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The Difference Between PR and Publicity

August 31, 2009

Yes, there is a difference. Publicity might be a component of public relations, but there is a whole other world that is just about publicity.  I have previously interned for both 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures in a field office, where hard work, perseverance and long hours paid off in the form of packed advanced screenings, grass roots marketing success and red carpet hits.

kim-kardashianHere’s the thing. Everyone seems to be complaining about Kim Kardashian and her new reality show with Command PR – which touts how it’s about public relations. Actually, it’s publicity, but why complain? There will be a spotlight whether we like it or not. Let’s take this opportunity to educate – this is a key component as a public relations professional. When something WRONG is being stated about our client, profession, whatever – it is our job to educate and show the positive facts about it. PR professionals communicate on a daily basis and engage in their communities. So, why don’t we?

Differences between PR and publicity:

1. Publicity is all about grass roots marketing.
2. Publicity rarely encompasses press releases, but focuses on media alerts and blast e-mails, phone calls, etc.
3. Publicity focuses on planning events, and crisis tends to arise a bit more frequently – but on a smaller scale.

But guess what? They both work just as hard. They both deal with media. What else would you add? Do you disagree? Are you disgusted by the reality show, or do you think it’s an opportunity?

*Photo copyright of People Magazine.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2009 8:03 am

    Initially, I was put off when I heard about this new reality show, but after thinking about it and reading this post, I do think it’s an opportunity to educate others about the differences between public relations and publicity. I have a feeling, though, that the show will mainly focus on events and promotion, which is fine. Something I do find interesting is that Command PR doesn’t have much of a Web site.

    • August 31, 2009 8:21 am

      Thanks, Lindsey! Great points.

      I think the firm is very much dependent on word of mouth – they have clientele that will talk about their services, so is much needed? They probably focus a lot on celebrities, and celebs like privacy – so they might have been going that route.

      • August 31, 2009 8:25 am

        Good point about the privacy. You’re probably right. I see that one of the guys is on Twitter, so maybe I’ll follow him out of curiosity!

  2. August 31, 2009 8:05 am

    It remains to be seen if this does anything for or against public relations as a profession. I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t even on my radar until you pointed it out. The subject of this celebreality show certainly will not speak for me and my chosen career. I suspect it will be similar to what was discussed during Sex and the City’s run, where Kim Cattrell’s character portrayed a PR professional who seemed to primarily focus attention on the special events aspect of the field. (Yes, I watched that show w/ my wife, so I know a little too much about it.)

    Maybe we’ll come to a point where there will be enough sitcoms, “reality” shows, feature films, etc. that people might get a glimpse in to the many aspects of public relations as a discipline. Maybe we’ll get to a point where PR can break free in the public’s eye as being something more than media relations. Maybe.

    Thanks for starting the discussion even if I probably won’t watch an episode.


    • August 31, 2009 8:20 am

      Exactly – we kind of need to wait it out. But it’s just like a crisis communications plan, so be prepared to educate and help people learn.

  3. jaywalk1 permalink
    August 31, 2009 8:16 am

    I think the big fuss is being made because people always see the publicity side of PR, so unless they’ve worked with people in other areas, the portrayals they’re used to shape their whole perception.

    I agree that we need to educate, but how can we do that in a way that will get as much attention from the general public? Probably another show. Shel Holtz talked about that option, and I wrote about my thoughts on that (agreeing with the solution but not the path he proposed taking – PRSA and IABC teaming up to do a show).

    • August 31, 2009 8:19 am

      I’m leery of that because a.) shows edit and b.) who wants to watch the calm of PR when they have the excitement of publicity?

      I love the world of PR, but whenever I speak to classes, I purposely leave out where I did most of my interning. Students and people gravitate toward it. I was thinking educating as more of when people talk about it, don’t be frustrated that you have to correct – enjoy the opportunity to tell them what you do. People will be drawn to our profession because of this show – and people can be molded into great PR pros. They just need to work hard.

      It’s easy to see the publicity side of PR, isn’t it? 🙂

  4. August 31, 2009 9:00 am

    Hi Lauren – long time reader – first time commenter. Perhaps my reluctance has been due to our bitter rivalry – ehem, being a huge Bears fan 🙂

    I agree that there is a clear difference between publicity and PR. A thought that is constantly debated that I’d love to have you comment on is the idea of ‘all publicity being good publicity’ – Kim Kardashian is a perfect example. She is a star for basically nothing more than her sex tape with Ray-J, which most would consider ‘bad publicity’ – but look where she is today. The same can be said for Vanessa Hudgens and countless other actresses – to the point where some are claiming that these ‘sex tapes’ and ‘nude photos’ are done on purpose to warrant publicity.

