Publicity can be defined as the promotional aspect/message that touches on a certain business and/or its products/services whereby the said firm does not pay for the benefits it accrues from the same.
Publicity is normally created in one of two ways i.e. as a non-personal news item run in a designated mass medium or as a promotional plug/output about a firm/product that is delivered by someone in the course of an interview or speech.
There are lots of purposes for which a business can use publicity. This can be a feasible means of promoting the products/services the firm deals in. alternatively, a business may use publicity to promote various aspects of itself including its employees, efforts at environmental conservation, financial success achieved in a given time period, and the acquisition of new executives. Publicity is also a fine way for a business to counter the negative image that may have been created courtesy of unfavorable press releases and media reports.
Public relations refers to the overall effort that a business/firm employs in communicating messages that are meant to influence the attitudes of various groups towards itself. A firm will certainly want to be seen in a favorable light by the 'publics' it targets; public relations is the tool used to create this favorable image. There is also an inherent need by a business to create healthy relationships with the 'publics' with which it relates, including employees, consumers, supplies, wholesalers, government, workers' unions etc. It can therefore be concluded that public relations is an image-building exercise while publicity is what is used to implement this exercise. The two are certainly intertwined to an extent.
The efficient use of publicity and public relations by a business can go a long way in enhancing the strength of the promotional mix. There are two main advantages in doing so. First, the business is not required to pay for the time and space used on the delivering medium. This means that compared to advertising the promotion effort will be much cheaper. Secondly, there is more credibility in the positive claims made by a respectable third party about an aspect of a given business/firm, much more so than an executive from the same firm can hope to achieve.
Publicity messages that appear as news columns stand the highest chance of being read as compared to ads from the same firm. Such will also be more detailed and informative and they can be created on very short notice. On the other hand, a business does not have control over what is said about it or its products/services – a negative aspect when the contents are equally negative in nature. Whether or not publicity messages appear on a given media is totally at that medium's discretion i.e. is the content sufficiently interesting or not? Unlike ads, publicity messages cannot be repeated and they cannot be planned for too far ahead granted that some unfortunate incidences may occur in the meantime thus making a planned positive message become totally irrelevant e.g. a honey packing firm may have planned to communicate the fineness of its product but before doing so be required to recall a certain batch on account of contamination.