A fellow member of the Public Relations Network  Veit Mathauer from German agency Sympra has contributed a brilliant blog discussing the unique differences between “PR” and “Public Relations”. 

1. In answer to the question “What do you actually do?” I used to answer “I’ve got a PR agency”. Most people didn’t really understand what this really meant. What they thought was: It’s like an advertising agency but less to do with advertising and posters and more to do with newspaper articles and stuff. A lot of the time I didn’t mind that this was how people put me in a box, professionally speaking.

2. People think Barak Obama was a PR genius. Famous showmaster Dieter Thomas Heck wanted to strangle his wife – but that was only a PR gag to market his memoirs. Winner of the German PR Image Awards was a great portrait image of the government spokesperson and an image of a balcony on the Great Wall of China. Princess Diana knew how to work PR to the max, according to the worldwide press (or so they stated following her death).

3. I received a call at work: “Hello, (…) I’m launching a new product onto the market and am phoning you because I need PR for it.” What this request really means is: I need support with press work. Press work for the product, to be specific. Here the job of PR is to promote sales and complement advertising (or maybe even replace it). Measures that are almost completely marketing-oriented. That’s legitimate.

4. In a strategy workshop held by German Agency Association, GPRA e. V., we take to thinking about whether we need to rename the Association. The middle letters in the abbreviation stand for “Public Relations” and some of the agencies don’t think they can really associate with this. Their spectrum of activities has become very broad, they tend to offer more detailed and comprehensive communication services, events, public affairs activities – this is far more than mere press work. We talk about the breakdown of trust in the public arena which is often characterised by great distrust in political authorities, state organisation and corporations. The shift in the whole media system also plays a huge role here, in particular with the crisis of classical media and the increased significance of Social Media. In such a situation we would want to use our core competencies even more: We are the experts in the building and prevalence of trust. We are the experts when it comes to shaping opinions and entering into dialogues with various stakeholders – that’s what Public Relations is! We stay with the name, and the initials: GPRA.

5. “Public Relations [is] the conscious and legitimate endeavour to promote understanding as well as building and maintaining trust in the public eye using systematic research as a basis.” This is how PR is defined by the German Public Relations Association DPRG.

Even if “PR” is only an abbreviation for “Public Relations”: I feel there is a big difference between the two terms in colloquial terms. “PR” too often reduces our discipline to press work and events: Measures that ought to be “loud” and have a great effect in the short-term. “Public Relations” stands for much more: For explanation, for long-term sustainable information and the building of trust, for the reconciliation of various interests, and, above all, it stands for a dialogue. Press work is part of it, communication via social media channels too but elements such as background discussions, roundtable talks and discussions between supporters and opponents. I personally feel that Public Relations are much quieter than PR; it needs more time and has a longer term effect. Sympra is definitely an agency for Public Relations.

Do you also feel these semantic differences? I would be interested in hearing your opinions