    So – that brings me back to the initial question – is all publicity, good or bad, actually good?

    • August 31, 2009 9:04 am

      Thanks for commenting, Matt – even if you dig ‘Da Bears! 🙂

      I am a big believer that not all publicity is good publicity – but it’s how you take steps afterward to ensure it doesn’t happen again – or change processes, etc. – that makes a difference.

      What do you think?

      • August 31, 2009 9:25 am

        To be honest, I’m not sure. It seems like more and more these days that people are thriving under the spotlight of negative publicity – Michael Vick is another great example. What he did was deplorable, but the minute he runs for a 50 yard touchdown to win the game, the fans will carry him on their shoulders. Maybe bad publicity is bad, but can be ‘spun’ for good. As you said – it might really be about the steps that are taken afterwards.

  5. jaywalk1 permalink
    August 31, 2009 9:12 am

    On publicity, depends on what your goals are? If it’s just to famous and reap the financial benefits, then yes, but if you want to rise with a good reputation, not at all.

    Also, depends on your industry. People with even an inch of fame seem to get away and forgiven for more than the general public.

    • August 31, 2009 12:17 pm

      Exactly. Thanks, Jay. It varies from industry to industry – which is why PR is so hard to define, don’t you think?

  6. August 31, 2009 9:28 am

    I agree with Jay. If your goal is just to get your name out there, then for you all publicity would be good publicity. But generally, I don’t agree with that mantra.

  7. August 31, 2009 9:32 am

    I think it’s disgusting. My biggest problem with this is that I’m offended.

    Here we have a woman who obviously has no self-respect and is given a television show to showcase her “talents.”

    Talents being — she rose to “fame” because of a sex tape and all of a sudden that makes her a marketing “expert” with lots of “experience?”

    I think NOT.

    I could care less if the show was under the category or PR or publicity to be honest. I just have a problem with the fact that E! seems to be glorifying a woman only famous for her huge rear end and spreading her legs.

    Bring in the fact that now she’s invaded my profession — and I don’t like it.

    As a woman — I have a hard enough time telling people I’m not Samantha from Sex & the City, I don’t party 24-7 (even though I live and am from Miami) and further more, no, I’m nothing like the PoweR Girls.

    In a nutshell — PoweR Girls would be much better PR for our industry that a Kardashian. At least they kept their legs closed on camera, kept the golden showers at bay, ignored cocaine and the most they ever were was catty and foolish. THAT is easily defended against.

    Do something about it you suggest? I did 🙂 ~>

    I blogged about it and will continue to do so if this show comes to light.

    As a woman and PR professional with a degree who spent 4 years in school to become an educated, resource to society — I’m offended.

    I may not agree, but definitely appreciate your POV Lauren, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • August 31, 2009 12:22 pm

      Hey, different views aren’t a bad thing – everyone is allowed an opinion.

      Other than Kim’s sex tape, I don’t see her in that light anymore. She made a mistake, and she’s probably changed. The incident probably changed her. I have made a ton of mistakes in my life and don’t want them always shadowing the business related goals I’ve set for myself.

      As a woman, I’m not offended. Women use their looks everyday, whether they like it or not. That’s why women are better in sales. They don’t even realize how persuasive they can be. And kudos to us for that.

      I don’t really view her as invading a profession. If she wants to enter the world of PR, more power to her. Maybe she will understand her role in publicity and I’m sure she works hard. She has a lot of stuff to her name, and she’s pretty successful. We can’t deny that. I think she comes across as pretty savvy on some levels.

      No one has said shes an expert in the field with lots of experience. I don’t remember reading it, but maybe you can link me? She is working with a firm on this show, so who knows? There are a ton of bad PR pros out there – and this show might not cast light on one of them. It could be a positive piece. We never know until we actually see it.

      I think Kim has a lot of self-respect – and just because she has a sex tape doesn’t mean she has none automatically. She did a lot of stuff in New Orleans after Katrina and I respect her for that.

  8. August 31, 2009 10:19 am

    PR in Hollywood is completely different than PR in traditional markets. Having lived there for a year, I was able to get an inside look at the promotion, publicity and PR side of things.

