Public Affairs vs. Public Relations: what’s the difference?

by | Nov 23, 2019

There’s often confusion about the differences between public affairs and public relations since both deal with building relationships with the public, although the methods for doing this are slightly different.

Public affairs is the speciality involving public policy and law making. It relates to matters that concern the public directly: this could include anything from legislation, policing and public information dissemination to strategic communication advice and influence over policy. Public affairs work help businesses to bridge the gap between public and private interests. Without public affairs efforts, the voice of a business may be ignored by those creating public policy and laws.

What do Public Affairs professionals do?

● Provide information to stakeholders directly or through media engagement
● Lobby on specific policies or legislation
● Monitor political activity and information
● Advise
● Consult
● Advocate

Public relations, on the other hand, focuses more on the business’ connection with the public. PR is responsible for strengthening those relationships by implementing a range of strategies, including press releases, social media campaigns and stunts. This requires creativity and innovative ideas to capture public attention.

What do Public Relations professionals do?

● Design marketing campaigns
● Draft press releases
● Branding
● Public relations crisis management
● Social media and influencer management
● Marketing research
● Copywriting

Both public relations and public affairs attempt to influence the public to act a certain way. The efforts of public affairs often targets public opinion and voting behaviour, meaning that messaging tends to be less commercial and short-term. This is because organisations are homing in on local issues, including matters between the public and a Statutory Body. Building strong and trusting relationships between the business and community is paramount in helping them achieve their objectives.

Public relations efforts also target public opinion, but in a way that encourages consumers to buy a certain product or learn about a particular business in a more unusual and creative way. PR campaigns are put in place to help businesses achieve their objectives rather than influence behaviour.

One thing to note is that public relations is not advertising, despite often being confused for one another, they are two very different industries. In advertising, a company pays for an ad space or airtime, knowing exactly when the ad will air or be published. Whereas in public relations, the aim is to get free publicity for a company. From news conferences to press releases, you’re focused on getting free media exposure for a company and its products or services.

The primary correlation with public affairs and public relations is that they both involve connecting with communities on a personal level. People are not influenced to act, think or purchase in a certain way unless they feel they have a reason to do so.

To put another way, where public affairs may develop the recipe and cooking instructions, it’s public relations that will cook the meal, serve the food, wash the dishes and pour the drinks, all the while ensuring appetites have been satisfied and the customer returns.

Before making a choice, think about who your organisation’s target audience is and where you want to build the link. A clear decision must be made on what your goal is and how you want to achieve it. Depending on the business, you may need to implement both public relations and public affairs campaigns to get the desired results.

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