Navigating the Differences Between Public Affairs and Public Relations

May 20, 2024

When it comes to the world of communications and relationship-building, there are two terms that people sometimes mix up: Public Affairs, and Public Relations. Knowing the difference between these two strategies— and how to effectively apply them to your communications campaign— is key to reaching your organization’s goals, shaping public perception and influencing policies. 

Wondering if you really know the difference? That’s why we’re here! Let’s take a closer look at each of these strategies and see what makes them tick.

What is Public Relations?

At its core, Public Relations (PR) is all about managing the reputation and shaping the image of an organization or individual. That means building positive relationships with the public, stakeholders and the media! Traditional, tried-and-true PR strategies include crafting compelling narratives, managing crises, organizing events and leveraging earned media — when a journalist interviews a spokesperson to write a feature story or covers a company announcement, for example — to get a brand or organization’s message out into the world.

There’s a high chance you’ve seen PR efforts in action without even realizing it. Remembering hearing about a company’s funding announcement? Ever read an opinion piece in the local newspaper? Have you watched a spokesperson being interviewed on the nightly news to talk about an upcoming community development? That’s PR, folks! These tactics come together under one big PR umbrella, with a unified goal: shape public perception and reach a larger audience, often through a carefully defined set of key campaign or brand messages.

Okay, So What’s Public Affairs?

On the other hand, Public Affairs is like a specialized wing of the PR world, focusing on interactions between organizations and government entities, policymakers and regulatory bodies. Unlike PR, Public Affairs is deeply entrenched in the legislative and policymaking processes, advocating for specific policies, regulations or legislative actions that align with an organization’s interests.

Public Affairs professionals influence public policy decisions and deftly navigate the intricate realm of government affairs. You’ll often catch them setting up one-on-one meetings or briefings with policymakers to talk about an issue, hosting open forums where legislators are invited to listen to constituents about a certain cause or organizing a rally at the Capitol around a specific public concern.

How Do Public Relations and Public Affairs Work Together?

PR and Public Affairs serve distinct functions, but they often intersect and team up to create the ultimate communications strategy, especially in industries where government relations might play a role. 

For example, The Abbi Agency worked alongside Nevada-based nonprofit, Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG), to increase awareness about the organization advocating to uplift disadvantaged youth via PR efforts. At the same time, The Abbi Agency employed Public Affairs efforts to push lawmakers for more state funding to support J4NG’s mission of career and college readiness for all youth. When it comes to cases like this, an integration of both Public Relations and Public Affairs strategies is where it’s at, proving to be extremely effective in achieving our overarching objectives.

Whether it’s telling powerful stories to bolster public awareness for a policy initiative or chatting with local lawmakers to make legislative changes a reality, Public Affairs and Public Relations can work hand-in-hand to provide targeted communications among various audiences. In a modern world that is unquestionably interconnected, one in which public perception can often influence policy decisions, a holistic approach that combines both disciplines can lead to incredible results.

In a world where communications are always changing and politics aren’t steady, organizations have to keep their finger on the pulse in order to understand and navigate the best ways to reach their audience. Understanding the nuances of Public Relations and Public Affairs can help businesses and nonprofits position themselves strategically to shape public discourse, achieve their long-term objectives and most importantly: drive meaningful change.

What fuels your passion for meaningful change? Get in touch with our team to let us know.