    If the show trys to label what these folks do as PR, I have a huge problem. However, as long as they indicate that this is simply one side of PR, I am fine with it. Sad as it is, this is what happens in Hollywood. It’s about getting press for your client, it’s about managing crisis and it’s about making your client a superstar. It’s promotions, it’s publicity, it’s marketing.

    Yes, I understand the need to educate the public about what traditional PR is, but what PoweR Girls did is part PR. Dentists have a specialty, mechanics have a specialty, etc. Everyone is trying to “educate” the public about what PR is or isn’t, but PR can be different things for different people.

    Our industry has so many different faucets of it, so when educating, keep that in mind.

    • August 31, 2009 12:10 pm

      It is a different world, and one that I really enjoyed working in. My boss worked extremely hard, put in long hours, and I couldn’t imagine doing it for as long as he did. I think it’s easy to say it’s PR, not just one side, or publicity – for the same reason it’s hard for us to describe what we do. Too many facets. We have to always make sure to say there are different sides, just like you mentioned.

      Thanks, K. Great points as usual.

  9. August 31, 2009 10:25 am

    I had no idea there was such an uproar about this show, which I also had no clue about 🙂 Here’s my point, and it’s not about the argument with PR vs. Publicity.

    Kim Kardashian is in an industry where they could pitch almost any idea for a show and they would get it. Look at all the other reality TV shows out there – are we really THAT surprised that Kim is able to Executive Produce this show? Can we really be offended by anything that goes on in the celebrity/TV world?

    This reminds me of the SM purists who were peeved because Ashton Kutcher and a slew of other celebrities ‘took over’ Twitter and created mass followings in a matter of weeks. Did that mean they were going to shape the Social Media industry? I think not. And they haven’t. But yet, those purists sure felt that way and bitched and moaned about it for weeks on end, to see that things are now as they always have been – regardless of Ashton, Diddy, Demi, etc. etc.

    And if people think she got a hold of this show because she had a sex tape or how she gets anywhere in life, then that’s a bit self-righteous. She would get this show regardless if that tape existed or not, but people are hellbent on noting that part of her life and holding it against her as if she’s not allowed to pursue what she wants. Why not let it go and try to give her the benefit of the doubt that she may know what she’s talking about, is actually somewhat smart, and that the show could possibly shine some light on the PR industry.

    But even if the show is a flop and talks nonsense towards the PR or Publicity industries, then big whoop. That’s celebrity TV for ya and it’ll far from tarnish the PR industry and what peoples’ perceptions are of it.

    /rant 🙂

    • August 31, 2009 10:33 am

      Sonny – you’re so right about Kim and being able to executive produce a show. And you’re right that it could turn out to be decent and an interesting look into the world of this PR firm, Command PR. It’s similar, as you note, to social media “purists” who freaked out when Ashton got 1 million followers on Twitter. Good comparison, I think.

    • August 31, 2009 12:11 pm

      Sonny – I agree with everything you said – and much of it is what I wanted to say, but the post got too long! The thing is, she might just be biz savvy. We don’t know. We’ve never worked with her. We are judging her based off something that happened a long time ago, and something she is trying to put behind her constantly.

      I’m not perfect, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes – do I want to be judged by that? Never. So there is no reason to judge her.

  10. August 31, 2009 10:53 am

    Lauren, as always, you ask one hell of a tough and thought-provoking question! So kudos to you on that.

    My quick take: Like many of you, when I heard about this, I was incredulous. “You mean to tell me, SHE is going to do a show on PR?! A show about the business that I work in when she barely even has a real job! No way.” But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I came to this conclusion: Let’s relax for a minute and wait to see how the first show turns out.

    If’ it’s all glitz-and-glamor, oh PR/publicity is all about 4 a.m. parties in a Miami high-rise with $1000 bottles of Cristal, then yeah, it’s not worth our time, and frankly, let’s just all move on from this and not give it the attention E! and Kardashian so obviously want.

    But if the show actually does shed some good light on either industry, and gives people more of an idea of what we do, how we do it and what we are able to accomplish for our clients and organizations, then why wouldn’t we embrace it? We have such a hard time in this business of a) people actually understanding what we do, how we do it and our true value; and the correlary, clients and our own employers understanding how we can help build and enhance business efforts and customer engagement/outreach, I personally think any well-produced, tasteful program that sheds some light on these very serious issues for our industry may be a good thing.

