To the untrained eye, public relations and communication are interchangeable.

But there are distinct differences between the two. These include the tasks and what is involved in public relations and communications.

Indeed, a couple of elements overlap, which might be the cause of the confusion.

But they should be treated as two separate disciplines.

Perhaps the easiest way of remembering is:

Communication is the overarching umbrella term, with public relations sitting underneath.

The most practical way of delving into the topic would be to examine communication – what’s involved and how it works with businesses – and then take it one step further for public relations.

What are the main differences between the two?

Communication

Trained communicators within a company generally deal with internal and external communications.

People working in this field are responsible for connecting the various departments within an organisation. They do this through targeted communications such as employee newsletters, internal websites and/or blogs (just like this one).

Internal audiences will vary from business to business, but it will typically include employees, investors, shareholders and the executive team.

An external audience will vary too. The most common individuals are stakeholders, current customers and potential customers.

Communications professionals are responsible for communicating with these two audiences in a slick and cohesive manner. Ensuring that the messages come across as authentic and genuine. Delivering messages in the same way transmits coherence, credibility, and business ethics.

What does communication involve?

A communication manager’s role is divided into two parts:

  • Promote the company mission, product or services
  • To ensure all messaging, from a company email to a tweet, align with the business’s values.

At the core of the role is learning and understanding the message that must be communicated. (They are typically responsible for managing public relations teams, too.)

Some of the skills and attributes involved to excel in a communication role are:

  • Self-motivation and resilience
  • A strong vision to envisage the future of the organisation
  • Creative, with critical-thinking solid skills
  • Great writer and speaker – both internally and externally (i.e. with the marketing media)
  • Analytically-minded and proactive
  • Strong presentation and communication skills essential for dealings with clients
  • Ability to conduct research and make decisions on the company’s behalf
  • Project management skills that help form a strong communications strategy
  • Knowledge of public relations – to help create the relationship between the two disciplines.

Public relations

On the other hand, public relations practitioners deal with information being shared with the public.

Those in PR agencies or internal PR practitioners encapsulate various roles, all with varying day-to-day responsibilities and tasks involved. 

It’s constantly evolving due to the interests of the general public changing too, so it’s gone through its very own transformation in the last decade – with most of that happening during the pandemic.

Public relations professionals are responsible for managing an organisation’s reputation in the public’s eyes (a.k.a international public relations). This is typically done by crafting newsworthy stories to share with the media through writing press releases, pitches, social media platforms, events and much more.

To create these types of activities, public relations experts will incorporate broader corporate messages to convey the company’s overall strategic positioning.

This is typically what’s known as media relations.

It helps develop the public understanding of a business, how they operate and what makes them tick.

What do public relations involve?

Public relations specialists are responsible for dealing with the external communication for a business. They work with the communications professional (we told you they were very closely linked) to ensure the messages are cohesive throughout.

PR might be completed in-house or outsourced to an agency to act on the company’s behalf.

Some of the skills and attributes to excel as a public relations professional are:

  • Excellent communication skills – both written and orally
  • Good presentation skills
  • Ability to develop a robust plan and prioritise tasks
  • Creative thinker who can put things into practice
  • Ability to conduct thorough research
  • Interested in the media, public affairs, politics and social influence
  • A keen eye for detail across several communications channels
  • A good relationships person – building mutually beneficial relationships with many different parties.

In what ways are Public Relations and Communication similar?

As you can see, the PR industry and communications have some overlapping skills and attributes. Whilst communication is broader because it overlooks many different areas, public relations is a specific part of that field.

That’s why their roles are sometimes used interchangeably due to their nature of appearing the same. We’ve listed a few reasons why they might be treated as the same for some people:

  • The ability to communicate effectively, both verbally and through writing.
  • Be adept at the strategic communication process and know how to effectively execute them – although this might be to a different target audience.
  • Be proficient at problem-solving and confident when confronted with a crisis, no matter what type, size and scope of the crisis.
  • Have a deep understanding of how public information works and utilise media relations to highlight a good brand image.

Communication management is critical for bringing these two elements together. Public relations managers (or your chosen public relations agency) liaise with the corporate communications team to help build a robust plan for their activity, ensuring the news is shared at the right time whilst effectively supporting the overriding strategy. This brings us nicely to our next section…

Are strategic communication and communications the same thing?

In a way, they are the same thing. But strategic communication comes one step before communication and several steps before the public relations element comes into play.

Strategic communications outline specific policies and guide consistent information activity within an organisation and other organisations.

Strategic communication management could be defined as the systematic planning and realising information flow, communication, media development and public relations management. In other words, all elements impact a brand’s reputation and influence.

How will public relations and communication evolve?

Whilst all we’ve spoken about in this blog is how the two roles are different; I believe the future of communication and public relations will see them getting even more connected.

We noticed that both were extensively in these campaigns.

Perhaps as a conscious decision, or naturally, there’s bound to be a shift to bringing the disciplines closer together.

Companies will be looking at ways to streamline their internal and external communication, so having these teams work in tandem is a perfectly appropriate solution. The relationship between the two will become more robust, and it will act as a two-way street, boosting the presence of an organisation across several channels.

As we mentioned earlier, public relations has already gone through its transformation during the pandemic, with communications going the same direction.

But… will the roles ever merge?

Communications and public relations will always be separate, but with a closer connection like mentioned above. They will become intrinsically linked, with similar skills and attributes needed, however, they will continue to be two different entities.

So, there you have it…

We hope we’ve given you a little insight into the world of communication and public relations. If you’ve often become confused about why they are treated differently, maybe you’ve got a better understanding now you’ve finished this blog.

If, for any reason, you still want a little bit more, feel free to reach out to us, and we can discuss what options might be best for your business.

Author

  • Liam is our resident PR whizz - helping our clients and Monumental to grow their media presence. Before starting his public relations journey, Liam graduated with a degree in Journalism from Roehampton University, with the knowledge of how the media operates. Flipping his journalist skills to work well within PR, he has been working in the industry for close to five years. He operates from the comfort of Warwick, the very same place that J.R.R Tolkien got engaged, and is a huge geek at heart. With a love for all things Marvel and Star Wars, we often find him freaking out about the latest blockbuster or TV show when he’s not working his PR magic. You can get in touch with him here: