The Bigger Picture On Public Relations

Marketing guy Seth Godin published a post yesterday entitled “The difference between PR and publicity.” In it he says:

“Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion. Sometimes publicity is helpful, and good publicity is always good for your ego.

But it’s not PR.”

While I disagree with his assertion that “Most PR firms do publicity, not PR,” I wholeheartedly agree with the central premise of his post.

Public relations is bigger than publicity.

Unfortunately, many other people, including people making communications decisions on behalf of organizations, don’t recognize this fact. They see companies in newspapers, read stories about bad pitches or hear someone ranting about spin and assume that’s all there is to the function.

I’ve written on this topic before, but this topic is worth revisiting in a little more detail.

Most people outside the PR/communications business think public relations consists of a few things

  • News releases
  • Pitching (if they’re bad, then sometimes spamming) journalists


Public relations does cover these two activities (minus the spam), but it is so much more.

Godin defined it as “…the strategic crafting of your story. 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.”

That’s a better definition than many, but it’s still narrow.

Back in October 2008, the folks on the Inside PR podcast – Terry FallisDavid Jones, and Julie Rusciolelli – broke public relations down into five categories:

  1. Media relations
  2. Government relations
  3. Stakeholder relations
  4. Investor relations
  5. Internal/employee communications

Within the last week alone I’ve worked on three of these five areas (our company doesn’t operate in the other two). I would also add two more categories:

Most people don’t see beyond the first category of communications, because much of it happens behind the scenes.

Speak to anyone who works at a good public relations agency (or fills a broad role in a corporation). They’ll tell you an immense amount of planning, preparation and foundation-setting goes on within any good communications function, and behind any good communications plan.

Anyone who says public relations is all pitches and publicity doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.