In this post, you’ll find out what the difference is between Advertising and Public Relations (PR). Then you’ll get a taster of some typical roles in both areas and learn about some of the key skills that you will need to succeed.

What is advertising?

Advertising can broadly be described as a communication which has the specific purpose of either informing and/or influencing a target audience (Bulmore, 2016). For example, advertising may influence you to buy a product (such as a particular brand of biscuit) or use a service (such as a tutoring company). In advertising, you can work on the creative side (e.g. Advertising art director or Copywriter) or the account management side (e.g. Advertising account executive).

What is Public Relations (PR)?

PR is about managing the reputation of a client, which could be an individual or a company (CIPR). The aim is to develop a strong understanding of the client and devise and implement a plan for influencing how others see, feel and behave towards your client.

The difference between PR and advertising

Advertising communications can be via various channels; for example radio, print, television, internet or digital billboards and is usually paid for. There is usually full control of what goes into the advert and consumers will normally be aware they are being sold a product or service. Similarly, in PR, various channels of communication can be drawn upon, such as the newspapers, magazines or radio. However, a key difference between PR and advertising is that PR companies do not pay for coverage and it is not in an advertising form. For example, a PR company may ask a journalist if they want to cover a story whereby their client raises money for an environmental cause. There is no direct advertising, although the idea may be that the public will then associate this company (the client) with charitable giving and a concern for the environment. The image that the company wants to portray would already have been discussed and therefore the PR strategy would be in-line with this.

PR aims to get free publicity for their client and to portray their client in a positive light and in-line with their desired image. However, unlike advertising, PR has limited control over the coverage of stories. So for example, a PR company may approach a journalist with a story about their client, although the final published article is normally down to the journalist, not the PR company.

For advertising and PR, broadly speaking, you can work in-house or for an agency. An agency provides a specific service to a client. Many roles in advertising are in agencies, whilst those working in PR are often employed by larger organisations.


Some example roles in Advertising

Advertising art director: They are sometimes known as ‘creatives’ and generate ideas for the visual element of advertising campaigns.

Advertising Copywriter: Normally work alongside the art director, together forming the ‘creative team.’ Typically they will devise the content to accompany the visual element of the campaign. In reality, copywriters can also often have input into the visuals.

Advertising account executive: this role can be seen as the link between the advertising agency and the client. They coordinate advertising campaigns.

Some example roles in PR

Public Relations Officer: manage the reputation of a client; they do this by developing an excellent understanding of the client and building relationships with other relevant parties, such as journalists. Some typical tasks can include: devising PR strategies, writing press releases, maintaining PR aspect of potential crisis situation for client, organising events, maintaining and updating information (such as client’s website). This is not an exhaustive list of duties, but gives you some ideas.

Public Relations account executive: Managing business-to-business information between organisations, or between individuals and the public. Your role will be to promote your clients to their desired audience, which could involve launching press releases, news items and product placement.

There may also be assistant/junior account executive or public relations assistant positions available, suitable for recent graduates.

What skills do you need for advertising and PR?

For both advertising and PR, strong communication skills are important, whether you are communicating with other members of your team, liaising with clients or managing relationships with other relevant parties, such as the media.

In PR, you will need to network effectively, building and maintaining relationships with others, which can often include socialising with them. Networking may be face to face and using other channels such as social media.

In advertising (creative side) and in PR, creativity is valued.  As a Public Relations Officer, you will have to devise imaginative ways to interest other parties, such as journalists, by suggesting different angles which will appeal to their audiences, whilst creating the right representation of your client. In advertising, you will need to find novel ways of promoting a product or service, which conveys the right messages and is in-keeping with the companies brand and marketing strategy.

Good commercial awareness is important in both PR and advertising. Understanding current and potential future factors that do or may impact your client and being aware of their competitors helps you to better understand the needs of your client.

Other skills that are valued in both advertising and PR roles include the ability to work under pressure, resilience, organisational skills, the ability to influence and negotiate and the ability to work well within a team.

Other skills that are desirable in the creative side of advertising include good IT skills, including the ability to work with specific programmes (e.g. Illustrator or Photoshop) where necessary.


So hopefully you’re now a bit clearer about the difference between PR and advertising and are aware of some of the roles you can do in these areas, as well as helpful skills to develop. For both areas, getting work experience is really beneficial if you want to develop your skills and secure a role. If you’re not sure how to go about getting experience, you can book an appointment to see one of our careers advisors. You may find it helpful to look at the work experience sections on our canvas pages (see linked below).

Useful links

Graduate jobs in marketing, advertising and PR

Chartered Institute of Public Relations

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising 

Advertising Association

The Drum

– Hannah Holmes, Trainee Careers Adviser on placement at Careers Network