MarketingProfs where I explained that the reason the PR industry is dying… because too few of its so-called professionals don’t understand what they are talking about. As a result, there are too many commentators that don’t know their PR from their marketing and publicity.  Comments Arianna’s in an Inc magazine interview are the perfect example of what I’m talking about.  That, and my assertion that self-titled ‘experts’ creating content that misleads the, often uninformed, reader.

Arianna says that she thinks that content marketing, ‘or whatever the buzzword of the day…” is a better strategy for small businesses than public relations.  Sorry Arianna, the two are very different things and marketing – content or otherwise – can’t replace public relations.  Public relations is about building mutually beneficial relationships, based on trust and credibility.  Marketing is everything an organization does to get an audience to take action on your behalf.  Marketing is easier if you have the relationships in place.

Whether the press release is dead… it is if it’s done badly – as is the case with the majority that are written and distributed.  If the purpose is clear, the release is carefully written, is delivered to the right audience and using the most appropriate delivery mechanism then it is still a valuable PR and publicity tool.  Whether it is PR or publicity depends on the desired outcome: are you trying to inform [publicity] or build relationships [PR].

The other issue I have with Arianna’s ‘advice’ is that it’s based on her business.  It’s like me telling you that in order to get to a destination – say a Starbucks – you need to turn right outside of your front door, turn left after 50m and then left again.  Walk 500m and you’ll arrive at your destination.  While this works for me, it is unlikely the same ‘strategy’ will work for you.

Content works best for Arianna because her business is in online publishing.  She is able to sell advertising based on the amount of traffic to the site.  For many startups and small businesses page impressions have little or no value.  Content shared is only valuable if it is shared with the right audience – people that are likely and able to become customers, investors, beta-testers or champions.  If they fall outside of the target audience for an early-stage business then content sharing has no commercial value at all.

And, so the final words of caution when listening to advice from somebody that doesn’t understand your business in detail… context is everything.  Beware of generic, broad-brush proclamations – it may not be good advice for your business and is not likely to deliver the results you hope for.

You can get the PR, marketing and publicity advice your business needs today, starting with just a 15-minute introductory session.  After that, you can tailor a program that is customized to your business’s specific PR needs

Why Content IS NOT King

If you believe the marketing ‘experts’ Content in King – and content marketing is going to be huge in 2013.  It makes sense when you think about it – the objective of most marketeers is to get coverage that promotes their product, service or company. Historically this was via the press [print and, more recently, online], but with the advent of blogs companies get to be their own publishers.  They can create as much content as they like at, relatively, low-cost – and often bypass those unpredictable, sometimes grumpy [the perception, not the truth] and ill-informed [because why would they not want to write about MY company?!] journalists!

But think about it.  If content were really King then the New York Times Bestseller list would be filled with 1000 page War and Peace-style tomes, email marketing wouldn’t be so universally loathed, click-through rates wouldn’t be so low, companies wouldn’t be face with increasing the volume of inbound leads in order to meet new customer numbers. The problem is that most marketing content is promotional content – and it stinks!

Content is NOT King and the sooner marketeers start to understand that the more effective their marketing will become.  Content is only King if  it delivers the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, in an appropriate format and is delivered via the right mechanism/channel. This applies whether it’s a press release, an email marketing piece, a billboard advertisement, a print ad, an online video, a webinar, a blog post, a white paper, TV spot… and it’s why the likes of TechCrunch, The Financial Times, The New York Times, Gawker, Mashable and The Sun have loyal readers that come back day after day, after day!  They deliver good quality content that their readers want to consume in the right way [most publications now offer print, online, mobile and iPad/tablet apps] – if all they did was talk about themselves it’s unlikely they’d keep their readers very long!

So, next time somebody tells you that content is King… don’t believe a word of it!

Read more Marketing Mythbusters…

#1 | Most Marketing is Promotion

#2 | One-size-fits-all ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Marketing Strategies Don’t Work

#3 | Content Is NOT King

#4 | Three Myths About Brand

#5 | Own Your Niche [Don’t Create A New One]

#6 | Focus On The Marketing, Not The Social Media

#7 | Is A ReTweet An Endorsement?

#8 | Disclaimer: Everything You Say Is The View Of Your Employer

Most PR and Marketing is Really Promotion!

