B.L. Ochman

Article Summary:

What is the difference between advertising and publicity online?

The Difference Between Advertising and Publicity

An old adage says: Advertising you pay for, publicity you pray for. That's because publicity has at least ten times the credibility of advertising.

Some experts, like Al Reis, author of the classic marketing book, "Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind," believe that most companies shouldn't waste their money on advertising until they have established name recognition and credibility with PR. Others say both advertising and PR are necessary. Every expert agrees that you can't just put up your web site, open your store or manufacture your product and do nothing to attract customers.

Advertising is a content you pay to present. Publicity refers to free content about you that appears in the media - what others say about you. Publicity can result when an article you write is published, or when information you give to an editor convinces him/her to feature a story about you. Over time, these stories help create a favorable impression of your product or services.

The average person has no real idea of how the media find their stories, but the prevailing view seems to be that reporters go out and discover all of their news. Idealistic? Yes. Realistic? No way! There aren't enough reporters on the planet to find every bit of news worth covering. So if you can present your information convincingly, you have a chance to gain media interest. How do you do that? Read on.

The Internet has its own rules about commercialism, and woe to those who break them. If your press releases, postings or articles are blatant self-promotion or a sales pitch instead of truly useful information they won't be used. Worse, you risk the negative publicity of being flamed. Before you put out a public message, play "Who Cares?" and ask yourself "Why would other people be interested in what I have to say? Can they benefit in any way from this information?" If you haven't got good answers to these questions, keep working on your message until you do.

Ways of promoting your site
Search engines are an important way to find opportunities for publicizing your site. You will find a wealth of newsletters, discussion groups, mailing lists and forums that can help promote your business .

If you go the advertising route, you can pay to sponsor or run ads in online media. You can pay to have a banner about your company or product come up every time certain keywords are searched or you can pay for clicks per view or clicks per thousand. To have real impact, your advertising and your publicity need to be repeated many times.

You'd better have a huge ad budget if you want people to see your ads enough times to remember them. And publicity has to appear on a regular enough basis so people start to say to themselves "I read about this company people all the time!"

Here are some ways publicity for your site stacks up against advertising in comparable situations:

  • Online Conferences
    Offer to host a conference for a heavily trafficked forum on a topic in which you or someone in your firm is an expert. Concentrate on providing helpful and useful information to participants. The host of the forum will explain how qualified you are when introducing you and promoting the event. Impact: If you've offered quality information, you will have established yourself as an authority.

    You could pay to sponsor the same conference. People would notice your name, if only peripherally, but they'd be there for the expert's information, not the sponsor's message. Of course if you could afford to sponsor nine out of ten online conferences, your name might stick.

  • News Releases
    For or $250 and up, services like Internet News Bureau distribute news and feature stories to some 2,000 online journalists, who include reporters for the web sites of traditional media. Some will write your press releases for a reasonable fee. (Search for "press release distribution" to locate these companies.)

    Your story may be printed as is (if it was well written) or a reporter may interview you and write her own story. Either way, if the medium running your story has a big audience you could get hundreds or even thousands of hits as a result.

    You'd easily spend 10 times as much to run the same information as an ad, and people would rush by your message - unless it was really revolutionary - to get the information they came for.

    However, if you know the media in which you are advertising hits your target markets, you can have an impact with the right kind of advertising. This type of advertising offers something the audience really wants in a format to which they can relate. Post-911, hype is out, real is in.

  • Online mailing lists and discussion groups
    Become active in online mailing lists and discussion groups relating to your customers. If, for example, you sell office furniture, consider giving advice about how to plan a home office to a small business association. Do not include self-serving trumpetry.

    Over time, you'll establish yourself as an authority and attract customers. If your message is clever and factual, over time people are likely to think of you when they need to service you provide.

    If you posted a message that was essentially an ad in a mailing list or discussion group it would be eliminated by the moderator, ignored, or possibly flamed by subscribers.

    If you sponsor a list or group, be sure to keep your message fluff-free, without dancing monkeys and annoying popups, overs and unders.

  • Submitting articles to other sites
    Write articles with information that could be helpful to the readers of online newsletters and other online media. Advice, how-tos, and Top 10 lists are the best formats. Ask permission before sending your article to the list moderator, editor or webmaster, each of whom will identify you as the author and tell visitors how to reach you.

    Sponsor online newsletters and advertise in other online media. This is effective with frequent and long-term repetition.

  • E-mail signatures
    Use your e-mail signature file to promote your site and services. That way, when you use e-mail to participate in a discussion or post to a mailing list, everyone will know from your signature what your business does and how to reach you.

    Put a blatant ad in your signature and risk having it left out of your message. A blatantly commercial e-mail signature message such as "Earn a million dollars online in your spare time. Call NOW!" is not acceptable to the online community. However it would be acceptable to say in your signature, "We provide affordable marketing services to help online enterprises increase traffic to their sites," or "We create revenue-building opportunities for online storefronts." Be sure to include your name and the name of your business, your site's URL, e-mail address, phone number and fax in the signature, which should not exceed four or five short lines.

  • Surveys
    Run regular surveys on your site of consumer attitudes toward various issues of online business and offer the results to the media and to other webmasters. Every article has to say "according to a survey published today by X," your executives are likely to be quoted in coverage of the survey. Reporters love surveys because the responses of real people provide news value and not just on company hype. Therefore, you are likely to get prominent editorial coverage of your survey results, particularly as you become known for providing good information.

    Sponsoring regular surveys on heavily visited sites will be costly but may produce name recognition.

    The most important rule of advertising is that your message must be repeated many times to be noticed, and many more to produce consumer action. The most important part of publicizing your site is to do it steadily over a long period of time. Publicity is an ongoing process with a cumulative result. When people start saying "I just read another article about them," or "That guy said something very interesting in an online conference," you'll be developing credibility that no amount of advertising can buy.

    B.L. Ochman is an Internet and Outernet marketing strategist, publicist, journalist and sought-after corporate speaker. She heads the creative team of whatsnextonline.com. Her articles on Internet marketing and public relations strategy are published regularly online in WebReview.com, SitePro News and Internet Day, and offline in On Wall Street Magazine, The Public Relations Society of America's quarterly The Strategist and PR Weekly, among others. Sign up for her bi-weekly marketing tactics newsletter at What's Next Online or read her ongoing blog at What's Next Blog.

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