Posted by: Ian Ross | May 11, 2008

Dear UPI, advertising isn’t PR

A United Press International (UPI) headline recently caught my eye, “Big oil starts big public relations push.” Sounded like an interesting article since oil companies could certainly benefit from improved two-way communication with their publics. Particularly when gas in Toronto has risen to $1.35/litre.

Then I started to read the article: 

“U.S. oil companies have begun a national public relations campaign meant to counter their negative image, an industry lobby group said. The American Petroleum Institute didn’t disclose a precise figure but said it would spend less than $100 million on advertisements per year…”

Huh? Here’s more:

“The public relations push has provoked a negative reaction of its own among consumer groups. “It’s basically deceptive advertising that dulls the natural and proper reaction of the public,” said Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America…”

Double huh? It seems UPI doesn’t know the basic definitions of PR and advertising. To me, this is like confusing apples with oranges.

With advertising, you pay big dollars to have your messages or images printed and broadcast to your audiences. There is few filters. Your audience is left to decide if they like you or believe you.

With public relations, you are talking with your audiences. It is about explaining your perspective but also listening to their side. Sometimes it is through a moderator (often the media) who gathers up other sides of the story. Other times, it is more direct with community events, websites, blogs, town hall meetings.  

Okay, I know the definitions go deeper. There is the contrast between publics and markets. There is the issue of public good. But at the end of the day – ads and PR are different. So how could UPI confuse the two? Is this just a case of reporter/editor ignorance? Or are we still struggling to define our profession with the wider public?



  1. Whaddaya expect from a wire service that’s owned by the Moonies?

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