Advertising vs Publicity

I was watching the local cable news this morning while munching on toast and drinking coffee when the “journalist” mentioned that our Governor was “publicizing” a notice on billboards about casino gambling in Massachusetts.  It also reminded me of a talk I gave to Massport a few years ago where few people in the room, when asked, understood the difference between advertising and publicity.  Advertising is sponsored messages that you pay for and publicity is news and information, published free of charge.


This lack of knowledge has been annoying me since I started my publicity business in 1976 and it is the reason why people think that news releases on the internet are really “news.”  Most are not.   The lines are intentionally blurred to make them appear to be news and, therefore, of higher value.  There’s nothing new here, “advertorials,” or ads designed to look like news have been around for years. I can simply open another window on my computer and go to Business News Wire or a similar web site and “make news.”   People will read about me, but make no mistake, it is sponsored, paid-for, and therefore, advertising.  Informed folks know the difference and respect real news and editorial.


Automobile companies want their car to be the “Motor Trend Car of the Year” or an electronic gizmo maker wants to be “reviewed” as the game of the year, camera of the year, or phone of the year…  You get the point!  Being reviewed and selected by editors as “the best” is important. That is what “news” is all about.  It drives the stock market and influences decision-making for the rest of us.  Steve Jobs understood that.  He was a master product publicist, starting with Macworld 1984 when he inserted a floppy disk into the Apple Mac and had the machine introduce him at the show.  He did it for impact and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity!


The bottom line…  Publicity is news and information which is published at the discretion of editors.  Advertising is purchased and paid for, with the sponsor of the message identified.  By the way, the reason ads have to be big, bold, colorful, repetitive, etc., is because they have to draw your attention from the “news.”  Therefore, a message from a third party editor such as the, “Motor Trend Car of the Year,” is perceived by the viewer or reader as being far more credible.



©2013  Steven M. Stroum

Steve Stroum

Steve Stroum

Steven M. Stroum, founder and president of Venmark International is a seasoned publicist, marketer, and entrepreneur who has been featured in INC Magazine, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, Industrial Marketing, OMNI Magazine, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, The Middlesex News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other media outlets. He has also appeared on numerous radio and television programs, addressed many business and civic groups, and been a guest lecturer at Boston College, Babson College, MIT, and his alma mater Northeastern University.

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