Many people think that “public relations” and “media relations” are interchangeable terms. They’re not, of course; but, what’s the difference?
Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the audiences they interact with by using a number of different strategies and tactics. Media relations is just one tactic used in the practice of public relations.
The news media are definitely an important group to work with since they often play a part in influencing all of an organization’s other target audiences. But the media are usually not the only group that needs attention.
Depending on the type of organization we’re talking about – individual, private company, public agency, nonprofit group – additional key audiences may include employees, customers, government officials, community members, advocacy groups, and so on. Each of these requires an engagement strategy; media relations may be a tactic used in the strategy for each audience.
Media relations focuses on working with the news media to generate news stories, and to build and maintain an organization’s reputation. Having a positive working relationship with the news media is valuable because it can influence how an organization is portrayed and can generate more positive outcomes. Positive, on-point news coverage is arguably more influential than paid advertising because it is viewed as being more credible. Media relations can also be more economical than advertising.
The definition of media relations is growing more and more blurry by the day, thanks to the rise of user-generated content, social media and media outlets offering pay-for-play opportunities that distort the line between advertising and media relations.
Despite how the industry is evolving, though, the principles remain the same. Public relations is a process that involves creating a variety of strategies to reach key audiences. Media relations is one of many tools in the public relations toolbox.