The Difference between Public Relations and Crisis Communications

In a previous blog, we touched on the topic of crisis communications and crisis management. Today, we’d like to continue this conversation and highlight a few key distinctions between public relations and crisis communications.

The industry of Public Relations tracks its history back to the early 20th century. Many competing definitions of the term “public relations” exist, but for the sake of this blog, we’ll use the one adopted by the Public Relations Society of America:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Public relations experts provide a wide array of services that help organizations make and communicate important policy and business decisions. PR professionals help clients tell compelling stories about their brands, informing consumers and fostering positive perceptions. They research and analyze public opinion and develop valuable relationships with journalists generating earned media coverage, increasing brand awareness and building reputations.

Crisis Communications is a sub-field of Public Relations, which focuses on protecting and defending companies, organizations or individuals against threats to their reputations.

Crisis communications experts provide services that are critical to an organization’s functions. Failure to respond to a crisis situation can result in serious harm to an organization’s reputation, its financial security and even its very existence. This is why all crisis communications work is usually conducted under much more pressure than regular public relations. When it comes to crisis communications, the stakes are always high, and so are the responsibilities of crisis PR experts.

Crisis communications counsel can be provided both, in reaction to an unexpected incident, and proactively, before one occurs. As part of their important services, crisis communications specialists help organizations prepare and execute crisis management plans, assemble and train designated response communications teams, draft critical messaging for public statements and the organizations’ senior executives, and coordinate with the media to help facilitate accurate coverage of events.

All in all, both traditional public relations and crisis communications offer a number of extremely valuable services to their clients. However, while there are plenty of agencies specializing in traditional PR, fewer of them provide expertise in strategic crisis communications. So if you are planning to retain professional PR counsel, make sure that the agency you choose specializes in both of these PR industry disciplines. 


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