The difference between publicity vs public relations

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Both publicity and public relations refer to the relationship that an organisation has with the general public. Although they're closely related, there are some distinct differences between these two. If you're interested in a related industry like PR or marketing, it can be useful to understand these differences and how they interact. In this article, we explain the difference between publicity vs public relations, how these interact, careers related to each and an example of how a company might implement both.

Related: Marketing vs. PR: Key differences and 10 career options

Publicity vs public relations

To understand the difference between publicity vs public relations, it's useful to first look at each of them individually and then compare and contrast them. Accordingly, the definitions for each of these is as follows:

Publicity

Publicity is simply any attention that an organisation receives in the media. This typically has the potential to affect how the organisation is viewed by consumers and therefore can impact sales and performance, either positively or negatively. Publicity can relate to an entire organisation, a specific brand, an individual or even a product. Publicity is generally outside of the direct control of the organisation in question, as this is the purview of the mass media, social media and other such platforms. This can be in the form of news articles, video coverage, blogs, online discussions and more.

Organisations can indirectly influence publicity, but it's difficult to control its reception. For example, a company can issue statements, press releases or agree to interviews of notable individuals. It's important to remember that the primary goal when trying to generate publicity is to get attention within the various forms of media, and this is often done with a specific focus, such as increasing awareness of a new product.

Public relations

Often abbreviated as PR, public relations is less uni-directional than publicity. In the case of publicity, certain actions, products, brands or individuals receive attention from outside media sources. Brands have some control over this by determining what to conceal and what to announce, but once the information has been released there's little an organisation can do to directly influence reception. Conversely, public relations is a more active and interactive approach to managing the image and reputation of a brand. Like marketing, public relations often involves complex and long-term strategies with specific and often measurable goals.

The goal of public relations is to formulate a message and then effectively convey this to consumers to elicit a particular reaction. This is typically an active process whereby the organisation directly communicates with consumers, engages in community outreach, gives public presentations, grassroots initiatives, starts social responsibility programmes and otherwise seeks to engage the public. In public relations, organisations have a lot more direct control over their interactions with the public. Popular media outlets and others can be invited to participate, but this is all done with a specific strategy.

Related: What is public relations? (Plus PR strategies and tips)

The major differences

Now that you've acquired a more detailed understanding of what publicity and public relations are, you can start to understand the various ways in which they differ. These elements are listed and detailed below:

Tools and methods

Publicity and public relations utilise different methods and channels. In the case of publicity, the goal is usually to get as much widespread attention as possible. For this purpose, a company would typically try to use news networks and other media channels to reach the greatest number of consumers possible. A company would try to engage media outlets, produce news-worthy content, make public announcements and give previews of upcoming product releases. Some companies might even release carefully controlled product leaks, such as images or specifications, to generate interest.

An important part of this is getting the right media channels to publicise the company. This can make the information appear more credible as an ostensibly neutral third party is implicitly validating the information. Conversely, public relations uses a wider array of tools to accomplish its goals. The goal is to control how the public perceives the company, rather than simply getting as much attention as possible. It would use more interactive platforms like social media to engage consumers, organise community events to encourage participation and sponsor popular individuals or events.

Goals

The goals of publicity and public relations are quite different, especially in terms of their scope. In the case of publicity, there's often no specific type of information that a company wishes to communicate with the public. It simply wants to ensure that as many people as possible have heard about it, are talking about it, and are interested enough to follow it in the news and elsewhere. In some cases, even bad publicity can be beneficial if carefully controlled.

For example, if a company released a widely-criticised faulty product, this can make it well-known for negative reasons, but if it was seen to address the issue in an ethical manner and improve, this could be a positive experience. Public relations has more specific goals that are often measurable, such as increasing consumer trust in particular product lines or raising engagement levels on social media platforms. In many cases, a public relations strategy might be initiated to overcome the damage that negative publicity might've caused. This is why publicity is an element of public relations, but not the reverse.

Related: Objective vs.. goal: What are the key differences?

Publicity and public relations careers

Below are some examples of careers or roles that are related to publicity. Remember that the responsibilities can overlap to a significant extent, so many of these roles might be expected to handle elements of both. Some prominent publicity roles include:

  • Publicist: This is a position that has one of the more active roles in generating publicity. Publicists are the individuals who write press releases and arrange other media communications for their companies or clients and might help representatives prepare for interviews or public announcements.

  • Publicity manager: A publicity manager is in charge of overseeing the publicity campaigns of an organisation. They might also oversee the work of publicists and other professionals.

  • Media relations manager: Many organisations develop relationships with media outlets and individuals over time, and it's the role of the media relations manager to manage all of these. Their goal is to try and ensure that only positive information reaches the media and that coverage is favourable.

Below are some prominent examples of public relations roles:

  • Community relations manager: This role is involved in handling the relationship between an organisation and the local community where it's located. Locals are often the most impacted by the presence of a company, and community relations managers work actively to ensure that this is as positive a relationship as possible.

  • PR director: Public relations directors are the most senior PR professionals in an organisation and create the long-term goals, objectives and strategies for the company. They typically oversee all of the various aspects of a brand's public relations, from media relations to social media engagement.

  • Social media manager: These individuals specialise in the use of various social media platforms to promote a brand or product and engage users.

Related: How to become a communications director (with salary info)

Publicity vs public relations example

To understand how these differences can work in practice, imagine there's a company that plans to launch a new line of products. This company has struggled to match its competitors and receives relatively little media attention, but hopes that this new line can address these issues. It would start by trying to get publicity. An initial action would be something like a press release written by a publicist, which can contain important information regarding the upcoming product line launch. This can generate media attention, which would be managed by a media relations manager. The company could also make an announcement.

Once the company has managed to get the public to talk about it and the possibilities of its new product line, it's time to move to public relations. It can use social media to issue various previews and teasers. It might invite popular online reviewers on social media to review pre-release versions and generate excitement. It might also organise an event where demonstration models are shown, specifications given, the press invited and where the general public can ask questions. Finally, it could offer incentives and pre-order priority to people who engage with the brand on social media.

Related:

  • What does a public relations officer do? (Duties and careers)


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