Advertorial vs editorial for PR: Which is better? A comprehensive guide
December 22, 2023
Updated May 16, 2024
18 minutes read

Advertorial vs editorial for PR: Which is better? A comprehensive guide

Too comprehensive, frankly, but we really wanted to rank for it.

In the whirlwind realm of public relations, where attention is a coveted currency and tactics constantly evolve, the once humble advertorial has emerged as a strategic powerhouse – at least, if you can get away with it. That’s largely because most people hate ads, but enjoy entertaining and informative content, and advertorials allow you to bait-and-switch one for the other.

If you ask a less cynical person or say, Seth Godin, advertorials give you the opportunity to genuinely connect with your target audience and recommend your product to the people whose lives can be improved by said product. (I’ll try to be more objective in the rest of this article.)

But how is advertorial better than editorial, and which is it better to invest in when it comes to PR?

In this overly comprehensive guide, we'll take a quick peek into the origins of advertorial content, go through the step-by-step of how it works, pit it against good old-fashioned editorial, and throw in some practical guidance on how you can use both to your advantage. Let's go.

The key takeaways

  • Editorial is earned content whereas advertorial is paid content; editorial is more valuable
  • Writing advertorial copy that doesn't feel like a sales pitch is tricky, but not impossible – we go into how to pull it off below
  • Securing editorial coverage relies on being able to pitch well – we go into some tips around this below too
  • Another option to consider is to publish your own content, i.e. owned media

Advertorials can absolutely be an effective part of a PR strategy, but they can also be money-sink that don’t deliver – as usual, it all depends on research, execution, and fit.

To write effective advertorial is to walk the line between storytelling and sly self-promotion. By knowing your audience, choosing the right publication, crafting compelling narratives, and then weaving those together with the right editorial style, you can create advertorial that not only captures attention but also drives engagement and, ultimately, converts.

Oh, and you can publish your own content, manage your contact lists, and pitch the media all with a free trial of Prezly. Start yours here, no payment info required :)

Pitch journalists right now with a 14-day free trial

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What are advertorials and where did they come from?

You can think of advertorial as the bastard lovechild of editorial and advertisement (hence the portmanteau). It’s a content marketing play that isn’t bound by unnecessary details, like journalistic objectivity or balanced reporting, and instead simply seeks to provide value to its audience while quietly pushing its agenda. It’s a bit sneaky that way.

The actual term “advertorial” was coined way back in 1912, before the internet was even a glimmer in our collective imagination and a full 85 years before the inimitable Spice Up Your Life album came out. Papers wanted to branch out their revenue streams beyond conventional advertising, brands wanted more people to buy their stuff, and so someone, somewhere came up with the idea of blurring the line between impartial reporting and extremely partial advertising.

By imitating the style and format of the rest of the paper, advertorial content could hoodwink its readership into making a purchase without compromising journalistic integrity. The papers got money, the brands got customers, and the people got products that helped them live more balanced and fulfilling lives. Everyone wins!

As brands recognised the power of advertorial content and began to invest more and more in its creation, the trend spread to magazines and, eventually, online. Which brings us to now.

Ok, so maybe it’s time for a little author’s note. I don’t objectively hate all advertorials. In fact, if they’re entertaining and/or helpful in some way, they can absolutely be used to build brand awareness and reputation. They can even be fun! Some brands are amazing at this. The problem is, most brands aren’t, which just results in boring, lengthy copy the only job of which is to push sales. (Many parallels may be drawn here between how companies use advertorials and how they post on social media, but that's fodder for another rant altogether.)

Advertorial vs editorial

Editorial is the good guy to advertorial's baddie. That's an over simplification, sure, but it's not that much of a stretch since editorial earns its place in a publication while advertorial buys it. It's like the Jack to advertorial's Caledon Hockley, if you squint and use your imagination.

The biggest difference between the two is that advertorial is paid content, while editorial is earned content. Speaking of which, you want to earn some content? Why not try pitching some journalists with a shiny free Prezly trial?

Prezly – software for modern PR teams

  • Write & publish brand stories in an online newsroom

  • Send email campaigns, pitches & newsletters

  • Manage all your contact lists in a single CRM, with easy import & export

  • Measure performance to see who's engaging with your stories

More than just paid content?

While advertorials literally are paid content, if you scratch past that salesy veneer you’ll discover a marketing optimist that genuinely believes their content exists to make the world a better place. Let’s run with that Utopian idea of advertorial for the time being.

