Publicity Versus Public Relations: What’s The Difference?

The terms publicity and public relations (PR) are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact two very distinct and separate disciplines. If you want to leverage the power of the media in your marketing mix then I suggest you start with knowing what the differences between publicity and PR really are. We’ll cover that in this article.

What is Publicity?

Publicity is the act of attracting the media’s attention and gaining visibility with the public at large. The primary focus with publicity is getting as much press coverage, or “ink” as possible. Exactly how the media chooses to report the event is entirely up to them and that’s why you can end up with either good publicity or bad publicity. Good publicity would be like press coverage of a hometown athlete bringing back an Olympic gold medal. Bad publicity is like an actress’s mug shot on the front cover of a supermarket tabloid after having been arrested for driving under the influence. Both are publicity, but only one of them is desired.

If you want a lesson on publicity stunts, then study serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. He’s probably the most well-known and outlandish publicity genius out there right now. Branson is known for his eccentric publicity stunts, usually to call attention to the opening of one of his new business ventures. Here are some examples of the publicity stunts Branson has done in the past:
  • Driving a Sherman tank down New York’s 5th Avenue to promote the launch of his Virgin Cola brand to the USA.
  • Bungee jumping off the top of the Las Vegas Palms Resort to promote his Virgin America airline brand.
  • Landing himself in the Guinness Book of World Records by travelling across the English Channel in a high-speed watercraft in an hour and 40 minutes.
  • And about a dozen cameo appearances in movies and television.
Branson’s publicity stunts emphasize the point that publicity is info-tainment. People don’t want boring news – they want to be entertained by unusual, interesting, exciting, controversial, emotion-provoking, juicy and often times scandalous stuff. Media companies want to maintain high ratings with their audience, so they must cover events that their audience is interested in. 
It’s important to note that getting “ink” doesn't mean that your brand's credibility or reputation will be enhanced. Getting publicity really just means that your brand is getting out there.

What is Public Relations?

Public relations (PR) is the strategic process of maintaining the reputation of an individual, organization or brand in the eyes of the public. The difference between PR and publicity is that PR is concerned with managing the overall reputation of the brand over simply getting tons of “ink.” Publicity is one of several tools that PR can use to shape consumer opinions favorably towards a particular brand.

Damage control is also part of PR and again it goes to show the difference between publicity and PR. When something goes bad, it might very well get a lot of publicity, especially if it involves a well-known celebrity or a large corporation because people love scandalous, juicy stories. However, it’s PR’s job to limit the damage to their client’s reputation and come up with a plan to bring it back up to par. This is known as crisis PR or crisis communications. A crisis PR team may work very closely with a legal team to minimize the pubic opinion damage, while at the same time avoid leaking any critical information that can damage their case in court. 

Should you get Publicity or PR for Your Business?

In my opinion you should be doing both. You should be garnering publicity as part of your overall PR strategy. The most important thing to remember is that having a PR strategy in place is far more valuable for your business than simply getting an occasional mention in the paper or on television. You want to use publicity as well as your other communication channels to shape the way that your audience perceives your brand and the credibility associated with your brand.


About the Author

Tristan Loo is a Copywriter and Marketing Consultant based out of San Diego, California. His passion is helping businesses of all shapes and sizes generate more sales through better written communication. To contact Tristan, click here.


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