Nonprofit Marketing v. PR Battles – Your Advice?

Pillow FightHere’s another great question that came into my email box last week . . .

“We have a Director of PR as well as myself (Director of Marketing), and we constantly struggle with how the two best work together. For example, if I buy advertising for an event, she says it lessens her ability to get PR for it – but advertising is guaranteed and the PR isn’t. Advertising works to attract attendees ahead of time; PR is good for organizational exposure.

Fundamentally, we understand these things, but in practice it’s a daily struggle and in the end, PR “wins” because it is free. We end up hoping the PR will bring people through the doors and everything ends up being a nail-biter. I need some help to advocate for true marketing. I’m sure we aren’t the first nonprofit to struggle about these inter-dependent capacities.”

My reply was that I don’t see a conflict between buying ads and pursuing coverage with PR strategies. If the PR does work, you never know what angle they will actually cover anyway, and the timing is often last-minute. Most event coverage in traditional media happens right before the event. In trade publications or blogs, you can often get them to cover it earlier, but it’s still never guaranteed.

Ads allow you to get the message delivered how you want it, when you want it. If anything buying advertising can sometimes help you get coverage. While most publications deny this, experience says otherwise, especially with smaller publications.

What do you think about this question? What’s your advice or experience?

P.S. We would love to hear your thoughts on the question from earlier this week on how to measure the success of communications with chapters, etc.


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  • Glynis

    Kivi – I absolutely agree with your response. In addition, while it’s true that buying an ad sometimes “helps” get coverage in smaller publications, in bigger publications, advertising and editorial are not connected. You need both. There is no guarantee that your interview / story won’t get bumped if there’s a big news story the day it’s scheduled. But you must also count on your board and committee members to do the grassroots work of selling tickets to your event. All these things must work together.

  • Beth

    PR shouldn’t win because it is free. There is necessity for both. Advertising should serve as a brand -building exercise where frequency is king. PR helps to establish credibility. The fact that it is free is secondary.

  • Jason

    I think today’s marketing is more integrated and includes PR. PR and advertising are two of the tools I have at my disposal. When the two function separately, there’s opportunity for fragmentation of messages. As a marketing director for several branches of one of the world’s largest non-profits (take a guess!), I’m responsible for all marketing and communications. This means I have the opportunity to manage both simultaneously, ensuring that our messaging is focused on the organization’s and event’s goals. It would be great to have a dedicated PR person at the same level to ensure that awareness is more consistent through the media as that takes a lot of relationship development, but it does ensure that everything is integrated and remains focused on our goals.

  • Having worked for small publications, I can vouch that buying advertising not only increases your chances of getting editorial space, but often on the same page. But I don’t agree with anyone who says PR is free. It takes a lot of work to get an article in a newspaper or magazine, and unless a PR director is working as a volunteer, the cost of that labour has to be taken into account.

  • Anon

    Of course I am not implying that PR is “free” of staff time, just placement, whereas advertising costs my time + placement. PR Director’s assertion is that when we buy ads, outlets see “money on the table” and thus don’t return calls for editorial.