For many people there is little distinction between public relations and publicity and the terms can be easily interchanged. The fact is they are vastly differently fields that require their own unique skills developed over many years.
The easiest way to draw the distinction is to think of roads and planes. When you want a road built you call a civil engineer. When you want a plane built you call an aeronautical engineer (or two). They might both be engineers but you wouldn’t get the civil guy to build a plane or the aeronautical girl to build a road. The same should go for your communications.
What is Public Relations?
Public Relations has never been easily defined. For some it encompasses anything that involves talking to people that aren’t customers. For others it’s organising parties and inviting celebrities along.
I have been using the same definition for many years*.
PR is the strategic crafting of complex stories and interactions with a range of publics. It’s the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people ‘talk’ about you. It addresses issues and it takes time and resources.
Under this definition the process of public relations is complex, time-consuming and more often than not, expensive. It involves formative research, strategy development, tactical thought and ongoing evaluation and program re-setting.
The goal of public relations is to complete this sentence with as much detail as possible.
In order to (insert objective) we will (define a strategy) by (list creative tactics that solve the problem)
You could end up with something like:
“In order to drive preference with buyers during the consideration phase, we will activate the online voice of existing customers by creating a game that requires multiple reviews on Facebook and Yelp and that focuses on the reliability of the product.”
A good public relations person is strategic, thoughtful and research-focused. They can stand back and look at the big picture and break it down into small actions that get you to your goal.
What is Publicity?
Publicity is another beast altogether. Generally, when smaller companies say they want to do some public relations, they really mean they want some publicity. They want their name in the paper, on television and on the radio. They want a profile and they don’t want to spend millions of dollars on buying advertising.
Publicity is getting unpaid media (radio, TV, press) to pay attention, write you up, endorse your products, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion. Good publicity is always good for your brand.
From a marketing perspective, publicity is one component of promotion which is one component of marketing. Other elements of the promotional mix can include advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing and personal selling.
Good publicity does not necessarily require a lot of strategic thought. It is about identifying good stories and pushing them out to the media on a consistent basis. Publicity shouldn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of messaging, it shouldn’t be over analysed. You don’t get to craft a ‘perception’ in the media, the goal is simple brand awareness.
The best publicists always have an intimate understanding of the media. Their time is best spent on the phone, talking to journalists, looking for opportunities and chasing them relentlessly.
So next time you have a communications issue be clear on what you want and make sure you get the right person. The last thing you need is to take off in a plane, designed by an expert road builder.
* I am unsure where this is originated and happy to provide reference links if anybody can find the original source.