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Corporate Communications vs. Public Relations

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Organizations need to keep all their audiences informed. They need to communicate benefits and workplace procedures to employees. They need to introduce new products and announce price reductions to customers. And they have to market their brand to the public and let the media know about their good-citizen activities in the community. Corporate communication and one of its functions, public relations, are tools for meeting these challenges.

The Corporate Communication Team

Corporate communication is a blanket term for various functions that organizations use to inform, educate and engage internal and external audiences. Company heads use communication strategies to raise productivity or expand the market share of goods or services. Communication plans also help companies heighten brand recognition and meet social responsibility obligations to the community. To fulfill these and other strategic goals, organizations rely on writers, graphic designers, marketers, photographers, event planners, media specialists and crises handlers. Public relations is a corporate communication function, along with employee messaging, marketing and investor, government and media relations. Internal audiences are employees, directors and stockholders. External audiences include customers, print and electronic media, industry regulators, state, federal and local governments, business and civic associations, academic institutions and other organizations.

Public Relations and Image Building

Organizations use public relations to shape and maintain a positive public image. The Public Relations Society of America defines the field as a strategic process of communication that builds mutually satisfying relationships between organizations and their external audiences. Public relations professionals advise senior managers on crafting messages and distributing information. They gauge public opinions and attitudes toward their organizations. They devise plans to counteract public backlash. And they continuously research and assess the effectiveness of events, campaigns and promotional materials. Public relations officers often work with government officials and regulators to influence or change public policies they believe harm their organizations. Public relations can be a standalone organizational function that's sometimes paired with a marketing department or it's an independent agency.

Career Prepping

Professionals in corporate communication and public relations share the same basic skills, so switching jobs between the two areas is common. Careers typically start with a four-year degree. Penn State University's Abington, Pennsylvania, campus offers a cross-disciplinary, undergraduate program in corporate communication. Coursework includes written, oral and verbal communication, as well as information technology and business. Studies in human behavior, or psychology, and ethics courses also are part of the curriculum. Auburn University's School of Communication and Journalism in Alabama offers public relations courses in messaging style and design, communications and journalism concepts, ethics and related case studies, and survey research.

The Challenges

Corporate communicators and public relations specialists must understand their audiences' interests and needs. They must be persuasive in winning audience trust and support. And they must be artful planners and problem-solvers. Their biggest challenge is managing crises. A defective product could bring on consumer lawsuits. Striking workers could cause a shutdown in operations. A senior officer's indiscretions could harm a company's reputation. An earthquake or tornado could cost workers' lives. Communicators and public relations professionals often develop crisis communication plans to help internal audiences and the public understand the crisis and what organizations are doing to counteract the damage.


Valerie Bolden-Barrett is a writer, editor and communication consultant specializing in best business practices, public policy, personal finance and career development. She is a former senior editor of national business publications covering management and finance, employment law, human resources, career development, and workplace issues and trends.

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