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Marketing / Public relations, PR

Free publicity or paid advertising?

It’s not always easy to recognise the difference between free publicity and paid advertising. Here's how you can and how each can help your business.

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Recognising material which has been paid for has become second nature to me as I have worked in writing, public relations and marketing for more than ten years.

However a recent conversation with a fellow business mum made me realise that it can be difficult to spot the difference sometimes.

Here is a guide to media space and time that has been paid for, and that which is free and generated through public relations.

How to spot paid advertising

Most paid advertising is easy to spot. It comes in breaks in TV programs on commercial channels, between music on the radio, down the side of a web page or sometimes pops up from the page and surrounds articles in newspapers and magazines.

How to spot an advertorial

When the information is included in an article, it is known as an advertorial. This is an advertisement which has been made to look more legitimate by being presented as an editorial piece.

When appearing in the written form, these should carry the word “advertorial” and “advertisement” at the top. Advertorials can also be presented as a news or current affairs item whereby the presenter speaks about a product in a news style, similar to John Laws’ Cash for Comment affair.

"Good PR, whether done by you or a consultant you hired, leads to you being the contact the media calls on when they want to know something about your topic."

Publicity generated for free

PR consultants are paid to generate free publicity for their client. Their client doesn’t pay for the time on air or space in the newspaper. This information is generally considered more credible by the public.

Want more articles like this? Check out the Public relations, PR section.

Examples include an article, news broadcast or TV segment. This media coverage is achieved through many avenues such as media liaison, media releases, article marketing, public speaking, case studies and blogging.

Many of the articles you read in the paper, magazines or online and items you heard on the news or radio today would have been generated through public relations.

For example, after the federal Government’s recent increase in the first home buyers’ grant, a host of organisations including real estate agents and banks, sent out press releases commenting on the grant and what it meant for the economy.

They were positioning themselves as experts, or contacts the media could use when covering the story.

The information can come to the journalist via a media release or through contacting these experts for their commentary. Either way, the exposure is the result of PR.

Getting something published once because the media outlet liked your story is one thing, but to get regular coverage you need to maintain a good relationship with journalists, producers and editors.

Good PR, whether done by you or a consultant you hired, leads to you being the contact the media calls on when they want to know something about your topic.

Paid advertising is about guaranteeing your message gets out there by paying for the airtime. Because the space or time has been paid for, the public often view it as less credible.

However, free publicity is about communicating your message to your public, usually via the media. A company or issue receiving media coverage is seen as more credible because the journalist or presenter has endorsed the message.

Johanna Baker-Dowdell

owns Strawberry Communications, a writing and public relations consultancy specialising in helping businesses tell their story. Services include articles, copywriting, case studies, press releases, media liaison and PR strategy.

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