The difference between public relations and media relations can be confusing. They sound similar and even PR pros sometimes use them interchangeably. In fact, as more channels of communication develop, the lines between the two are seemingly more blurred than ever. However, there are specific aspects that separate these these communication terms and it’s important to understand the vernacular before embarking on a “PR campaign.”

Defining Public Relations

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

Which raises the question: Who are “their publics”?

Customers and prospects both fall into this bucket. As do community members, employees and even competitors. Pretty much anyone who is a stakeholder in your business or industry could be considered part of the “public” in “public relations.” Media relations, on the other hand, narrows that field.

What is Media Relations?

Media relations encompasses a company’s interactions with a very specific audience: those individuals who comprise the public-facing press and news media. These could be editors and reporters at online and print media outlets like The New York Times and Techcrunch, or producers from TV and radio stations.

Where the lines begin to blur is when everyday people act as journalists, using social media or blogging platforms to report on and even break news. It’s known citizen journalism — the collection, dissemination and analysis of news and information by the general public —and as it continues to grow, who can be looped under the category of “media” changes. And, as a result, so do the target audiences of media relations efforts.

Three More Ways to Think About Public Relations vs. Media Relations

Still unclear about what distinguishes media relations from public relations? Here are three other ways to differentiate the two:

  1. Public relations is the rectangle. Media relations is the square.
    Remember this old adage from geometry class: All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? It’s true because a square is a special type of rectangle, one where all the sides have the same length. The same holds up with public relations and media relations — all media relations is public relations, but not all public relations is media relations. In other words, media relations is a special subset of public relations. If your business is looking for earned media coverage in the press, it’s important to focus on this special type of public relations.      
  2. Public relations uses multiple channels to generate public exposure. Media relations uses one — the press.
    Public relations looks to build the relationships between organizations and stakeholders. To do so, PR pros might use a variety of channels, including a company blog, social media or even a special event, to communicate directly with those individuals. Media relations focuses on one key channel: the press. Using the press as the channel to communicate with stakeholders not only allows you to meet those stakeholders where they already are — using what they’re already reading, watching or listening to — it also adds third-party validation to your message. That third-party validation is valuable. Just consider how much more powerful a message can be coming from Forbes versus coming from your recently-established company Twitter account.
  3. Public relations shapes the message. Media relations provides a megaphone.
    Public relations pros are charged with sculpting the message that best represents the brand. Today, these individuals have many tools at their disposal to help disseminate that message. Oftentimes if someone wants to increase the visibility of that message they might ask to “make it go viral” or “put some dollars behind it” — however, when it comes to increasing the reach of your message, the original megaphone and one of the most trusted (and often cost-effective) methods, is still the media. If you can plug your company’s story into a timely event, story about a prominent figure or something impacting a specific community, and connect with the right media outlet, your story has the potential to reach a larger audience.

Understanding the difference between public relations and media relations and how each can benefit your business can help determine which best matches the needs of your company.

Think you’re ready to get started with media relations? Download our Guide to Storytelling to learn how you can earn press coverage without a press release.


These articles have been curated by our friends at BLASTmedia, a national PR agency focusing on media relations for B2B technology companies.