PR Versus Paid Advertising: Getting the Most Bang for the Buck


By Marc Bane, Bane Marketing & Communications

Not every company has the luxury of a big marketing budget, especially in a tough economy. That means making some careful choices about where to invest one’s marketing dollars. Some executives looking to cut costs think the solution is to concentrate on PR and pull back on paid advertising vehicles such as print ads, banner ads, and paid direct email marketing. The usual rationalizations are: “PR is free”, or “no one believes you when you blow our own horn . . . third parties have more credibility.” Is there any real truth to these perceptions? The answer is yes . . . and no. The kicker is that each of these tools can make the other significantly more effective.

First Step: Aligning Objectives with Markets

Before making any judgment call on how you allocate your budget between PR and paid advertising, it is important to remember that both these vehicles are marketing tactics. A tactic is simply the means to accomplish an objective. So before you spend dollar one, determine the objective. The next step in the process is to identify the market you need to reach in order to achieve the objective. This will help you choose the media to deliver your message with the best potential ROI. Here are some examples of aligning “objective” with “target market” and my recommendations for prioritizing PR vs. Paid Advertising where budget is limited. Blue represents first priority and black second. If both tactics are blue, they may be considered of equal priority:

Are You Prepared to Make a Big Investment with No Guarantee of Return
If you’re looking to attract investors, move stock, influence politicians, or gain public support, a positive story about your company in a large, mainstream media outlet like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or a major news network is commonly considered the Holy Grail. If you’re a Fortune 500 company and a household name, this is often within reach. If you are a lesser known company, but your stock is publicly traded, you have a reasonable chance as the business press may view your story as an opportunity for the general public to cash in on a new opportunity. If you are a low-profile private company or start-up, however, it can be quite an uphill effort. The mainstream media receives thousands of solicitations each week, and even with the most exciting story, getting the attention of these reporters is challenging. It requires the perseverance and experience of skilled PR professionals who have the contacts and training to make the kind of pitch that will get these reporters’ attention. Even with these pros on your team (who don’t come cheap), there are no guarantees. You could easily spend a quarter of a million dollars in PR retainers and expenses with little or no results.Start Slow and Watch It Grow

OK, so maybe you don’t have the resources to go directly after the top tier business media. Trade magazines, newsletters, blogs, and industry information portals may not be as exciting as The Wall Street Journal, but they can be a valuable spring board to coverage in media of that class. Mainstream media reporters and industry analysts are frequent readers of these industry news sources, and it is not uncommon for yesterday’s trade article to become tomorrow’s cover of Time Magazine.

I recently pitched a story to a technology newsletter that caught the interest of a BusinessWeek editor, who included the client in a cover story on The “Top 25 Energy Tech Companies to Watch,” that caught the attention of a Scientific American editor, who included the client in a recent cover story entitled “World Changing Ideas.” Just goes to show that great press can have humble beginnings. This is not to say, however, that getting covered in the trade press is a walk in the park. There is still a tremendous amount of competition for ink in these publications. Unless you have high brand recognition in your space, the chance of getting an unsolicited call from an industry reporter working on a story is unlikely. So how do you get their attention and let them know you are a serious player in your space?

Boost PR with Advertising – Boost Advertising with PR

One of the best ways for editors to become familiar with your company and products is to advertise in their publications. No, I am not suggesting you buy your way into the lead story. Today, most reputable publications have a Chinese wall between the editorial department and the advertising department, and Publishers are not fond of breaching it. But think about it. Who are the most consistent readers of any publication? They are the writers and editors that produce the content of that magazine week after week or month after month. When it comes time for input into an article, they are more likely to call companies who they know are in that space. Even if they don’t call you, they are familiar with your products and services and will be more receptive to your calls.

On the other side of the coin, consider how many ads you might have skipped over if you hadn’t recently read or heard something in the news about that product or service. Bottom line – good PR makes advertising more effective, just as good advertising can help PR efforts.

It’s All a Control Game

One of the key differentiators between PR and paid advertising is control of the message. In the PR process, you typically give up all control to the reporters and editors. They decide what is important to the reader. They decide how to compare you with your competitors, they decide on the validity of other third party advocates or critics of your company or product, and whose comments to include. They decide on when the material is published and in what part of the publication it appears – front cover or buried in the back. There’s no guarantee that the editor will provide information to make it easy for the reader to get in touch with your company. They may or may not include your URL.

With paid advertising you take the reins. You can craft the message exactly the way you want to, and there will be no changes upon publication. You decide on your unique value proposition, and have the opportunity to present that value proposition in clear, concise terms. In fact, when I take on a new client, one of the first projects I recommend is an ad. There is no better exercise to learn how to articulate the value of your company, product or service. It is far better than an elevator speech. An elevator speech gives you sixty seconds to explain to a captive audience who your company is and what it does. An ad gives you three seconds to grab someone’s attention and 20 seconds to explain why somebody should do business with you. Which do you think is more valuable?

