What is the Difference between Public Relations and Public Affairs?

Public affairs and public relations are both technical terms that don’t carry much meaning to those not in the field. Both involve shaping public opinion, and typically use grassroots tactics to gain support.  Bu what truly is the difference? Public affairs is considered a specialty in the skillset of a public relations professional, but the two fields are unique.

Public affairs is the PR specialty involving public policy and law-making.  Companies often want to influence public policy because it will have an impact on their business, but they aren’t sure how to do it.  Public affairs work helps businesses bridge that gap between public and private interests.  Without public affairs efforts, the voice of a business may be ignored by those who are creating public policy and laws.

Both public relations and public affairs attempt to influence the public to act a certain way. Public affairs efforts can often target public opinion and voting behavior.  Sometimes, that means helping form coalitions between groups that have similar goals and then leveraging that coalition to get the desired result.  Public relations efforts also target public opinion, but in a way that motivates the public to buy a certain product, hear a message more clearly, or learn about a new business in a creative and unusual way.

Public relations, therefore, is typically more commercialized than public affairs. Public relations campaigns are put into place to help companies achieve their business objectives. But public relations is not advertising.  If advertising is telling people about your company, public relations is getting people to tell others about your company. (And PR efforts are typically much cheaper than ad campaigns.)

The primary correlation with public affairs and public relations is that they both involve connecting with communities on a personal level. People are not influenced to act, think or purchase in a certain way unless they feel they have a reason to do so.

Depending on the initiative, a company may need to implement both a public relations and a public affairs campaigns to get the desired results.  Not sure where to start? Contact Tucker/Hall today to learn more about the importance of public affairs in your public relations strategy.