What Advertising Agency Personnel Need to Know about Public Relations

What Advertising Agency Personnel Need to Know about Public Relations

Applegate, Edd

Public relations practitioners attempt to create goodwill between a client and the public. According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”1

Public relations began in the early 1900s, when people like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays wrote publicity for clients primarily for the purpose of shaping public opinion. Today, more than 125,000 people work in public relations. In 2001 public relations firms in the United States earned almost $4 billion.2

Public relations practitioners work for various entities, including associations, businesses, colleges, foundations, government agencies, hospitals, religious institutions, schools, unions, and universities. These practitioners help these entities achieve their goals by communicating to different audiences, such as customers, employees, members of the federal government, members of local and state governments, and other entities. In order to be successful, practitioners must understand their client’s various audiences and be able to communicate information for their client. Such information may be a news release about an improved or new product, a new plant, or an advertorial about the client’s position toward an issue.

According to the Public Relations Society of America, public relations encompasses the following:

* Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes, and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.

* Counseling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action, and communications, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.

* Researching, conducting, and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to success of an organization’s aims. These may include marketing, financial, fund raising, employee, community or government relations, and other programs.

* Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities – in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.3

Public relations practitioners realize that audiences or publics change. Consequently, public relations practitioners must understand what caused this change and address it properly and effectively, especially if the client caused the change.

How Public Relations Differs From Advertising:

Public relations firms use various public relations communications tools to present information about their clients. These communications tools are sent to editors and other employees of the media in hopes that they will use the information. Only a few public relations communications tools are charged fees by the media. Whereas advertising agencies, on behalf of their clients, purchase space and airtime in media for the advertisements and commercials they have produced. The advertisements and commercials appear as they were created, with no changes whatsoever. This is not necessarily true of public relations communications tools. For instance, a medium’s employee may edit a news release or some other public relations communications tool-that is, if the employee accepts it at all – before it appears in the medium.

Even though the news release or some other public relations communications tool may be edited, if it is published or used, it will tend to be more credible primarily because it appears as a story written by a journalist or presented by a commentator, not as an advertisement or commercial.

However, advertisers have more control over the advertisements or commercials that are produced for them by their advertising agencies. The messages will not be changed or edited by media personnel. Of course, the advertisers are paying for the space or airtime, which may not be the case for a public relations communications tool.

Advantages of Public Relations:

Public relations enjoys several advantages. These include the following:

1. Public relations enjoys credibility. This was mentioned earlier. Basically, public relations communications tools tend to be believed primarily because these tools do not necessarily appear as advertisements, especially the tools that appear as stories or articles in the media. In short, readers, listeners, and viewers assume that the media’s journalists have gathered the information and written the stories or articles, not a public relations practitioner.

2. Public relations communications tools typically enjoy low cost. These tools do not cost as much as advertisements or commercials to produce. Nor do these tools cost a lot when they appear in the media, especially the tools that are sent to media personnel for consideration. In fact, only a few forms of public relations appear in media as a result of the client paying a fee.

3. Public relations communications tools do not necessarily compete with other public relations communications tools primarily because these communications usually appear as stories or articles. Unfortunately, advertisements and commercials have to compete with other advertisements and commercials in the media.

4. Public relations communications tools can be effective in developing a positive image in the minds of various publics for a product, service, or whatever else a client wishes to address.

Disadvantages of Public Relations:

Public relations has a few disadvantages, too. These include the following:

1. Public relations communications tools may not appear in media, especially the tools that are merely sent to media personnel for consideration.

2. Public relations communications tools may be read, seen, or heard, but members of the intended public may not link the messages to the client.

3. Public relations communications tools may fail to achieve the objective for which they were created. If this is the case, the client may never know it primarily because the effectiveness of public relations communications tools is difficult to measure.

4. Public relations communications tools usually have a brief life. In fact, in order for a public relations communications tool to have any impact, it must be changed frequently with new information.

5. Public relations communications tools may have difficulty changing an intended public’s perception of a product, service, or whatever else a client addresses. Generally, changing one’s perception of something takes a multitude of communications tools over a long period. Public relations communications tools may not be able to achieve this.

Tools of Public Relations:

Public relations practitioners use various kinds of communications tools to present information to various publics. Because advertising agency personnel are asked from time to time to develop some types of public relations on behalf of a client, they should know the more popular forms, which include annual reports, audiovisual materials, brochures, corporate or institutional advertisements, exhibits, feature articles, house advertisements, letters, media or press kits, news or press releases, newsletters, photographs, video news releases, among others. Let’s examine some of these in depth.

