Digital Advertising and Public Relations, Part 2: Advertising Formats

Public relations professionals often make mention of the concepts of earned, owned, and paid media. However, when they begin to talk about media, they quickly brushed past paid media. Ignoring paid media is a capital mistake; doing so ignores a body of strategies and tactics which complement and enhance the power of earned media and public relations. In this series, we’ll examine the tools, techniques, and strategies of paid advertising as they apply to public relations work.

Media formats

In paid media, we use four fundamental media formats to draw attention to our content: short form text, static images, animations, and video.

Short form text

Short form text ads are 70-140 character snippets of text; they’re usually made of a headline, one or two lines of descriptive text, and a clickable link. These text ads were made popular first by Google’s AdWords advertising service.

Static images

Static image ads are pictures or graphics which draw the eye and encourage audiences to click on them. Static image ads are as old as the Web itself; in early times, they were called banner ads. Today, static image ads are often customized and built by machines when ads are invoked.

Static images come in a variety of sizes, but the most common sizes are called IAB standard sizes, and consist of:

  • 300×250 pixels
  • 728×90 pixels
  • 160×600 pixels
  • 150×50 pixels
  • 250×250 pixels

Individual channels or platforms may also have unique sizes; most social media channels have their own unique sizes. I recommend printing out a copy of the DCI Ad Dimensions Cheat Sheet.


Similar to static image ads, animations use a few snippets of motion to draw the eye. In early days, these were anywhere from half a second to three second images, with lots of blinking and hideous contrast. Many veteran Web users will remember the “punch the monkey” animation ads as an early attempt to foster ad engagement. Like static image ads, animations today can be customized at scale for different users, often by advertising software without human intervention.

Animations typically follow the same size limitations as static ads.


Video advertisements use 15, 30, or 60 second videos to capture attention, and can be displayed on virtually any screen and in any application. Videos often run as pre-roll ads; anyone who’s spent time on YouTube has seen video ads aplenty.

Video advertisements run in virtually every size, aspect ratio, and resolution of video available, from square-shaped mobile ads for Instagram to massive 16×9 4K cinematic quality ads on YouTube.

How to choose advertising formats

How do we know what kind of ad to choose? With so many choices, what’s the right answer? There are three fundamental limits that guide our ad format choices.

Choosing types of ads by capabilities

Our choices are first limited by our capabilities:

  • If we’re sole proprietors without access to graphic artists/software or videographers, text ads are a safe bet to communicate our message.
  • If we have more time and resources, we can use popular image creation software like Pablo or Canva to create image ads.
  • Some ad platforms like Google AdWords can help us craft static or animated ads at no additional cost.
  • Video ads can be shot and edited even on a smartphone today, but take considerably more time and effort to create.

As with many things in life, when it comes to advertising, we tend to get what we pay for. If we choose $5 graphic artist freelancers, we will typically get $5 quality from their efforts. If we choose to engage professional graphic designers and videographers, we will typically receive more professional creative content.

Choosing types of ads by channels

The second limitation on ad choice is by channel or platform; not every platform supports every kind of advertisement. YouTube, for example, supports mainly video and text ads. That said, most modern publishers support virtually all kinds and types of advertising. It’s in their best interests to permit us to run as many ads as possible.

Choosing types of ads by audience

If we have the budget and resources to do so, we should test all different kinds and formats of ads. Audience behavior differs from channel to channel, depending on the context the audience is viewing the ad in. For example, if we’re on a mobile device looking for a nearby coffee shop, a text ad in Google Maps may be the most impactful form of advertising for that behavior. However, if we’re searching for how to make a certain kind of coffee, a video pre-roll ad on YouTube may pique our interest more.

It’s difficult to predict with statistical rigor precisely what kind of ad will resonate with your audience in any given behavioral context, so test as many as budget and resources permit. The results might surprise you!

Next: channels

In the next post in this series, we’ll explore the different channels of advertising available to us, from social media to native advertising.

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