Public Relations vs. Publicity

Public relations is defined as a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics, whereas publicity is “an act or device designed to attract public interest” (Merriam-Webster). Both public relations and publicity require a relationship between a company and the public along with consumer attention and some sort of feedback or reaction. However, publicity is used to draw attention to a specific product or person, usually to promote something.

In other words, public relations deals with how a company or person is seen by the public, while publicity would focus more on what that company or person is doing and for what reason.

  • An example of public relations would be restoring BP’s image after the 2010 oil spill. BP partnered with Dawn to show the public that the company was taking responsibility for the spill and even helping restore the lives of animals affected by the spill.
  • An example of publicity would be Frank Ocean’s “coming out” letter, leaked in July 2012. Ocean revealed his true sexuality just days before his album was released. Many thought this was a publicity stunt to increase the singer’s “buzz” and raise album sales.
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