Un-Blurring the Line between PR and Advertising

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Marketing Advertising Communication on Arrow SignsAs PR professionals, we’ve always been clear with regards to the distinct differences between public relations and advertising. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), however, doesn’t quite view the two as separate entities. In fact, in its regulation of commercial speech, the FTC regards content that comes from PR firms indistinguishable from content released by advertising agencies.

According to a recent article by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), as the line between the two continues to blur, we as PR pros need to be especially vigilant when it comes to producing content for our clients. If we’re not careful, not only can we find ourselves in an ethical dilemma but in a legal one as well.

PRSA consulted with Michael Lasky, a senior partner from  Davis & Gilbert LLP, New York, who heads the law firm’s PR practice group and co-chairs its litigation department. Lasky provided insight into the compliance issues PR firms need to be aware of and shared helpful advice for dealing with federal laws relating to native content (or advertising).

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Disclosure. Create honest, straightforward content that does not mislead the target audience and contains support for any and all claims that are made. In the event your PR firm is asked, it should be able to identify the message’s intended audience. Similarly, make sure to include clear disclosure when using sponsored stories or paid placements.
  • Intellectual Property. Agencies and PR firms have a responsibility to ensure that all content, including native content, does not infringe on copyrights, trademarks or other intellectual property rights held by others. In other words, do your homework. Research and carefully screen all content to ensure that it’s original and unique to your client – especially when user-generated content is involved.
  • Strategize. Keep your brand’s strategy top of mind and ensure that messaging is consistent across both paid and editorial platforms. This will help avoid conflicts with brand values as well as adverse affects in consumer loyalty.
  • Establish Guidelines. Every agency should have separate guidelines when it comes to native and paid content, and should set parameters to distinguish the two in style, design and format. This is increasingly important in today’s digital-driven world, where mobile and online devices offer endless mediums for accessing content.

To learn more on this topic, click here to read the full article from PRSA.

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