Marketing is generally defined as a process that identifies, anticipates and supplies consumer requirements efficiently and effectively. Marketing communications, publicity and advertising exist on one side of the marketing effort, pushing information to the customer. The media and analysis communities are on the other side of marketing providing information to create the messages that are pushed to the customer.
Public relations exists along side of marketing and serves the marketing effort, but it is not a subset of marketing because it is not directly involved in the sale of products and services. Instead, the activity of public relations is the engineering of opinion in the marketplace. It is, in essence, the conversation of the market, where the various publics – the media, the consumer, and industry – participate in defining and building the economy.
A public relations practitioner is one who acts as an advocate for all the various parts of the marketing community – the media, the industry and the customer. Before they distribute the information they participate in the development, providing insight to the client about what the market is saying; what the media is looking for; making the messages clear.
Once the information is complete and the story appears clear, they help decide who the correct recipients should be, when they should receive it and then monitor how well the recipients interpret the information by their responses.
Sometimes the response is not acceptable to the client. The client will often assume the media is "lying" or pushing an opposing agenda; that the customers are uneducated or that the competition has skewed reality. The practitioner must, at that point act as an advocate for all the publics and press the assumption that the message may have been inaccurately crafted or that it contradicts the "reality" of the publics they are attempting to converse with, keeping in mind that the goal is to engineer opinion, not just promote assumptions.
But as wonderful as all that sounds that is generally not what is done.
Most of what is called public relations is actually just publicity. The primary activity of publicity is the distribution of news releases and arranging press meetings. Someone who does this primarily is not a public relations practitioner, but a publicist. There is little concern for the needs and interests of the media, nor of the customer. There is also no need to be concerned for the needs and interests of the corporation they serve. The role of a publicist is reactive. A publicist takes a bit of news and delivers it to as many information vehicles as possible, with no particular regard for the content.
There is nothing wrong with this activity because it serves a purpose, which is the dissemination of information and it can be part of the public relations process. But it is not what defines public relations nor is it a substitute for it.