Media Relations vs. Public Relations: Key Differences

Media Relations vs. Public Relations: Key Differences
12th January 20237 min read

Media and public relations (PR) are two similar fields that share many of the same techniques and goals. However, some important distinctions exist between them, such as target audiences and strategies used. This article will explore the differences between media and public relations, as well as outline when to use each tactic.

If you want to promote a new business initiative, get the word out about your latest products or services, or simply create awareness for your brand, then media and public relations are probably at the forefront of your mind.

They sound similar because (in some ways) they are - media can sometimes be PR and PR sometimes uses the press to reach its target audience. And while they share many of the same strategies, their goals are slightly different. 

In this article, we will closely examine media vs. public relations to understand their differences.

Media vs. Public Relations: A Quick Overview

Picture this: You have a new product or service that you’re excited to launch, but you need to get the word out about it.

You have a few options, including digital marketing, advertising, and content creation. But one of the best ways to amplify your brand is by earning media coverage or using public relations to get the word out.

What is Media Relations?

Media, in the former sense of the word, refers to any form of communication that conveys information to a large audience - think TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, websites, and other ways to consume entertainment and information.

The media is used to spread news, announce events, and create brand awareness. Traditional media outlets are often the avenue of choice for public figures and organizations that want to deliver a message to their audience.

The goal of media is to get your news broadcast to the widest possible audience. Depending on the size of your company and budget, you may do this yourself (via press releases) or with the help of a public relations firm.

Media relations is the practice of building relationships between an organization and members of the press. It’s all about getting your story out to a broader audience through news coverage.

At its core, media is all about press and news coverage. Media relations focuses on getting your story out to a broader audience by working with journalists, editors, bloggers, or influencers in order to get them to write about you or your product. It’s all about building relationships with members of the press and getting them to write stories highlighting your company or product.

What is Public Relations?

Public relations (PR for short) is the practice of managing communication between an organization and its target audiences. It encompasses activities such as building relationships with industry influencers, creating press releases, organizing events, and more.

Like media relations, PR services aim to generate positive publicity for a company or product to boost awareness, create connections with customers, and increase sales.

Unlike media relations, the focus here is on direct communication with customers and industry influencers.

Public relations professionals focus on developing strategies to spread awareness of the company’s brand, products or services, and any relevant initiatives. It’s more than just getting media coverage - it’s also building relationships with people that have an impact on your target audience (e.g., sponsorships, partnerships, etc.).

The goal of public relations is to create a positive image and connection with customers, influencers, and the public at large. This can be done through press releases, media interviews, speaking engagements, online content (e.g., blog posts), events, or any other type of communication that conveys your message in a favorable light.

What is the Difference Between Media and Public Relations?

Media and public relations share many of the same goals - they’re both designed to boost your brand’s visibility, engage with target audiences, and create an emotional connection between you and potential customers.

The primary difference lies in their scope: media is a form of PR that focuses on news outlets, while PR is an entire strategy focused on building relationships with both the media and customers.

Let's take a look at a few ways media differs from PR.

1. Approach

Public relations is all about managing the relationships between an organization and its stakeholders. To do that, PR pros use all sorts of channels - like a company blog, social media, or even events - to communicate directly with individuals.

A comprehensive PR strategy involves both online and offline tactics to manage the company’s reputation, create brand awareness, and engage with stakeholders.

With media relations, the sole focus is on the press. Media relations strategists use different types of press releases to deliver their message, including:

  • General news releases
  • In-depth feature releases
  • Opinion pieces
  • Special events announcements
  • Executive, staff, and employee interviews

The press is the channel used to communicate with stakeholders, meaning that brands can meet the objective of reaching a broad audience without managing the direct relationship themselves.

By connecting with your key stakeholders through the press, you can leverage the platforms that they already perceive as credible. This adds more validation to your message coming from a third-party source. Imagine how much weightier your message would be if it came from Forbes instead of Twitter, which is relatively newer and less professional in comparison.

