Digital Advertising and Public Relations, Part 4: Advertising Channels

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.

Advertising channels

In paid media, we use five types of channels to engage with our audiences and attract their attention: social media, display banner, display video, pay per click/performance, and native. In part 2, we examined the specific ad formats used for many of these different channels. In part 3, we examined the general strategies for ad campaigns. In this part, we’ll examine the channels more broadly and the use cases for each.

Social media ads

Social ads are sold by social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and many others. These typically take the form of images and links to content, though they can also promote social media accounts directly (i.e. Follow SHIFT on Twitter). Advertisers can pay either for impressions or clicks.

Common uses

Depending on the social network, ads can be used for any of the four strategies:

  • Syndication
  • Brand building
  • Direct response
  • Retargeting

Facebook and Twitter are especially strong at retargeting, with Facebook Custom Audiences and Twitter Tailored Audiences, respectively. Instagram excels at brand building; LinkedIn tends to be good at syndication.



Social networks offer a distinct advantage over most other advertising systems: they can leverage first party audience information, data that users have submitted about themselves. Facebook is best known for this refined targeting; the network has convinced billions of people to share extremely detailed information with it.


Social networks don’t play well with each other, and don’t play well with other advertising systems without third party software. Each network strives to “own” its users as much as possible, and there is no incentive for them to cooperate with each other. To make the most of social advertising, you’ll need to employ tag management or other marketing middleware.

Display ads

Display ads come in a variety of format, from text to images to animations to videos. Display ads run primarily on publishing websites; when you see a graphical ad on your preferred news website, that’s a display ad. Advertisers pay typically on display of an ad; when an ad is seen, we are charged.

Common uses

Display ads excel at awareness, syndication, and retargeting. They tend not to perform well with direct response; the reason for this is that many customer journeys place display advertising at the beginning of the journey or near the front.



Display ads, due to their relatively low clickthrough rate and broad distribution, can generate remarkable reach at relatively low costs. Display video advertising currently works very well, as video is harder for many companies to produce, thus causing less competition.


Display ads’ low clickthrough rates are also their weakness; improperly set or strategized, you’ll waste a tremendous amount of time and money on ads that deliver relatively little impact.

Pay per click/performance ads

Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is one of the oldest forms of advertising online; most users know PPC through Google Adwords search ads. PPC ads excel at driving direct response and retargeting performance. Advertisers pay only when a user engages with the ad by clicking on it.

Common uses

When someone searches online, PPC ads often accompany the search results. Typically, companies will execute two kinds of PPC programs, branded and unbranded. Branded PPC programs run ads specifically for people who are searching for our company, product, or service by name. For example, someone searching for SHIFT Communications would be conducting a branded search.

Unbranded PPC programs run ads for people searching for generic descriptions which match our products and services. For example, someone searching for “boston PR firm” would be conducting an unbranded search.



PPC ads excel at detecting intent; most people don’t use search engines simply for recreational amusement. Branded searches indicate an even higher level of intent; someone searching for you by name has a reason for doing so.


Due to the highly competitive nature of search ads, especially on valuable unbranded keywords and phrases, PPC advertising can be exceptionally expensive. A company competing in the mortgage or loan space could potentially pay as much as $100 per click on ads.

Native ads

Native advertising is technically a form of display advertising, but it’s unlike display in that it features much more content than the typical display ad. Native ads can be full-page advertorials, as well as related content ads. Native advertising excels at syndication and brand awareness. Advertisers are typically charged per impression/view of a display ad.

Common uses

Native ads are commonly used to drive users from one piece of content to the next. When reading an article about coffee, native ads may appear saying, “If you enjoyed this article about coffee, you may also enjoy this paid article about coffee.



Because native advertising is so closely tied to content, it works very well for syndicating news as well as creating brand awareness. If we’re in the coffee business, we can target content about coffee and expect to reach a relevant audience.


Native advertising is still very new; as a result, many of the vendors have limited reach. To maximize reach, chances are you’ll need to partner with multiple vendors who have access to different inventory.

Next: measurement

In the next post in this series, we’ll examine common ways to measure advertising.

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