    Now do I think this show will do all of that? Eh, maybe not. I hope it will, though.

    Keith Trivitt

  11. August 31, 2009 11:18 am

    No matter what, there’s one thing I know for sure about this show: we’re all going to be watching. We’re going to tune in for the Hollywood glitz, or to see our profession mangled, or to learn something new about the business. And if we can’t catch it or DVR it, we’re going to get online the next morning and read up on what happened, and see what viewers thought about it on comment pages. We’re going to debate this show’s viability endlessly (and really, is there anything better for a show’s marketing/buzz than a bunch of PR people talking about it?). And then we’ll hold it up in the future as an example of whatever we deem it to be, just like we’ve done with Sex and the City and PoweR Girls.

    If what we really want is for these kinds of shows to go away, then we should just ignore them. But that’s not really an option here, is it…

    For whatever reason, in whatever form, we will be watching and this show will capture mindshare. No matter how you score it, that’s a victory for the show.

    • August 31, 2009 12:13 pm

      Ok, I’ll admit it. I like Kim Kardashian. I think she’s funny, has her head on straight now, and is miles ahead of me in the biz world. Will I watch? Sure. The thing is, that I won’t complain about it – I’ll keep on trying to educate. What she does has no effect on me as a woman, or a PR professional. I’d rather create my own image. 🙂

  12. August 31, 2009 11:27 am

    I think all the things you mentioned about publicity as “differences” fall under the umbrella of PR. Publicity, to me, is one PR tool used to help a business or individual further relate to their public(s).

    Here’s a Random House definition of the word publicity:

    1. extensive mention in the news media or by word of mouth or other means of communication.
    2. public notice so gained.
    3. the measures, process, or business of securing public notice.
    4. information, articles, or advertisements issued to secure public notice or attention.
    5. the state of being public, or open to general observation or knowledge.

    Here’s the definition of public relations:

    1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.
    2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.

    I believe we use publicity as one technique to promote goodwill with our public(s). So I see it as not a separate entity from PR, but rather a subset.

    • August 31, 2009 12:14 pm

      Thanks for your comments MJ – and I see where you are going.

      However, I’ve always believed there is a difference in the two because of my previous internships with major movie studios. Everyone’s definition of PR is different, and we can’t make it into one definition. Publicity seems to be a bit more defined – and my job now is a world away from what I was doing.

  13. August 31, 2009 11:52 am

    I was put off by the concept of this show as well, for the reasoning that this would create a stigma for PR as only being about publicity, and not even the hard work you described above. However, I can’t judge until it’s out and I can’t disagree that rather than complaining we should educate. Great post and very insightful.

    P.S. I also love shoes and the Pack!

    • August 31, 2009 12:15 pm

      Susan – you have great taste!

      Right on the nose about not judging until we’ve seen it. I plan to do the same.

  14. August 31, 2009 12:08 pm

    Also, keep in mind that executive producer means very little in actual terms of production. Ryan Seacrest is an executive producer of American Idol and we know that all he does is show up, host the show and collect a large paycheck (albeit it is harder than I made it seem). Executive Producer is essentially slapping your name behind a show – it means very little. So it’s not like she’s trying to do anything groundbreaking.

    • August 31, 2009 12:15 pm

      A good point K – and one I forgot to mention. She isn’t doing anything groundbreaking, but obviously her name rings a bell or she wouldn’t be the one backing it. Ryan Seacrest would. 🙂

  15. August 31, 2009 12:15 pm

    Great post, Lauren. Isn’t this exactly what great PR people are supposed to do? Flip a perceived negative into a positive ;-D

  16. August 31, 2009 1:30 pm

    Nice discussion, Lauren. Thanks for promoting it with your tweet or it would have slipped by me. You’ve hit on something really important. Too many folks in business, as well as those in marketing, sales and advertising, view PR as ONLY events and publicity.

    For many PR pros, publicity plays a small role in their careers. I know that was the case with me. I always preferred that my clients communicate directly with their publics — not through third parties. But as you point out, publicity has its place in the marketing mix.

    A while back I wrote a post trying to clarify what “PR is not.” Here’s the link, in case anyone’s interested:

    • September 3, 2009 7:19 am

      I think it’s easy to do so because there are many facets of PR. When I interned for movie studios, publicity was the only part of my job. It makes it easier to describe what I do after that. Publicity is vital – and they work just as hard – but every PR pro has a different story.


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