Annual reports are about companies and are directed to stockholders, prospective stockholders, and/or other audiences. An annual report provides information about a company, such as its key personnel, its history, its activities, and its financial situation. The annual report may be a company’s most important form of communication. Consequently, a company may spend a considerable amount of money on the content and appearance of this document.

Audiovisual materials may be used to present information about companies. Usually, these are very well produced primarily to enhance the image various publics have of the companies.

Brochures are typically about companies or their products or services and are directed to specific external publics, such as customers, dealers, and suppliers. Brochures, unlike a newsletter, are not published periodically. Usually, a brochure is published for a specific purpose, such as to introduce a new company, association, or organization. Therefore, a brochure must be well designed in order to attract attention and well written so that a reader easily understands the message.

Corporate or institutional advertisements are used when companies wish to present public relations messages without the interference of media employees. These advertisements are non-product advertisements and generally serve to increase awareness of companies and enhancing companies’ images.

Exhibits may be used to present the history of the company or discuss a new product. They may even explain how a company’s product is manufactured. Exhibits may be for fairs or trade shows. Some are designed exclusively for elementary schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities.

Feature articles are used to discuss the history of a product or a company, or to present information as to how a product should be used, or how a product or a company has changed as a result of technological innovations. Of course, feature articles can concern other topics.

House advertisements typically are displayed in a company’s media and concern something that the company deems important.

Letters generally concern a company and its policies, or a company’s position toward an issue, or a company’s response to a question or concern. Of course, other topics may be discussed. Letters can be very effective, especially if they are well written. Indeed, the message in a letter can be tailored to the individual to whom it is being sent. Although a letter can be personal, it should not be too personal. Letters usually represent someone at a company, not a personal acquaintance; consequently, they should appear professional.

Media or press kits are created for special events, such as press conferences. Usually, media or press kits include a fact sheet about the event, a list of participants and their biographies, a schedule of the event’s activities, a news story and/or article about the event, a photograph of the event or the participants, and other information.

News or press releases are popular. In fact, a news or press release is the most popular public relations communications tool. Generally, news or press releases are written in the form of news stories and typically concern a new product, a new service, a newly promoted employee, the opening of a new plant, the closing of an old plant, or some other timely topic.

Newsletters may be for internal publics, such as employees, or for external publics, such as customers. Newsletters are publications that contain articles about the company, employees, policies, products, and/or services, among other information. A newsletter may be a single sheet or a multipage, full-color publication, depending on its purpose, its audience, and the amount of money its sponsor has allocated for its production. Many newsletters are directed at internal audiences, such as employees. Writers must understand who these audiences are and consequently write with them in mind.

Photographs may be used with a news or press release, feature article, or some other public relations communications tool, or they may be sent with captions that identify what or who is shown. Sometimes media personnel request photographs, especially when they are writing stories about companies, products, services, or personnel.

Video news releases may be used because the messages are seen as well as heard. A video news release can be a brief news story produced on videotape, then distributed locally, or it can be a lengthy feature produced on film, then distributed nationally. If a broadcast station uses a video news release, it is generally used during a news broadcast. In short, it has excellent credibility because the viewer assumes that the broadcast journalists produced it. However, video news releases may be expensive to produce, especially those produced on film and distributed nationally. And, like news or press releases, video news releases may not be used whatsoever by media personnel. To offset some of the expense of producing a broadcast commercial, a company will allow part of its video news release, if relevant, to be incorporated, thus decreasing the amount of footage needed for producing its broadcast commercial.


1 “About Public Relations,” Public Relations Society of America, 2002, p. 1 (www.prsa.org).

2 “2001 Public Relations Industry Revenue Documentation and Rankings: FACT SHEET,” Council of Public Relations Firms, 2002, p. 2 (www.prflrms.org).

3 “About Public Relations,” Public Relations Society of America, 2002, p. 3 (www.prsa.org).

Edd Applegate is a professor in the School of Journalism at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He teaches courses in advertising, including Advertising Copywriting. His research has appeared in scholarly journals, including Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, ASJMC INSIGHTS, Feedback, and Journalism Studies, among others. He has written several books, including Strategic Copywriting: How to Create Effective Advertising (2005).

Copyright Public Relations Quarterly 2006

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