Advertising vs. PR

By Julia Kendrick / 26 Oct 2021

PR and communications consultant Julia Kendrick goes back to marketing 101 and outlines how and when to use these powerful tools for your clinic

With a booming UK aesthetics market, and an industry coming out of lockdown, there has never been a more exciting time for practitioners to create and grow a thriving brand presence. However, this highly competitive specialty brings the inevitable challenge of standing out from the crowd and being heard above the ‘noise’. PR and advertising are two key tools in your marketing arsenal, but how and when should you use them? In this article, I will outline what differentiates these two methods and provide insights as to how they can be delivered effectively, helping you grow brand awareness, secure and maintain revenue, and connect effectively with new and existing customers.

Spot the difference…

The main difference between advertising and PR is that in the former, you have complete control over the brand messages, tone, and how or when content appears. Adverting is a paid channel – so you spend the money to secure the space or visibility directly. For the latter, you can shape and influence how your brand is communicated, but don’t have direct control on the outputs – this is down to third parties such as journalists, influencers, your patients, and the broader public. Although often you might hire a consultant to help, PR is earnt, not paid – it focuses on securing credibility and trust by influencing and informing others to talk on your behalf, hence why it is often more convincing for consumers (but more challenging to implement!).

PR vs. advertising

Contrary to the title of this article, the biggest mistake you can make is assuming it should be PR VERSUS advertising – putting your marketing tools in an ‘either/or’ scenario. The most successful way to build a strong personal or clinic brand is to employ a combination of these tools over time – in my experience neither one in isolation will truly deliver the right results for your business. These are complementary strategies and should be tailored and combined to your individual business needs, challenges and current status. In addition, many clinics may not have the budget for a combined PR and advertising approach – so think carefully about your business objectives, available time, resources and budget when deciding which route to use and when.

Whilst many consider PR to be mainly focused on media coverage, this is not always the case, particularly within the world of aesthetics. The ultimate aim of PR should be to increase trust and understanding of your business amongst target audiences and the broader public. Advertising can be a useful strategy for more short-term, targeted boosts to help attract new customers and establish/drive recognition within a rapid timeframe - often as an adjunct to broader PR and marketing activities.

Selling vs. convincing

PR and advertising both aim to influence your audience to make a certain decision – they just approach this differently. According to a 2014 Nielsen study1 commissioned by inPowered on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process, PR was found to be almost 90% more effective than advertising. An advert may contain all your brand messages verbatim, but there can be a lack of ‘independent verification’ to push consumers through the indecision barrier. We know that an advert will say their product is the best, but do we instantly believe it? Sometimes yes, but we often look for other sources of validation and opinion before we make a purchase decision – especially for higher price items. This is where PR can come in – unpaid media coverage and people talking about your brand can increase the reasons to believe your sell. We all know the power of a personal recommendation; PR uses other people to do the talking for you – relaying their personal experiences of you or your clinic to the media, their followers, or friends.

Using advertising tools

Print advertising remains the most expensive platform, and even with many publications switching to a digital format, purchasing space is still a cost premium. As a highly visual format, you may need to budget for creative imagery costs. Once developed, adverts can be used repeatedly for as long as your budget allows – the more repeats, the more visible your brand becomes. Online advertising has grown rapidly in the last few years and can be a highly targeted and effective option for clinic marketing – including social media ads, pay-per-click (Google ads) and display or banner ads. For an idea of costs, look on target publication websites for a media pack. Costs will be based on advert size and duration, and you may be able to secure a discount by booking repeated slots. Usually, you will be expected to provide your own artwork, which you can commission out to a freelance graphic designer or company, but certain publications may offer a design service for an additional cost.

Advertorials are an alternative option – these blend advertising and editorial, with a mix of visual and text content so there is more opportunity to deliver your messages, versus a visual ad format. Advertorials are still charged as ‘paid space’ and usually you are responsible for the content, but this form of paid placement usually gets more support from the publication in terms of design and layout. Here are my top tips for creating a good quality advertorial:

  • Research other advertorials in the publication to get an idea of their style and tone
  • Consider your aims – what are you hoping to achieve from the piece?
  • What’s the main focus of the advertorial? Are there key facts you need to include?
  • What’s the ‘call to action’ for readers? How will they get in touch with you? QR codes and social media handles are useful.
  • Can you provide an exclusive reader offer?

