Advertising and publicity are different forms of getting the word out about your business, with different subject matter, costs and expectations. Many business owners, however, try to blur the line between the two, which can cause misunderstandings with the news media and negate a company’s efforts to improve business and its image. Knowing the differences between the two and how to use them as complementary efforts can reap benefits in spreading a company’s message.

You pay a charge to place an ad in a newspaper or magazine, run on a broadcast station, or appear on a website, and you pay each time it’s run or clicked. But you can schedule when it appears as long as you meet deadlines, and run it as many times as you want.

For publicity, you can send out a press release or stage an event, but you don’t pay for any news coverage that results. Any coverage usually runs only once, and you don’t control when the coverage will appear. You can’t even guarantee there will be any news coverage unless an editor decides the release or event has legitimate value and interest to readers or viewers. A sale or self-promotion will not pass the editor’s muster.

You get to control what appears in your ad. You decide the wording and the design. The subject of the ad could be a sale, description of a product or an image-building presentation for your company. With a press release, you may decide on the wording for the release, but an editor will likely rewrite the release before it appears in a news media outlet. Depending on the story, the editor may assign a reporter to do additional interviews for the story. That can be a big plus for a business, though the reporter may interview people outside of your company for objective viewpoints. You don’t get to see the story before it runs.

Ads can use “great,” “stupendous,” “best ever” and any other superlative adjectives to describe products or a company. But if you’re sponsoring a charity or community event, using a “sponsored by” banner with just your company name can have a stronger positive effect than any blatant promotional message. Use superlatives in a press release, and you decrease the chance of your release ever seeing the light of day.

Michael Turney, writing about advertising and publicity on the Northern Kentucky University website, cites a study done by the Wirthlin Group that found, of those surveyed, 28 percent of adults over age 18 would more likely be influenced by a news article or feature than they would by an ad when making a decision to purchase a product or service, while only 8 percent of respondents said they would be more influenced by an ad. Others surveyed gave no preference.

Though media coverage of an event or press release runs only once, it lingers on the Internet for viewers to call up again and view. Press releases that you also post on your company website can be picked up by bloggers, Facebook users and other reporters digging for stories long after you wrote the release. YouTube videos end up being seen around the world. Publicity has a much better chance than ads for going viral on the Internet. You don’t get to control its spread or how your publicity is used, but it can be seen by far more people than any ad you bought if it strikes the right chord.