At its core, an advertorial is a strategic content piece that seamlessly integrates advertising messages into the fabric of editorial content. Unlike traditional ads that stand out as blatant promotional material, advertorials aim to engage readers by adopting the tone, style, and context of the publication in which they appear.

Of course, there are a few other benefits to advertorials that we should know about.

Storytelling for impact

One of the primary strengths of advertorials lies in their capacity for storytelling. Rather than delivering a straightforward sales pitch, brands get the chance to weave a narrative around their product or service. This narrative approach fosters a deeper connection with the reader, and resonates on a more emotional level than conventional ads (John Lewis ads notwithstanding).

That said, literally anything can incorporate a story if you’re intentional about it. (I wrote a guide on how you can use storytelling in business here.) Advertorials simply give you a bigger wordcount to play with.

Credibility through association

Trust is a precious commodity in PR, and advertorials are one way to piggybank on someone else’s good reputation. Advertorials, when executed well, integrate into the editorial flow, lending an air of credibility to the brand's message among that publication’s readership. Readers are more likely to trust content that mirrors the style and tone of the publication they trust, which helps foster an air of authenticity around your brand. Yes, I do see the irony inherent in that statement.

These days, most publications will label advertorial content as such, in an effort to themselves appear more credible. For print publications, it’s likely your advertorial will be placed opposite a regular editorial segment to which your topic can act as a supplement. Online, the paid piece will usually get its own space, mixed in with the platform’s regular programming.

Targeted communication

Advertorials give you the opportunity to target a pre-packaged audience simply by choosing a publication whose readership aligns with your own ideal customer.

So long as everyone involved is mindful of one another and doesn’t seek to merely peddle snake oil or make money off the back of meaningless hype, this targeted approach can benefit all parties by ensuring that the brand’s ethically sound message reaches the people most likely to be genuinely interested in the product or service promoted.

Providing value

The most successful advertorials are those that provide value beyond mere promotion. After all, if you’re only going to promote your product, you might as well forego the pretense and just take out an ad. By offering insights, solutions, or best yet, entertainment, brands can position themselves as valuable resources in their sector. This way you can add depth to the content and transform it into a resource rather than a mere sales pitch.

Building relationships

Ok, say that your advertorial content doesn’t actually seek to sell anything directly. Maybe you use that space to regularly check in with a particular audience, sharing entertaining anecdotes, helpful advice, and engaging research.

With time, those readers will start to associate your brand with positive values. At that point, they’ll be more likely to move one step down the funnel, from being the audience you reach with paid advertorials, to the people reading your owned media. (I’d argue that this is the absolute best way to use advertorial as part of a public relations strategy.)

Dodging adblockers

This one is only relevant for online content, but one benefit of advertorial content over conventional ads is that it’s less likely to be flagged as spam by adblockers. Given that adblockers are becoming increasingly commonplace (and were, until very recently, the only victor in the ongoing battle against the scourge that is YouTube advertising), this can really improve your reach on digital platforms.

Ok, but do advertorials actually work?

Honestly? Kinda! While the efficacy of advertorial content is hard to pin down given the disparities between different platforms, industries, and content quality, we can extrapolate results based on niche research.

For example, a 2016 Nielsen study commissioned by Mode Media looked at the perception of branded stories on Mode’s website among a group of 2,400 women and found that:

On average, branded stories were perceived as: 76% interesting; 70% exciting, 66% natural.

This isn’t particularly surprising since the keyword here is stories. I’m of the firm belief that stories, in the way that they evoke empathy and facilitate shared experience, are the secret sauce behind most successful human interactions.

We are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been presented within a story.

We've been known to overspend by 132,000% on a trinket worth $1.49 when there's a captivating fictitious story attached to it.`

– Storytelling in business: How to make people fall in love

How to write advertorials

Ok, time for the juicy bit. Now that we’ve decided that we are very much the sort of people that would pay a reputable publication a slice of our marcomms budget to give us access to their hard-earned audience, we must come to a decision on what we want to say and how we want to say it.

First and foremost, I would urge you to make sure that you iron out how this advertorial tactic factors into your overall PR strategy and what you aim to achieve with it. (I won’t go into detail on strategy here, so if you’re interested, I recommend watching our PR Roundtable episode on the subject, featuring the always wonderful Gini Dietrich and pickle-enthusiast Laura Sutherland.)

Once you’ve established the strategic role that advertorial will play in your strategy, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and plunge those hands into the murky waters of story creation.