One of the biggest problems facing an entrepreneur as they attempt to understand the value of PR and marketing to their business is understanding what the most used terms mean.  It’s confusing, even for seasoned professionals, so understanding what people working in the industry say – and what they mean – can be a challenge.  There’s a great deal of misunderstanding within the industry – people using the same words but meaning completely different things.  So, we’ve compiled a PR and marketing glossary for entrepreneurs.

Marketing: contains four Ps.  Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  This is known as The Marketing Mix.  Some new models for service-based models – which include 4Cs or 7Ps – have been developed, but regardless of whether you have a produced product or service the 4Ps will serve you well as the basis for any marketing programme.

Promotion: PR, advertising, social media, in-store materials, mailers, e-mailers, flyers, word-of-mouth, event, content/collateral… essentially everything that is not price, place or product.  Promotion is often confused with marketing and PR – the term marketing is added to all of the words above – but, in reality, 99% of the time it’s promotion not marketing.

Let’s take a look at some definition for each these individual types activities.

Public Relations [or PR]: the practice of managing the flow of information between an individual or an organization and its publics.  A public is any defined audience.

Advertising: is a form of promotion – often paid – that communicates a company message to encourage or persuade an audience [a public] to continue or take some new action.  It can also be used to persuade an audience to maintain or hold an opinion about a company.

Social Media: promotion that uses conversation rather than traditional advertising, content, in-store or public relations techniques [although often uses these tools in order to start or maintain a conversation and persuade].  This has been made easier with the growth of the ubiquitous high speed internet.

Social Network: a network of like-minded individuals.  Can be like-minded by profession, ethos or interest.  The term has become synonymous with online community sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, MySpace and Pinterest.

e-mail ‘marketing’: promotion using email as the communications channel.

Content ‘marketing’: promotion that works by the provision of content to a defined audience via electronic or physical delivery channels in order to promote a product, service or organization.  This includes in-store,  flyers, point of sale, website and multimedia content…

Word Of Mouth: where third-parties [often customers] tell others about your business, product or service.  This can be using electronic, paper-based, or face-to-face methods.

Read More Marketing MythBusters:

#2 | One-size-fits-all ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Marketing Strategies Don’t Work

#3 | Content Is NOT King

#4 | Three Myths About Brand

#5 | Own Your Niche [Don’t Create A New One]

#6 | Focus On The Marketing, Not The Social Media

#7 | Is A ReTweet An Endorsement?

#8 | Disclaimer: Everything You Say Is The View Of Your Employer

Will The Sky Fall In On Your Online Videos?

I wrote about a problem of poor audio quality a few weeks ago.  Whether it’s a webinar, a hangout or a corporate video too many videos suffer from poor audio – and it’s killing the value they have as a way to increase inbound leads.  It’s never made sense that companies make huge time and effort and, often financial, investments in online videos [both live and recorded] and then fail to make sure the audio quality matches that of the pictures.

I was listening to a few YouTube videos online this week and a couple illustrate the problem perfectly.  The performers, in my opinion, are equally talented – but the difference in the audio quality is night and day.

First, an example of a produced cover of the latest Bond theme, ‘SkyFall’.  The audio and video have been recorded separately and mixed in post production.

Then there’s this version produced in, what looks like, a lounge or bedroom.  I don’t know whether the tracks were recorded on separate channels and then edited together [pretty easy to do], but it’s clear that both were recorded at the same time.

Then there’s a version of the same song that’s recorded ‘as live’ with a bit of production.  You can’t see a mic in this version and, even if you weren’t watching the video, you would know that the main track was recorded on a mic some distance away from the singer.

And, finally, there’s this version that – I suspect – was recorded using the built-in microphone of the PC or Mac the video is being recorded on.  Either that, or it’s on a stereo microphone – perhaps the onboard mic of a camcorder.  You can hear some white noise at the start of the recording and the richness of the audio is not the same as the first two you heard.  


If the albums released by your favourite bands sounded like the last example, would you buy it?

Oh, and then there’s 95% of podcasts, webinars, hangouts and corporate videos.  If they were as good – or even close – to the final of these examples then they’d likely be far more effective than they are.  So, next time you are putting together a webinar, webcast, hangout or online video remember which version[s] of the covers you most enjoyed listening to – and make sure your audio rocks.  Your listeners will thank you for it.