Digital Advertising and Public Relations – Which Do I Need? 

December 20, 2022 | Amanda Green

Consider the 4 Cs

Written by Cynthia Guiang, Orca Communications CMO

The easy answer…both. If budgets and time were not an issue, there would be no debate. You should choose both digital advertising and public relations. But since that is never the case, and even those with healthy budgets need to determine allocation, let’s take a closer look.

We’ll start with some basic definitions. Digital advertising is paid exposure across digital platforms including display ads, social media ads, mobile ads, in-app ads, paid media/content, email, search engine marketing, and search engine optimization. 

Public relations (PR) efforts work to secure what is called earned media. This means it is content that is shared by the media that is not paid. This includes product reviews, product roundups/listicles, feature stories, article mentions of products or services or companies, as well as thought leadership through executive interviews, commentary/quotes, and contributed articles.

Discussions on the pros and cons and evaluating the benefits of digital advertising and public relations can run quite deep, varying by market conditions, specifics of your particular offering, the target audience you are trying to reach, your budget, and many more factors. This can make it difficult to even get started thinking about the possibilities. Our goal is to help simplify the thought process so decisions can be more accessible. To do this, we’ve broken it down into 4 Cs:


This is where PR takes the clear win. The third-party endorsement you receive when someone outside the company is talking about you, reviewing your product, sharing your perspective as a thought leader, etc. builds credibility because they are often seen as a trusted source to the audience. At a minimum, they are seen as an unbiased source since it isn’t clear there is anything in it for them to promote you or your product. On the other hand, digital advertising is clearly self-promotion and so it is viewed through the same questionable lens as any other marketing approach with the consumer wondering if the claims you are making are true. If you need to build trust with your target audience, PR is no doubt the best way to do so.


Any form of paid advertising, including digital advertising, puts you in control. You can dictate the timing, messaging, and target. Hitting the right audience at the right time with your sales message can be critical and this is when digital advertising can really pay off if executed effectively. An experienced publicist can also time the pitching to align with key sales windows and to target specific audiences, but there are no guarantees. They are at the mercy of the media and influencers to decide if and when they will cover it and have no control over the timing or content of the placement. 


This is a tough one because it’s all in how you choose to measure it. Digital advertising can be very cost-effective, and you have immediate, measurable ROI. However, it runs, and it’s done. PR-generated traffic and influence is not easy to track and coverage is not always written with the intention to sell so it doesn’t necessarily instigate immediate clicks and buys. Instead, it builds awareness and trust in the brand. This can influence sales when published, but also down the line in months and even years to come. As a buyer researches a particular product category or perhaps even your particular offering to see if they should actually buy it, they will find your press coverage. These articles are also powerful at building SEO. And placement in some outlets can be out of reach for many brands – the ad value of a single hit in a major outlet can pay for an entire PR campaign.

Culmination (Deliverable)

 What is your final desired outcome? If you are building a brand with the desire to set a stake in the ground upon which to build, PR is the foundation you need to create that trust and credibility with your target audience. If you simply want to drive short-term sales and have a compelling angle to grab the attention of your target to sell what you are offering, digital advertising will give you the control to make that happen quickly. 

As I mentioned in the beginning, it ideally shouldn’t be an either/or. I would recommend using the 4 Cs to evaluate how much you might allocate to each and when those allocations should shift. It is short-sighted to only work toward short-term sales and ignore the important brand-building necessary to establish trust with your target audience. This is especially important when launching a new product or service. At the same time, you should not expect PR to do all your selling for you. In fact, we tell our clients to make sure they leverage their PR coverage in their other marketing activities to get the full value out of it. Reviews by trusted sources make great advertising fodder! “As seen on” media outlet logos featured on a website home page build instant credibility with site visitors. Stronger together is our motto – a well-balanced marketing mix is always recommended.