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To PR or to Ad — The Under Armour Answer is Best

No straight answer.

CNN Money’s Small Business blogs are a great resource for the small business owner. Particularly relevant, the question and answer blog takes actual reader concerns and tries to address them. That’s different than many other large media blogs that keep three degrees of distance between themselves and the intended audience.

Recently,  I ran across a question from a business person who asked which was better: spending money on advertising or public relations services? As old as the question is, the answer never changes. There is no single answer.

Under Armour – Moving to the Top with Both

I always recall the story of Under Armour® founder Kevin Plank spending all – yes ALL – of his cash. Here’s the story as told to USA Today’s Barbara De Lollis:

“Under Armour wasn’t being widely sold then. So Plank decided to spend $25,000 — all of the company’s cash — for a half-page ad in ESPN magazine touting sales through the company Web site. The ad brought in 8,000 inquiries and $600,000 in sales. ‘It kept us in business,’ he says.’

The choice to place the ad was brought about by exposure the brand received in the movie Any Given Sunday and on college athletic fields. According to Plank, “He drove around the South giving away 500 samples to university equipment managers. By September, Georgia Tech bought 200 shirts for $12 each.”

So just as the article suggests – there’s no real “answer” that can apply to all situations. Economic climates, location and target audiences play major roles on the how and when of business communications.  In Plank’s case, timing was everything for his push full throttle into big media advertising.

Here are a few questions I share with clients and colleagues to help determine which method is best.

1. Do you need to know exactly when the message arrives and what people will do next? You may want to opt for advertising. In PR, you can’t control who will cover your story when and where. The better you are, the  the more connections you have – sure it’s gets easier to predict. But mail campaigns (direct or virtual) and other strategies such as retail and magazine advertising can provide the when/where answers best.

2. Do you need a recommendation or vote of confidence? PR may work best at that point. Paid spokespersons, although they work wonders, can be dismissed by the public if the message seems too contrived. And, the best are expensive. But if your restaurant serves the best breakfast in town and famous patrons stop by because they love it, you’d best believe a great PR campaign works wonders in that case.

3. Is your field or industry crowded, requiring you to make a big push to stand out? A combined campaign is best. Great advertising propped and supported by carefully timed PR messages can move you from the masses into the cat bird’s seat.

Just remember to think before you act, and as do most entrepreneurs, do a gut check to make sure you can handle the win or loss. Or win.


CNN Blog Article: “Advertising v. PR: What Pays Off”?    The post gives research examples and first-hand experiences that you can review at your leisure if it’s an issue you’re facing in your company.

Barbara de Lollis, USA Today,  12/12/04 “No Sweat. Athletic Gear Takes Him to the Top

One comment on “To PR or to Ad — The Under Armour Answer is Best

  1. Joede

    Thanks for the information! From your article, I’m actually thinking PR is more of what I need to make my brand seem more credible.

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