A few years ago we published a blog post titled “Public Relations and Media Relations: What’s the difference?” here on the SHIFT blog. The post highlighted how to differentiate between public relations and media relations – explaining that media relations is just one of many public relations strategies. Today, we wanted to share a refresh on the similarities and differences between the two business categories.
So what is the difference?
In our previous post, we shared that public relations describes a series of strategic actions taken in order to foster and maintain a relationship between a business and the people they want to do business with. This includes a company’s customers, employees, competitors, etc. Media relations, on the other hand, describes the development of a relationship between a company and journalists, editors, publications, etc. Media relations is just one of many techniques we use as PR professionals in an attempt to promote our clients and share their news with the general public.
Both media and public relations are constantly evolving, and their dynamic nature has resulted in a blurred line between concepts. As the strategies have developed over time, it has become harder for the masses to recognize the differences between the two.
How have they evolved?
Influencer programs are one example of how the two concepts have begun to overlap, especially as they are increasing in popularity amongst clients. In the past, these blogger partnerships have fallen exclusively into the social media subcategory of public relations. Nowadays, nurturing a relationship with a blogger, especially if they are unpaid, is very similar to cultivating a relationship with a reporter or editor. These relationships are now often considered to be a part of the media relations subcategory of public relations in addition to the social media subcategory. Not only do they help increase brand awareness for a company on social media, but they provide your client with invaluable access to the public.
Traditional media relations as we know it is a strategy we should keep a close eye on. Professionals in our industry will have to continue to adapt their approach for connecting with media contacts as the landscape continues to digitize. 20 years ago public relations professionals were sending press releases to media via fax, 10 years ago they began sending them via email and today companies are experimenting with emojis and social media to communicate their announcements with the people they want to cover them.
Where do they stand today?
Another important development of public relations strategies since our last post is best illustrated as compared to investor relations, which describes the flow of communication between a company and the financial community. In the past, investor relations was also considered a subcategory of public relations. As you can see in this Google Trends chart from 2013, search interest for investor relations had almost an identical cadence to search interest for public relations during the year.
In the chart below from 2016, however, you can see a considerable gap has developed between the frequency of searches for public relations and searches for investor relations. Worth noting also that Google searches for media relations, on the other hand, have remained relatively consistent over the past 5 years.
So what does that tell us? At a high level, it tells us that the general public is beginning to think of investor, public and media relations as we do, as three separate entities. As communications professionals, we know that the way you approach developing a relationship with each of these three groups differs considerably. The charts prove that businesses and consumers are realizing that they need to come up with three different public relations strategies to connect with the three different audiences. They are no longer thinking of investor relations and media relations as subcategories, but instead their own separate categories that need dedicated resources and individualized plans to be successful.
What does this all mean?
Another Google Trends chart helps to tell an even more well-rounded story about the state of our industry. We added in the search interest data for influencer marketing and social media marketing to the analysis above, and expanded our timeline to span the last five years. What the chart below shows is that consumer interest in investor relations over the last few years has been relatively constant, while interest in public relations has been steadily decreasing (35% over the past 5 years!) Still, public relations is more frequently searched for than influencer and social media marketing – services that many PR agencies offer.
At the end of the day, media relations and public relations will always be somewhat intertwined. Public relations professionals are often tasked with managing the flow of communication between a company and all of its targets – investors, the general public and media alike. The approach we take to developing relationships with each of these groups of people is what differentiates public relations strategies. Change is happening in all three areas, and it’s happening quickly, so we need to be agile and flexible both in our interpretation and in our approach to all of these concepts.