Public Relations vs. Public Affairs

It’s another question we are asked from time to time: “What is the difference between public relations and public affairs?” Simply put, the difference lies in what or who is being utilized.

  • In the media-driven field of public relations, the “what” that is being utilized is the media. PR involves leveraging the media to achieve the goals of the client, whether the goal is to make positive news, promote an event or mitigate a crisis. Public relations professionals use their media contacts to achieve that goal effectively.Public affairs, on the other hand, does not use the media. Instead, it utilizes personal relationships, supported by knowledge of government operations and systems, for the benefit of the client. In many cases, the goal of the public affairs expert is to position his client’s project positively and gain the necessary approvals it will take to get the project underway.

    Here’s an example: A client needs to make headway with a project, but the project is being held up by some disapproving government officials. Rather than using the media to help the client get the necessary votes, a public affairs expert will leverage his personal relationships with the right people (in this case, the government officials or the people who have their ears) to help the client get what he needs. He will use his knowledge of that specific government operation in his discussions with these people, in order that he may be able to assuage them to make decisions in his client’s favor. That knowledge may include:

    • City or county ordinances, state regulations and other enforcements
    • The political leanings and voting records of the officials in question
    • The relationship and reputation needs of those officials

    To do this effectively, a public affairs expert should have an extensive civic involvement background – ideally, experience with holding an elected office in the area. Some clients may even require both public relations and public affairs, which is why it is critical to hire a PR firm that can offer both. At our public relations firm in California, we can provide clients with both PR and public affairs as part of a customizable service package.