Is Public Diplomacy more than, less than, or equal to Public Relations?

Which of the below completes this sentence: Public Diplomacy…

  • is the same as Public Relations. (PD=PR)
  • involves more than the practice of Public Relations. (PD>PR)
  • is contained within a larger practice of Public Relations. (PD<PR)

Check out the comments on my January post Public Diplomacy is not Public Relations about whether PD is > or < PR. Your thoughts are encouraged.

5 thoughts on “Is Public Diplomacy more than, less than, or equal to Public Relations?

  1. It involves much more than public relations. High school exchange student programs are public diplomacy. Do high schools change how they operate and function in order to impress upon a teenager how wonderful America is? Public diplomacy involves sharing a society so as to improve an outsider’s understanding of the workings of the society. It is not about impressing upon people the rightness of a cause or a perspective, which is what public relations is all about. Some public diplomacy has a public relations aspect to it, but very little.

  2. One very quick thought. Public relations typically means, to me at least, improving awareness or perceptions about the institution engaging in the public relations.Public diplomacy, however, may be about increasing awareness or understanding of a particular topic. For example, a public affairs unit wouldn’t be engaged in general democracy promotion, but a public diplomacy outfit would (with, perhaps, no connection back to the sponsoring institution).

  3. Really depends on what your definition of PR is. We’ve moved away from the term because it is so limiting (generally only because of the baggage associated with it — PR = Media Relationship for most). My current masters subjects all deal with ‘organisational communication’ (a few years ago it was PR) and I have to tell you that what the uni is telling me is what I already attempt to do in the IO/Strat-Com space. If anything it is more focused on the two-way exchange than anything we actually implement.To me the difference between PR and PD is simply one of optics. PR is a tactical/operational level activity. PD is strategic. Having said that I have no Smith-Mundt or any other legislature to limit what I do in PR either.
    So on answer to your question PR = PD (but PD is the strategic guidance from which PR activities are undertaken).

  4. It’s a question of perspective. As taught by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)in the UK, where Grunig’s assessment of PR is an aspiration, PR (or more commonly termed ‘communications’) is defined roughly as using communication (one-way publicity, press agentry and public information and two way asymmetric amd symmetrical communication) to support an organization’s objectives, at the strategic to the tactical levels. It is, or aspires to be, much more than presenting and promoting a cause, but also understanding, persuading and influencing. In terms of ethos and objectives, this points to a high degree of similarity between PR and PD, although the specific mechanics and publics may vary, and the underlying motives may differ – i.e. a foreign policy goal versus an economic one.Academic work by Grunig, Signitzer & Coombs, Gilboa, Wang and Yun all indicate a convergence of the practices over the last two decades, although the academic study of the interconnections between international relations and PR leaves much to be desired.
    However, it is noteworthy that placing some form of firewall or hierarchy between the two practices can be counterproductive – there are many lessons to be learned in both PD and PR which may enhance the performance of both. And although PR often gets a bad press (especially in the US), there are many PR practitioners who would be able to serve the needs of PD very well, certainly in the operational and tactical areas.
    So, in aspiration and ethos at least, PD=PR.
    For a more detailed response see

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