Building a Brand? Do NOT advertise!

“Advertising doesn’t usually get a new brand off the ground; PR does.” ~ Al & Laura Ries

What’s the real difference between PR and advertising and which one works better if you’re building your brand? Well, in this post, I’ll explain why, in my opinion, PR beats advertising if you’re getting a brand off the ground. Now, let’s see why I have this mindset, “Building a brand? Do NOT advertise!”

1. Advertising vs PR

Simply put, advertising is paid media and PR is earned media. As the old saying goes, ”Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” Robert Wynne says, “This means you convince reporters or editors to write a positive story about you or your client, your candidate, brand or issue.  It appears in the editorial section of the magazine, newspaper, TV station or website, rather than the “paid media” section where advertising messages appear.  So your story has more credibility because it was independently verified by a trusted third party, rather than purchased.” With advertising, you tell people how great you are.  With publicity, others sing your praises.

William Comcowich says, “Few businesses have the resources to reach the entire target audience through paid media.  Moreover, research shows that audiences largely ignore paid advertising; only massive blitzes produce good results. A more effective strategy is to start promoting with PR, and then move on to advertising once sales start to ramp.”

 2. Start with PR if you’re building a brand

Why do you think appearing on Oprah has been such a huge jumping board for so many emerging brands? Having a respected journalist or media personality endorse your product or service skyrockets your credibility in such a way that people would want to be connected with you.  Al and Laura Ries say, “Anita Roddik built the Body Shop into a major brand with no advertising at all. Instead she traveled the world on a relentless quest for publicity, pushing her ideas about the environment. It was the endless torrent of newspaper and magazine articles, plus radio and TV interviews that literally created the Body Shop brand.”

 3. The best way to generate publicity is by being the first.

The best way to make news is to announce a new category, not a new product, or a better product. Al and Laura Ries give examples such as:

  • Band-Aid, the first adhesive bandage
  • CNN, the first cable news network
  • Domino’s, the first home delivery pizza
  • KFC, the first fast-food chicken chain
  • Xerox, the first plain-paper copier

Also in the realm of Personal Brands, think of Tim Ferriss’s story, or how Justin Bieber turned into a sensation in the first place. They were first created on the pages of popular magazines or postings of social media and then went on to become household names. Again, PR helped build the brand; advertising kept it going.

4. Tips to get PR

To earn free media coverage, here are some strategies and tools you could use:

  • Press releases. Write press releases and send them to local journalists and media. You can do it for free (or almost for free) at such sites as pitchengine and PRweb.
  • HARO connects subject-matter experts and journalists who are looking for expert opinion for their reports or stories. The basic version is free and very effective.
  • Volunteer to talk to organizations, business groups or at meetups where you know your target audience hang out.
  • Contact industry trade publications and volunteer to write articles, columns or opinion pieces.
  • Host a regular YouTube show or radio podcast.
  • Sponsor a local community event.
  • Get on the board of a non-for-profit or charity related to your target audience.

Remember, you start off building your brand through PR and after the emotional buzz has gone away, you can only lead with effective advertising. Advertising, then, would act as an insurance that will protect your newfound market share against rising competition.

Now, you share what you think about PR and advertising. Comment and let’s talk!

Shahab AnariDr. Shahab Anari is a Personal Branding Strategist, professional coach, and co-author with Brian Tracy of ‘Ignite Your Life’. He has worked with more than 30,000 people on the topics of personal and professional success. He empowers professionals to multiply their income through more visibility, credibility, and authenticity. Download his FREE Personal Branding Guide at