The age old debate about what prompts awareness and visibility for a brand reappeared this month on the pages of Georgia Trend. According to the article, spending on public relations has increased while advertising is down. The media research firm SNL Kagen reports that overall public relations spending in the United States will climb almost three percent this year to $210 billion following two straight years of decline (by 5.5 percent in 2008 and 15.6 percent in 2009.) Advertising, on the other hand, continues to fall in in some segments, especially in daily newspapers.
Overall, on an absolute basis, spending on advertising is larger, but the changing media landscape is prompting many organizations to reconsider the blend of advertising and public relations. Some in the local pubic relations community believe that public relations is no longer taking a backseat to advertising for a number of reasons. First, they note that connections made through the public relations channel, either through earned media, social networks, events, community relations, issue management, etc., represent a more authentic engagement with a brand or message. Also, the savvy media consumer has become smarter at dodging that paid appeal.
That said, it is critical that we in public relations acknowledge the complexities of dealing with multiple audiences and messages to stay effective and to cut through the noise. For example, one of our clients, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, sponsors an emergency preparedness campaign – Ready Georgia – where we blended traditional public relations strategies and tactics with targeted paid advertising and leveraged the exploding social media universe. The reason is that we recognize residents need to hear the message multiple times from multiple sources.
As the media landscape evolves, this discussion will continue to solicit a vigorous debate. Stay tuned… and in the meantime, tell us what you think.