Social media advertising

With most social platforms, you can now create highly targeted advertising campaigns which identify users based on specific preferences, demographics, and location. This means it is much more likely to drill down to those people interested in, or looking for, your services within a reasonable search radius. This tool allows you to ‘split test’ a campaign – trying out which messages or images deliver the best engagement or action from your target audiences. The purpose of your adverts can be clearly defined – for example increase brand awareness, to increase followers, to click-through to your website or take an action – like booking an appointment. Social advertising allows for clear budget allocations which will be reduced according to either user engagement or a set period of time elapsing – meaning you won’t run up mountainous costs! With certain platforms like Facebook and Instagram – you can ‘boost’ posts for instant visibility. Otherwise, most platforms have a dedicated advertising services which takes you through step by step how to create an advert and run a campaign.

My top five tips for successful advertising

  1. Get targeted: To deliver return of investment, you MUST reach your target customers. Find out where your customers get their information or spend time online. Consider, what do they read or listen to? Which social networks do they use? Then focus your advertising spend in those specific places; scatter-gun tactics are money down the drain!
  2. Differentiate yourself: Create strong, clearly defined messages which truly set you apart from competitors. Try to include the customer’s perspective – why they need you, or what problem only you can solve. If you can’t explain succinctly who you are and why you’re different, customers will redirect to competitors.
  3. Be multi-channel: Consumers need multiple ‘touchpoints’ with your brand to build trust and tip them from consideration into action. Plan advertising across a range of channels (such as print, online and social media) and formats (web, mobile) to maximise success.
  4. Be consistent: This is a marathon, not a sprint, so ensure you budget for sustained visibility, not one-hit bursts. Maintenance is key to avoid dropping visibility.
  5. Monitor the results: How many people clicked your ad or opened your email? How many took action? Became customers? Which ad formats were the most or least successful, and why? Track your results and get tangible feedback – this is vital to shaping your future strategy. 

Using PR tools

One of my favourite mantras is: ‘PR is what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. It is a multi-faceted strategy which helps you create and ‘own’ your brand space against competitors, educating audiences to increase understanding and awareness with a view to driving demand/sales. The underlying goal is to establish and nurture a reputation, creating trust and influencing perceptions to change decision-making behaviour.

PR often requires specialist support to be delivered effectively and consistently. It can be viewed as ‘intangible’ or difficult to justify in terms of budget, but this is a common misconception. Whilst advertising provides a direct cost to exposure ratio, PR can bring lasting rewards if you have well-planned investment over time. PR is about building and maintaining your reputation and therefore has a broader remit in terms of exposure, word of mouth and brand trust. A successful PR strategy is a longer process with sustained investment, but ultimately it will help you achieve those key pillars of educating, engaging and influencing customers for long-term business benefit.

Common PR tactics include clinic or product launch events, press campaigns and relationship-building. As an example, if your goal is to secure media coverage, you or your PR provider will ‘pitch’ your story to a journalist to get your ‘offering’ (be that a product, service or business) written about as an unpaid piece. The journalist and publication have control over if it’s published, when and how they write the story. Generally, press only write about something once – therefore you need to consistently come up with fresh approaches and ‘new news’ to get more coverage. This creative thinking, and the strategy of how to best ‘pitch’ you to press in a way that meets the media agenda is a key element of PR agency support. Critically, what you are buying when you bring in a PR specialist is not only their time and capabilities, but also their media contacts and relationships honed over years.

Ultimately…

Building a trusted, engaging and visible brand reputation is a vital strategy to drive your commercial success. In the hyper-competitive world of aesthetics, your reputation and profile are key drivers of both new and repeat business, and by investing in a consistent marketing strategy with a blend of PR and advertising, you can give yourself the best chance of survival and success. The tools and techniques in this article give a clear outline for getting started – but if you need further guidance on how to take things to the next level, an experienced specialist communications agency can provide much needed strategic support.

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