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Communications is not communication: Where does PR fit in?

By Lindsey Chastain

Should PR pros rethink industry degrees, departments, and job titles?


A person leaning about the differences between communications and communication.Many organizations interchange “communication” and “communications” in department names, job titles, and agency branding. However, there is an important distinction between these two terms business leaders and industry professionals often overlook.





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Communication refers to the act of exchanging information. It’s a two-way process focused on mutual understanding through speaking, writing, listening, and interpreting non-verbal cues. Strong communication skills build trust, credibility, and rapport with stakeholders.


Communications refers to crafting and transmitting messages through various media to achieve specific goals beyond information exchange. Channels of communication include social media, events, advertising, and other PR materials. 


Corporate communications refers to the strategies, tactics, and materials companies use to achieve business goals by informing, influencing, or engaging key audiences. This includes social media, events, advertising, PR materials, and more. An effective corporate communications program aligns messages and channels to support overall business objectives.


Blending these distinct concepts hinders organizations in four key ways:

  1. It minimizes the strategic importance of open, two-way communication with stakeholders. Communication should be elevated beyond a checkbox item.
  2. Instead of recognizing their unique purposes, it lumps interpersonal engagement and promotional tactics.
  3. It prevents proper investment into developing communication skills versus deploying communications tools. Both require separate attention and budget.
  4. It makes it difficult to measure the impact of communication efforts focused on relationship-building versus communications campaigns centered on driving specific KPIs.

When communication and communications are conflated, organizations fail the first step in cultivating strong communicators across their workforce. They become over-reliant on communications materials and channels instead of genuine human connection.


Yet many persist in naming departments, functions, and agencies using the umbrella term “communications.” This imprecision ultimately undermines organizational success in building trusted relationships with stakeholders by demonstrating a lack of fundamental understanding of industry terminology.


Moving Toward Clarity

As communication experts, we have an opportunity to provide clarity and drive change in how organizations approach these concepts. 


To convey key messages and information to target audiences, clear and concise communication is vital in PR. Straightforward messaging allows PR materials and campaigns to more accurately represent a company or client’s mission, values, and objectives. Achieving clarity in PR materials also helps to avoid confusion, misinterpretation, or vagueness that could negatively impact an organization’s reputation or relationships with stakeholders.


There are three ways to begin this process:

  1. Audit how your organization uses these terms and identify opportunities for greater distinction. For example, Corporate Communications departments focused on promotional tactics should be called External Relations or Brand Marketing.
  2. Invest in developing communication skills across the workforce through coaching, training, and recruiting exceptional communicators for leadership roles. 
  3. When naming departments, functions, and agencies, be very intentional about using “communication” versus “communications.” This sends a signal both internally and externally.

The Bottom Line

Communication and communications serve distinct purposes. When organizations recognize and elevate communication as a strategic competency, they’re better equipped to build trusting stakeholder relationships while also broadcasting messages effectively.


It’s up to PR leaders to drive understanding of this distinction. Implementing more precise terminology focuses investment on cultivating strong communicators. It also empowers communications specialists to utilize their channels and content most effectively. Reframing these definitions will ultimately help organizations connect with stakeholders at a deeper, more authentic level.


Are you ready to rethink your communications? Contact us today or book a one-on-one consultation to get started.


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Photo by Matilda Wormwood

Topics: PR tips, corporate communications, communications

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