In PR terms, advertorials sit somewhere between paid and earned media, since they can masquerade as the latter by replacing a lot of the hard work with a broad enough budget. Sadly, this does not mean they’re easy.

Writing an effective advertorial is both an art and a science, requiring a delicate balance between engaging storytelling and strategic promotion. Remember, you need this to not only capture attention but also to leave a lasting impression.

Because advertorial content is normally marked as such, most readers understand that what they’re about to read is very likely to be biased towards the company footing the bill. That means that it has to overcome many of the same hurdles as regular old advertising, namely, you need to provide enough interest, entertainment, and value upfront to legitimise taking up your reader’s time and attention. That’s an incredibly tricky thing to pull off when the intrinsic goal of your advertorial is to sell something.

Tricky, but not impossible.

Here’s how you can get a good footing on writing advertorial copy that converts.

Know your audience inside and out

Understanding your audience is the North Star that guides your advertorial journey. Indeed, it’s the constant that unites all of your comms and marketing, so chances are you’re already pretty familiar with the type of person with whom you’re trying to connect.

The work you have to do here then relates to the audience of the publication where you’re wanting your advertorial to be placed.

Ask the publication to share their readership’s demographic breakdown with you. Who are they? Where do they work, what do they do? What are their interests? What do they complain about?

Choose the right publication and context

This is akin to choosing the right stage for your performance. What sorts of articles do they publish? What topics do they cover? What’s their tone? What do the visuals look like?

For the greatest chance of success, look for the publications that have the greatest overlap with your brand in terms of audience, tone, and values. Then align your content with their overarching themes and editorial calendar.

Develop a compelling narrative

The heart of any advertorial is narrative. Move beyond dry product descriptions and focus on telling a compelling story. It doesn’t need to be about your product – in fact, I would (continue to) argue that your resources are better spent using this opportunity to provide some sort of value for the reader and get them to start positively recognising your brand.

The power of storytelling in business & PR (or, How to make people fall in love)
The power of storytelling in business & PR (or, How to make people fall in love)

With your business, not with each other. That would be creepy.

Balance information and promotion

Few people like a bragger, and even less like to feel like they’ve been duped into reading what seemed like an interesting article only to discover that they’re actually just being sold something.

A successful advertorial strikes a delicate balance between providing valuable information and promoting your brand. Offer insights, industry tips, or thought leadership that add genuine value to the reader. Integrate your promotional messages organically within the narrative, avoiding the pitfall of turning your advertorial into a blatant sales pitch.

Make a strong impression

First impressions are everything, so use everything at your disposal to make yours count. Pay attention to how the story will look in its final form as well as its actual content. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating your advertorial:

  • Does the headline make you want to read more?
  • Are there visuals you can use alongside your copy, like photos or infographics?
  • Does the advertorial look like the editorial content in the rest of the publication?
  • Have you included a few search-engine friendly terms in case you have the opportunity to rank for SEO?
  • Is there a call to action or a way for the reader to keep in touch, like a link to your socials or newsletter?
  • Have you followed journalistic practices in crafting an interesting story?
  • Are you overpromising or overselling?
  • Did you pass it through a spellcheck (or that one really pedantic coworker)?

Try again

If you publish that first advertorial and it doesn’t work? Reassess. Look at the story you told, the people you told it to, ask yourself if it’s an issue of resonance or just an unlucky day, and decide if you want to try again. As with most content and branding tactics, it can be a long time before you see any results. Only you can tell whether it’s worth your while.

That is not a weakness. That is life. 

How to earn editorial coverage

This is the kicker, isn't it? Editorial is something you earn, which necessarily involves time and hard work and all those other nuisances. But, as we said before, earned media is and always will be ultimately more valuable than paid.

So, alright, editorial is the holy grail. How do we get it?

We establish ourselves as experts in a subject, build relationships with the people publishing (or writing) the editorial, and carefully target our pitches. And then, we pray.

Of course, having the right tool for the job can help make all the difference. (This is the part where I seamlessly suggest you try a 14-day free trial of Prezly, since it helps take some of the pain out of doing all of the above.)

How to pitch stories to editorial

1. Assemble your media lists

Step one, as always, is research. Find the people who are talking about things that align with your brand's mission and values, whose audience aligns with yours.

Use audience research tools like Sparktoro to help you do this (we have a whole list of tools and advice on how to build a media list).

Then, get your lists into something that will help you keep track of how each contact engages with your content, namely, a CRM – like Prezly.

