A few years ago, PR Week sat down for an interview with Hans Bender, then manager of external relations for global household care at Procter & Gamble. Bender had just completed a large study on the return on investment (ROI) of public relations.

The study looked at the marketing mix for six different brands and found something interesting. The ROI for public relations averaged 275%—much higher than advertising. And PR drives the same level of sales as advertising—but at a lower cost.

Not much has changed in the last few years. PR is still more cost effective than advertising. It still lets you reach a broader target audience for a lot less money than an advertising campaign. And the ROI is still higher, because your investment dollars go much, much further.

1. Real people advocate your product or service. It’s one thing to hear how great a product or service is from an actor who’s been paid to speak about it, and has perhaps never even used it. Most people recognize advertising for what it is and are able to tune it out. This gives PR a distinct advantage. Instead of using actors as spokespeople, PR campaigns use real, third-party experts who are involved with, and stand behind, the product or service they’re selling.

2. More people trust media coverage. With advertising, the company or brand behind the ad controls its message, image and tone. Even the best PR people can’t control what a reporter or blogger will write about your product or service. And while that might seem scary, it’s also real, and it’s a great endorsement of your brand. This is exactly what helps build trust in what you’re selling.

3. PR has a longer shelf-life. Advertising has a short lifespan. An ad appears in a magazine, on TV or online, then it disappears when the ad buy ends. There may be a few memorable ads that consumers remember for a long time, but many are quickly forgotten. On the other hand, when a reporter or blogger writes about your product or service, it lives online forever, and it’s likely shareable. Plus, you can use these stories on your website and in other places to attract potential customers, clients and even employees. 

Have you shifted your advertising dollars to PR to get a better ROI? Tell us by leaving a comment below.


A leader in the Canadian public relations industry, Andrea Lekushoff has more than two decades of experience as a communications strategist and trusted advisor for some of the world’s most respected brands. Email Andrea