Blurred Lines: In Today’s Digital Age, Where Does Advertising End and Public Relations Begin?

By George L. San Jose, President and CCO of The San Jose Group To the average consumer, advertising and public relations have never really seemed like two distinctly different marketing tools—branded content seems like branded content. After all, advertising and PR share the same goal: engaging and ultimately communicating a message to a target audience. However, industry insiders know the tactics applied to reach that goal have traditionally differed. Advertising works as a more direct medium, providing consumers with entertaining messaging and platforms, while PR operates as a more covert or indirect medium, sometimes seeking out third party opinions to plug a product. However, the line between these two fields is increasingly blurring and many PR firms are coming to resemble full service advertising agencies. This “blurred lines” effect seemingly results from the increase in digital and social communication techniques over the past several years. Digital and social media represent especially tricky territories for determining where advertising ends and PR begins. Consumers look to social media, websites, blogs and video sharing channels to stay abreast of products, promotions and developments (which is advertising territory). However, everything on social media happens in real time and is a platform for message control (which is PR territory). Ultimately, PR professionals were prepared to take on these digital changes as they were experts in creating content used to engage consumers, versus advertising agencies who work in the format of 30-to 60-second messaging. When PR professionals take over the digital space, they assume the role of advertisers because they can speak directly to their audience. As a result, many agencies have re-branded themselves as integrated firms that have the ability to both develop their clients’ messages and disseminate those messages to a wide array of audiences. What were once traditional PR agencies are now firms with the ability to provide creative and strategic support for clients. This blending of industries allows for a more cohesive approach to branding and messaging. When the entire process for creating a campaign comes from the same place, it...

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