2. Strategies

Because the two processes are inherently different, the strategies involved in each of them are also different.
A few essential steps to develop a PR strategy include:

  • Identifying the target audience
  • Outlining communication goals and objectives
  • Developing a unique voice and brand identity
  • Crafting campaigns and messages that resonate with the target audience
  • Reaching out to influencers, bloggers, and other key contacts

A successful media relations strategy typically includes:

  • Identifying appropriate media outlets
  • Crafting targeted pitches and press releases
  • Building relationships with key journalists and influencers
  • Monitoring the news landscape for relevant stories to comment on
  • Leveraging available technology to identify potential stories and contacts
  • Connecting with press release distribution services to get the narrative out

PR strategies are much more involved and focus on a broader goal, while media strategies are more specific and designed to get the story out in one specific way.

3. Implementation

Since PR focuses on managing relationships, it requires a long-term commitment and must be constantly monitored and adjusted accordingly.

The implementation of public relations is usually ongoing. It can take the form of social media campaigns, newsletters, blog posts, press releases, interviews, and speaking engagements. At different points in the overall execution, different elements will be implemented in the overall strategy.

Media strategies are less complex because they focus on one specific goal - getting your story told in the press. After identifying the target media outlets, PR professionals craft a press release and distribute it to the appropriate journalists.

The timing of distribution is critical - PR pros need to ensure that their message reaches the right people at the right time. Once it’s out in the public, they monitor for results and track the campaign's progress.

4. Reach

Regarding overall reach, comparing PR vs. advertising or PR vs. marketing is similar to PR vs. media relations. Public relations reaches stakeholders by building relationships and trust, while advertising and marketing are one-way communications.

Similarly, media relations strategies are designed specifically to get a story told in the press. Although they can be used as part of an overall PR strategy, media relations focuses on getting one message across.

The reach of media relations ultimately depends on the outlets in which your message is featured and the number of impressions it creates with each one. With PR, however, the possibilities are practically endless, allowing you to reach an even wider audience and gain more credibility from your stakeholders.

5. The Entire Concept

PR shapes the message and manages relationships long-term. Media amplifies the story through the press.
Public relations pros are tasked with finding the message that best suits their brand. Nowadays, they have numerous tools they can use to broadcast their message.

If someone wants to make sure their message is seen by as many people as possible, they might try to make it "go viral" or put it on billboards. But when it comes to increasing the reach of your message, one of the most reliable (and often cheapest) methods is still through the media.

If you can tie your company's story to a current event - or something prominent happening in the world - and pitch it to the right media outlet, your story could reach a much larger audience. And since the publisher enjoys increased engagement without the need to find a new story, the exchange is mutually beneficial, bringing the cost down.

When to Use Public Relations

The importance of PR is clear - it helps create the narrative about your brand and builds relationships with stakeholders. It’s also a great way to shape public opinion on what your company stands for.

A PR strategy should be used when you want to maintain influence over a particular narrative surrounding your brand. Since PR is a comprehensive strategy, it requires the resources, investment capital, and connections that media relations does not.

When to Use Media Relations

Media relations is a great way to get your story heard by people who otherwise wouldn’t know about it. It’s also an effective way to build relationships with journalists, bloggers, and influencers in various industries.

Media relations often fits into public relations, and many companies use it as a core component of their PR strategies. But media relations can also happen in one-off instances, such as social media partnerships, bylines, and short-term marketing campaigns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is media relations part of PR?

Media relations is one of the most essential components of public relations. It’s often used as one tactic to reach a larger audience and build relationships with journalists, bloggers, and influencers in various industries.

What is an example of media relations?

Media relations can include advertisements, social media partnerships, bylines, and marketing campaigns that come together to create cohesive customer-focused messaging. It can also involve press releases, news conferences, and media requests that boost brand visibility.

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