Marketing Budgets – Advertising vs. PR
On the LMA listserv, someone asked how much should be spent on advertising and public relations. The answer, as it often is, is there’s no single “right” answer beyond “it depends.”
As one of the few marketers who has spent a significant amount of time in both the Public Relations and Advertising areas (my first three years full-time at Winston & Strawn was as “Public Relations Manager”), here’s what I see.
First – exercise great caution in BOTH areas. In my opinion, and I’m probably going to over-generalize here – most of the money spent on monthly PR retainers AND traditional image advertising is wasted. That’s right – wasted.
This is a tragedy, because done well they can be two of an organization’s most potent marketing weapons. It’s just that as they’re typically used, they’re simply not.
Why? Different reasons for each:
First, don’t believe the self-serving studies many PR agencies routinely conduct that “prove” that PR is the most-persuasive and most-credible tool after personal referrals, while advertising always ranks at the very bottom. Only an idiot would respond, “Yes, as a CEO, I hired my law firm because I saw their general print ad.”
That doesn’t mean that subconsciously it wasn’t persuasive, it’s just that no smart person would ever admit it – either to themselves or to an interviewer. These same people claim they drink $4 bottles of water because it tastes better, not because they bought into that industry’s marketing.
So does advertising work? Yes, but only when it’s great.
Not “good.” Not “very good.” But absolutely jump-off-the-page, grab-you-by-the-throat “GREAT.” Most advertising, law firm and otherwise, isn’t great. Most isn’t even “good” — either because the agency (1) wasn’t good enough, or (2) couldn’t keep the marketing committee’s red pens from editing the effectiveness out of it. So, if you’re not ready to be great, save your money, don’t advertise, and spend your money on something that could work.
I can show countless examples of firms where we’ve advertised the firm into market dominance quickly, because with a great ad and well-read publication you can guarantee that people see your message. But only where firms are willing and able to let it do its job.