This article originally ran on PR Daily in May 2014.
People often struggle with the difference between public affairs and public relations, yet distinguishing the two can be crucial to an organization’s efficiency.
The two types of firms have overlapping qualities, which can make it difficult to find the right choice for your organization’s objectives. Both qualify in building relationships with the public and implementing strategies and campaigns, but their methods and goals differ.
Public affairs relates to matters that concern the public directly. This could include legislation, policing, and public administration, as well as other elements.
Public relations, on the other hand, focuses more on the company’s connection with the public. PR firms could enhance and strengthen that relationship by implementing marketing and campaigning policies or through press releases. PR is often regarded as an extension of the advertising department.
Messaging tends to be less commercial and short-term in the world of public affairs. This is because organizations are homing in on local issues, including matters between the public and a legislative body. There is great importance in building strong and trusting relations between the organization and the community. What it seeks is support against its detractors.
The goal is to build alliances with the community—through campaigning, for example. The work by public affairs firms should encourage community involvement. Letters of support and passages in newspapers can be expected. The organization is vying for a positive image to spread through the active community or to a particular target audience.
Public relations is commercialization and homing in on the link between the organization and the public. This job requires creativity and the ability to come up with original ideas. PR pros’ task is to grab the public’s attention amid a flurry of competing messages.
The aim could be to develop a brand, enhance the organization’s image, and garner publicity through varied methods of promotion. Social media and the press play important parts in messaging and in conveying a positive image of the organization to its target audience.
Before making a choice, think about who your organization’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.
Paige Hawin has worked for several organizations in the fields of public affairs and communications. She currently works with international consultancy Interel and is focusing more of her time on association management.