With paid ads (print, electronic, email) you can time the publication to serve your specific needs. Perhaps you want to announce something at a trade show, or delay losing a sale to a competitor by announcing a new product in the same space. With paid ads you can even negotiate your position in the publication. One of the most important differentiators is that an ad allows you to make a specific offer. This can be quite important if your objective is building your sales pipeline. And to answer those that insist that ads have no credibility because they are written by the advertiser, what about testimonial ads? These are some of the strongest third-party endorsements you can have.

“Play it again Sam” . . . and again . . . and again?

When you’re company name appears in an article, it is a one-time shot. Even the most religious reader of a publication rarely reads every issue. The nice thing about paid advertising is that it gives you the chance to repeat your unique value propositions over and over again until they become synonymous with your brand. Never underestimate the power of repetition when it comes to building your brand. ?Don’t think ad copy can’t influence editorial copy and analyst reports. I’ll give you an interesting example. Most of you are probably familiar with the term “straight through processing,” sometimes referred to as STP. STP is the ability to enter data into one application and have it instantly flow into complementary applications. It is a term that gained momentum in the equity trading world in the late 1990s, where this nascent technology was touted as the answer to the challenge of being able to settle a trade in 24 hours. Having marketed in this space at that time, I was familiar with the concept and the great appeal it had to those companies involved in time-sensitive transactions. In about 2002-2003, while heading up marketing at a software vendor in the ETRM space, I branded the concept “Bid to Bill Straight-Thru Processing” as the central focus of an aggressive industry ad campaign. Within six months, Straight-Through Processing was a term commonly referred to by energy analysts and reporters. Prior to that time, I had never come across one reference to the term in the energy press. And guess whose company was well positioned to benefit from the positive association.??

Integrated Marketing Communications Produce Better Results

Bottom line, PR and paid advertising are very much joined at the hip. They are both part and parcel of a good integrated marketing communications program. The choice really comes down to marketing objective, target market for your message, budget, and appetite for risk.

Client Testimonials

Trusted Advisor

Marc is a highly experienced corporate marketing and communications professional with the skills and talent to execute a wide range of quality marketing communications programs quickly and cost effectively.  But more than just his skills, Marc is a trusted advisor who placed the best interests of our company first.

– David Delasanta
Executive Vice President

ThermoEnergy Corp.




Driving Force; Adjunct to our Executive Team

Marc is a seasoned marketing professional with an exceptional combination of energy knowledge, hands-on marketing skills, and creative talent. His marketing campaigns were the driving force behind our highly-successful “Build Our Brand” strategic business initiative. Marc is a team player, and we were proud to have his marketing leadership as an adjunct to our executive team.

-Michael Peterson
Former Managing Principal –
The Structure Group
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Builds Brands; Penetrates Markets

I’ve watched Marc work his magic at both GreenFuel Technologies and Excelergy Corp. I’ve never met anyone else who could penetrate a new market or build a brand faster.

-Cary Bullock
Former Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder
Excelergy Corporation
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Former CEO –
GreenFuel Technologies
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Exceptional Abilities

Marc’s exceptional ability to articulate the value proposition and vision of new technology is a valuable asset to any company looking to capture mindshare in the media and market share in the industry.

-Larry Dinkin
Board of Directors and Cofounder –

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Quickly and Cost Effictively Launchs Quality Programs

“Having worked with Marc at several organizations over the past 20 years, I have always been impressed by how quickly and cost-effectively he can launch quality marketing programs.”

-Dr. E. Ted Prince
Founder and CEO –
Perth Leadership Institute

Builds Customers

Marc’s direct marketing support for the Information Builders sales seminar programs put our sales team face to face with more than 9,000 customers and prospects in a single year.

-Marc Koppelman
Former Director,
PC Software Sales –
Information Builders

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Ability to Simplify Complex Technology

Marc’s unique ability to present complex technology in simple and easily understood terms, combined with his talent at transforming product attributes into clearly defined benefits, quickly builds market visibility and generates sales leads.

-Martin K. Goldenblatt
Former Vice President Sales
Greenfuel Technologies

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Talented and Experienced

Marc not only has the experience to develop effective marketing strategies, he has the talent to execute them quickly and cost-effectively.

-Steve Swenke
Former President and CEO
Metrum Technologies


Unquestinalble Difference in Quality

There is an unquestionable difference in the quality and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns when a professional like Marc is running the show.

-Chris Cazer
President –
Osprey Systems
Former CIO –
Excelergy Corporation
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Delivers Cost-Effective Results

Marc Bane is an excellent tactical and operational marketer of energy software and technology. He delivers cost-effective results by increasing brand awareness and a predisposition to a company’s value proposition.

-Kevin Monagle
Associate Partner, Energy & Utilities
IBM Global Business Services

Former Sr. VP and Founder
Excellergy Corp.
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