If you use Prezly for your PR work, this part is easy – just select your spreadsheet of contacts and hit "import", or add them manually to your CRM. If you aren't currently using a CRM to manage your contact lists but want to try it, start a free trial of Prezly here.

2. Write a compelling pitch targeted at niche contacts

Ok, so it was never going to be easy. But it's not too awful either.

The trick to writing a great media pitch is to:

  1. Understand the audience that the person you're contacting is writing for
  2. Give them the outline of a story that fits their audience and publication
  3. Keep things short

Don't waste people's time with empty, generic platitudes like "I love the articles you've written, they're really insightful". If you haven't actually read their work, then a) go and read it so that you know whether your story is going to be a good fit, and b) don't reference it unless you have something specific to say.

A masterclass on how not to pitch people from a Mr Spencer and/or Spancer.
A masterclass on how not to pitch people from a Mr Spencer and/or Spancer.
Prezly: Send pitches that journalists will reply to
Prezly: Send pitches that journalists will reply to

Prezly is an easy to use PR pitching tool. Send targeted pitches at scale. Quickly create and send personalized branded email campaigns.

3. Send your pitch and gauge how the person reacts

Ok, so you've assembled the people you want to pitch, you've written a thoughtfully worded pitch targeted to each one, and you've hit send on your email campaign.

The waiting game sucks, let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

Be patient; these are busy people, and frankly, the majority of them will not reply to unsolicited emails from strangers. (That's why it pays to build up a relationship with them over a long – or long-ish – time.)

Give them a week or so before you follow up, and when you do follow up, don't be pushy about it. And if you still don't hear from them? Leave them alone and channel your energy elsewhere.

Insider tip: If you sent your pitch out through a tool like Prezly, use the built-in campaign analytics to see whether the people you pitched have opened your email. If they have, follow up offering a unique angle or opportunity. If they haven't? Give it a week, and pitch them from scratch but try out a different subject line or sender address.

An email pitching tool like Prezly will give you insights into which contacts are opening and reading your emails, helping you decide how best to follow up.
An email pitching tool like Prezly will give you insights into which contacts are opening and reading your emails, helping you decide how best to follow up.

Getting better deliverability when pitching editors

As you will have by now gathered, there's a lot that goes into a successful email pitch – in fact, we really go to town on the details in this free guide to email pitching. For now, let's concentrate on the practical side: achieving reliable deliverability on your pitch email. Here are the deets:

Publish your own editorial (owned content)

This approach is very much on the "long game" side of things, but it is worth doing regularly and over time if you want to establish your brand as the expert in your field. It's also called "content".

Instead of relying fully on editorial content published about you on external outlets (earned media) or using advertorials (paid media), consider the third quarter of the PESO pie: owned media.

If you have something to say, then say it on your terms, on a webspace that you own. Not via a news outlet, not on LinkedIn, not even on TikTok – those are all controlled by someone else whose main goal is to keep people on their website, not to direct them to yours.

So alongside your earned and paid media activity, start publishing your own content on your website. This can be a blog, a newsroom, even an academy like this one. Over time, your content will build up to demonstrate your expertise and attract people to your brand, by word of mouth and because your website will start to appear in online search results for your niche.

This is also, by the way, why your newsroom should be at the heart of your press release distribution strategy. Because even publishing your press releases to an online newsroom gives you SEO points and gives your stories a better chance of being discovered by people on the internet.

Insider tip: You can use Prezly sites to publish not just your newsroom, but your blog as well – in fact, we run this academy and our Help Center through Prezly. It's really easy to set up, fully multimedia friendly, and means you get to keep all of your content in one, easy to use space. Some of our clients even run their multilingual magazine this way.

Create an online newsroom journalists will engage with
Create an online newsroom journalists will engage with

Prezly allows you to create an online newsroom in minutes. Create a newsroom, add branding, post your stories, and start pitching.

Advertorial vs Editorial: Which one should I pick?

That depends entirely on your strategy. Instead of starting with the tactics – "what should I do?" – begin with your desired outcome, i.e. what you want to achieve. Then work out the best way to get there.

And you don't need to pick just one thing.

Figure out what you want to achieve, then grab a pencil and a napkin, your team, and a megapint of espresso, and start scratching out some ideas.

Prezly – software for modern PR teams

  • Write & publish brand stories in an online newsroom

  • Send email campaigns, pitches & newsletters

  • Manage all your contact lists in a single CRM, with easy import & export

  • Measure performance to see who's engaging with your stories

Kate Bystrova

Kate Bystrova

Chief Storyteller, Prezly



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