The Difference Between the “Three P’s” – Public Relations, Publicity and Press Releases

It’s commonly assumed that PR means “press release” but this is misleading and frankly, not true. “PR does not = Press Release” although, press releases are directly related to PR. Often people are unsure of what PR, publicity and press releases really are. They are all related but each is different and has its own function which works symbiotically with the others.

PR is actually an abbreviation for public relations. Press releases are a part of public relations and they generate publicity but they are not PR (they are a part of PR). At the same time, press releases may generate good public relations.

Are you getting confused yet? Let’s simplify this by taking a quick look at the definitions of each provided by the Wictionary (a great, open source dictionary) and Websters Dictionary (my hard copy favorite).

By definition, Public Relations is communication by a person or an organization with the purpose of creating a favorable public image; commonly referred to as PR.

So, in essence, Public Relations are really the strategies surrounding your overall business presence and message. PR is the foundation that allows you to be ready for publicity when it comes your way it’s your core message, business values and image. While any form of communication can be considered public relations including newsletters, ezines, letters, blog posts and yes, press releases, they must all be a part of a much bigger PR strategy.).

Publicity is what is generated by public relations. By definition, Publicity is an act or device designed to attract public interest, specifically information with news value issues as a means of gaining public attention or support.

When you create public relations (communications) it can generate publicity (public attention). Generally the goal of publicity is to gain UNPAID media exposure including ink (print exposure) and air (broadcast mentions), increase word of mouth and get more clients. Publicity is golden to your business because third party endorsements are more believable than paid ads.

By definition a Press Release is an official written statement that is sent to the media so that it can be publicized (although press releases are not crafted just for the media anymore).

Press releases are often referred to as news releases. They are essentially one in the same. However, the term “News release” can be used when the release is not intended solely for media distribution. For example: Online distribution of your news is a no-cost to low-cost way to establish credibility, help customers find you online and increase your online search engine rankings. So, the goal may not be mainstream media attention when you submit online and it would be appropriate to use the term “news release” instead. Either way is perfectly acceptable.

Basically press releases are both a public relations and publicity tool depending on your overall strategy.

Does your business have the three P’s (public relations, publicity and press releases) covered?

1) Do you have an overall Public Relations Strategy that defines your brand, how you want people to perceive you and what you want to accomplish in the way of publicity?

2) Do you create public relations materials to earn publicity based on a specific overall strategy?

3) Do you share your news via press releases, strategically in accordance to your overall PR plan?

If not, it may be time to start focusing on your P’s

P.S. When writing this article I was looking for a great example to share from an article I had once seen in Readers Digest- thanks to Shannon Cherry ( a fellow PR pro) for posting this excerpt on her blog.

“If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying “Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday'” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.

If the town’s citizens go the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales.”

– Reader’s Digest, “Promoting Issues and Ideas” by M. Booth and Associates, Inc.

What are your favorite PR strategies? Do you have a PR plan?