The written and spoken word has become more important than ever. The ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, and messages through various media outlets has become key to doing business in the 21st century. In the United States’ consumer-driven economy, the way businesses, organizations, institutions, and public figures communicate their images to the public has a massive impact on their success. A creative advertising campaign can propel a new product to the top of the market, a strong PR campaign can win a bid to host the Olympics for a major city, and a bold marketing effort can bring extra acclaim to an independent film.
Communication professionals understand that every word matters. Every press release, social media post, and television advertisement is preserved on the internet, and each one has the potential to go viral. This can have an incredibly positive effect on business, but it can also have a negative effect if mismanaged. As a result, companies need to carefully choose those responsible for their communications. Several professions directly affect success through these channels, including public relations (PR) specialists and strategic communication professionals.
What is the difference between strategic communication and public relations, and how do they impact organizations? We break down the nuances of each field here. Regardless of how you pursue a career in communication, an advanced degree and relevant experience can pay dividends.
Strategic Communication Overview
Strategic communication broadly describes a number of different career paths, all of which involve the use of communication to achieve a goal. This differs from careers in journalism, technical writing, translation, and other work that involves writing and communicating without a strategic, business-driven purpose in mind. Instead, strategic communication includes careers in advertising, marketing, PR, digital strategy, and social media, all of which involve utilizing language, and often photographs and video, to distribute a company or organization’s message both internally and externally. The broadness of this term — and the array of professions that fall under this umbrella — is one differentiating factor in strategic communication vs. public relations.
Strategic Communication Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports there were 249,600 advertising, promotions, and marketing managers in the United States in May 2018. They made a median annual salary of $132,620, with the top 10% earning more than $208,000 and the bottom 10% earning below $57,150. The BLS projects the job market for advertising, promotions, and marketing majors to grow 10% between 2016 and 2026, adding 23,800 new jobs over that span. PayScale reports the median annual salary for directors of communication at $78,427, the median annual salary for strategic communication managers at $66,384, and the median annual salary for social media strategists at $51,760.
Each professional’s salary and advancement opportunities depend on experience, tenure, education, and geographic region. That said, this field offers ample opportunity for growth.
Public Relations Overview
PR professionals work within one specific area of strategic communication: the maintenance of a positive relationship between an employer and the community. They do this through the use of public-facing communication, such as press releases, special events, speeches, and social media. The most notable PR professional in the United States is the White House press secretary, who acts as the spokesperson for the executive branch, including the president, by holding regular press conferences and interacting with the media to answer questions and explain policies and procedures.
No matter what organization, business, nonprofit entity, government agency, or public figure they work for, PR professionals promote positive news as much as possible while limiting damage stemming from negative news or events.
Public Relations Job Outlook
The BLS reports there were 259,600 PR specialists working in the United States in 2016. The median annual wage for those workers was $60,000. PR specialists working in government had the highest median annual salary, at $64,530, with educational services ($55,790) behind advertising and public relations firms ($63,490) and the “business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations” sector ($62,520). The BLS projects the job market for PR specialists will grow 9% between 2016 and 2026, adding 22,900 new jobs.
Like the larger strategic communication field, PR salary and job opportunities may vary by region, experience, and education.
Similarities Between Strategic Communication and Public Relations
A good deal of overlap exists between strategic communication and public relations, as the latter is a subset of the former. Both rely on communications to position companies for growth, and both require a similar skill set: strong verbal and written communication, strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to work well in teams of different professionals.
Differences Between Strategic Communication and Public Relations
Despite being closely related fields, there are several key distinctions between strategic communication and public relations. Largely, these differences pertain to the scope of communication involved and the typical ways in which professionals disseminate information.
Scope and Focus
Overall, strategic communication professionals are likely to find themselves working across multiple departments to develop an organization’s communication plan. Their day-to-day work can vary, and their responsibilities in an organization may shift based on its communication needs.
Those who focus strictly on public relations are likely to have a narrower focus. Their primary concern lies in how the public views the organization and how to ensure they build positive relationships through their internal and external messaging.
PR jobs generally do not require advanced degrees. In comparison, strategic communication jobs often require years of experience or advanced study. Individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in strategic communication benefit from a degree such as Maryville University’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership. The program’s courses emphasize global and intercultural communication, issue and crisis management, marketing communication, and digital media campaigns, all of which are vital for work in strategic communication.
Strategic Communication vs. Public Relations: Which Is Right for You?
If you want to pursue a leadership position in the communication field but aren’t sure which job is right for you, an advanced degree in strategic communication could be a great fit. Explore how Maryville University’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership can help you take your communication career to the next level.