Public relations and media relations: What’s the difference?

Olivia Fuller / January 26, 2018

If you work in communications, you’ve likely heard the terms public relations and media relations used interchangeably. While there are many similarities between the two, the truth is that they aren’t the same thing.

Media relations – it so happens – is just one aspect of public relations. Yes, it’s a very important aspect, but public relations encompasses much more than media relations alone.

Understanding the difference between the two is important if you are – or are looking to start – working with a PR team, so we broke it down for you:

Public relations vs. media relations: person reading a newspaper

1. Public relations uses many channels. Media relations is just one of them.

According to the Public Relations Society of America, “public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.” Basically, that is a long way of saying that PR is the practice of building relationships between brands and their audiences – and it does so through a variety of methods. PR work can include anything from social media to events or internal communications, and, you guessed it, media relations. But the key point here is that placing stories in the media is just one way that PR can help a brand reach their audience. Public relations can be done without using media relations, but media relations doesn’t exist without PR.

2. Public relations develops the story. Media relations broadcasts it.

PR is centered on helping organizations find their story; it’s about helping brands figure out what they want to say, and to who. With media relations, these stories are given a platform and distributed widely to consumers of news. The evolution of technology has opened up many more means by which organizations can reach audiences, such as through social media or blogging. But still, the good old-fashioned news (TV, radio, newspaper, etc.) remains one of the most reliable ways to share a message with a large audience. Not to mention, it’s also cost-effective.

3. Public relations has many definitions of success. Media relations achieves one of them.

In today’s world, the number of media placements a PR team secures is not the only measure of success and competency. In fact, some campaigns may not set out to get any media placements. While there certainly is value in working with media to shape and place a story, it isn’t the only way to create buzz for an organization. Other sources of value for an organization can include things like engagement with popular influencers or bloggers and the development of B2B tools. With that in mind, setting expectations and agreeing upon the measures of success is essential when working with a PR team.

Working with the media has long been and will continue to be a large piece of a PR pro’s job. And the growing amount of gray area between the two doesn’t make the distinction simpler, especially as technology continues to evolve the definition of what constitutes as “media.” But even as the tools and channels change, one thing is certain: media relations is just one piece of what PR can do, and understanding that can help organizations get much more value out of working with a PR team.

Need PR or media relations support? Let’s talk about what we can do for you. Reach out to our team today.

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Olivia Fuller

Account Executive

Olivia is a passionate multimedia communicator with experience in journalism, audio and video production and social media. She assists with public relations at The Fearey Group as an account executive. She is a recent graduate of the University of Washington, where she earned her degree in journalism and political science with a minor in international studies. During her college years, she interned at the Seattle Globalist, My Edmonds News and KING 5 News and served as the executive producer of The Daily Video at UW. As a Colorado native and resident of Seattle, her recipe for survival depends on outdoor adventures, music shows and coffee.