Lindsay Olson

Just another WordPress weblog

What’s in a Name? Do We Work in PR or Communications?

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Last month Paul Holmes blogged about the difference between public relations and communications. He argues that PR, and building relations with various publics, is more than just communicating.

Paul’s blog was in response to another one by Richard Edelman in which he explained why he is not in a hurry to re-brand his PR firm as a communications agency despite the evolution of PR to encompass digital, research, media planning and content creation.

Holmes and Edelman are both great defenders of PR and good at explaining the strategic importance of the practice and why it is aligned so well with the needs of businesses in the future.

However, here are some alternative schools of thought:

Broaden the name to go after a bigger piece of the (budget) pie: Holmes says he, met ‘with the senior staff from a PR agency—one I respect—that had recently been recast as a “communications” firm, and so I pushed back, gently, asking them why they had decided to narrow their focus from PR to “just communications.” The answer was the one I expected, which is to say that while there are people like me within the industry who define public relations broadly, most clients—and particularly those clients with the biggest budgets, most of whom are to be found in marketing departments—don’t see it that way. They view public relations pretty narrowly, as “part of the marketing mix,” the part focused on earned media. Some of them are reluctant to allow PR firms to work outside that narrow box, on brand strategy—in some cases, even on digital and social media strategy.’

PR is a sub-set of corporate communications, not the other way around: although Holmes says communications is a just a tool in the PR strategy kit, there are others who believe the reverse is true, that PR is subsumed within communications. Richard Bailey points out that, in universities, public relations courses and degrees typically fall under the communications discipline.

PR has a tainted reputation, so it’s best to use another term: some people, when they hear PR think of ‘flacks’ who ‘spin’ the news. Others are tired of arguing that PR plays a strategic role and is more than just media relations. By dropping that moniker and employing the term ‘corporate communications’ they can avoid having to re-brand public relations.

What do you think? Do you work in PR or communications?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


WordPressCreative Commons

© Lindsay Olson 2017 | RSS Contents | RSS Comments. Proudly powered by Wordpress. Web development by SocialSnack.