What is PR, actually?

Public relations, advertising and marketingwhats the difference?  Here are a few pointers to help you differentiate.

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he public relations profession is one big mystery to most of the world.  Easily confused with marketing or advertising, it’s a field that can be difficult to explain.  If you practice public relations, most of your friends and family have probably been confused when you have tried to explain what you do.  Here are a few resources to help you answer another round of awkward questions at family gatherings this Christmas season.

Q: What do PR practitioners do, in a nutshell?

A:  According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), public relations is “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”  Plainly put, public relations is about using tools like writing, social media and strategy to build trust and reputation for an organization.


Q: Are PR professionals just professional partiers?

A:  Many people believe that practicing PR equates to being a publicist, representing a celebrity, or meeting people at swanky parties for a living—far be it from the truth.  Public relations work can often include special events productions, but every event is created with a strategy in mind.  Public relations work is not all glamorous, and though most professionals do enjoy their work, long hours spent strategizing and planning go unseen.


BYU public relations students met with local PR professionals at a recruiting event to learn from and network industry leaders. Though networking isn’t all that PR professionals do, it, it does play a large role in any PR job.


Q: Is public relations like advertising?

A:  PR is not advertising.  While the two professions have things in common, like elements of design and strategy, the main difference between public relations and advertising is that advertising is paid media, while PR is earned media.  This means that advertisers will pay to push their content forward, while PR professionals will earn their coverage in ways like writing news story pitches to journalists, creating social media posts or putting together brand videos for a client.  In fact, when you read a piece of public relations content, you may not even realize it’s been carefully crafted to persuade you to think about an idea or a brand in a certain way.  PR is discreet, while advertising is more obvious to the viewer.


BYU advertising students prepare a set for a Comic Con video shoot. While advertisers promote clients via paid media, PR practitioners promote clients through earned media.


Q:  What’s the difference between PR and marketing?

A:  While marketers aim to sell products, PR professionals sell ideas.  At the core, PR professionals are storytellers.  Public relations professionals are primarily responsible for managing brand reputation and press relations, while marketers might focus more on market research and sales goals.


Q:  What can you do with a career in PR?

A:  One of the best things about the field of PR is that you can do so many things with the degree.  Some graduates choose to work at PR agencies, which is probably what you think of as a traditional PR job.  However, the options are limitless.  Today, many PR graduates choose to specialize in digital marketing and social analytics and work in PR tech jobs.  Additionally, many PR graduates cross over to marketing or business, or go to law school.  A PR practitioner could be a press secretary, an event planner, or even an entrepreneur and start his or her own firm.


Q:  Should I major in PR?

A: If you’re passionate about writing, creativity and strategy—and you have a healthy tolerance for stress—this may be the perfect field for you.

Written by Lindsey Trendler


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