We’re often surprised how many business owners don’t distinguish between Advertising, Publicity and PR. They frequently assume that their main promotional activity can only be through paid advertising, and don’t even consider investigating other options.

Different approaches

A convenient way to think about the different approaches is that you always pay for Advertising, you usually pay for PR (but not always), and Publicity is usually free. Of course, all three overlap, and a strong advertising campaign will generate both PR and free publicity.

A good illustration of that principle in action is a condom promotion carried out by the Hell Pizza chain.

The actual “condom” promotion, billboard and TV campaign was, of course, paid for. However, the promotion generated such a strong reaction that the newspapers, radio talkback and TV news magazine slots were full of it for days. This generated lots of free publicity and exposure at no cost to the company. Most importantly, far more than could have been achieved by any normal amount of paid advertising.

Linked strategies

How does this translate to practical tips for the SME market without a massive promo budget? Firstly, understand that these three promotional strategies are linked. The biggest bang for your buck will come from a promotion that uses and generates energy from all three strands. Gain the biggest possible result from every single dollar, especially when the budget is limited


First of all – know your market and define your “segments”. The best way is to carry out a simple segmentation exercise – starting from either your main product groups or your main customer groups – defining either will help define the other!

Advantage Business has developed a simple 1-page segmentation tool to help define
a. your main customer groups
b. their product usage
c. the problems you solve for them
d. the message that will attract new customers in that group, and
e. the most likely media channels and methods to catch their attention.

Messaging and media selection

The final parts of the exercise are deciding on the message and the media. This is where you start to do some serious thinking around what sort of Publicity and PR you might generate in this segment.

For example, if you are selling sports equipment, then in addition to your normal advertising effort, you might consider sponsoring a local sports identity or team. Perhaps a sports event of some sort. Back up the publicity that this generates with Press Releases discussing the problems faced by young people entering the sport who are unable to attract sponsorship. You could possibly buy paid Advertorials offering advice on how to choose the best equipment. Co-ordinating your advertising with significant local events, your Press Release, Advertorial campaign and Sales Promotion will generate significant impact.

Remember the “Rule of 9”. Expose a potential customer to your message at least 9 times. Because they only see 1 in 3 promotions and will only respond after seeing the message 3 times.

As another example, an engineering company might send out promotional flyers detailing their products, skills and machinery. They would be targeted at selected purchasing officers (paid advertising). The campaign could be backed up by a strong (paid) PR push with Advertorial space in an engineering magazine. It could be added to publicity from either a new product launch or possibly sponsoring an engineering competition for apprentices.


The key is to ensure your target customers see your name popping up from different sides – not just in advertisements.

Identify yourself as:

  • A knowledge holder
  • Someone to solve their problems
  • An enthusiast for the industry and/or products
  • Passionate about the results your customers can achieve by using your products.

You won’t do all that with just an ad in the Yellow Pages!