Top 14 most commonly confused terms in the communication business

So, you are ready to hire a marketing communications firm. But how do you know what to ask for?

To help you, I have listed definitions of the 14 most commonly confused terms in the communication business.

It is important to understand the differences and subtle nuances between these concepts in order to ensure you are partnering with the right service provider. However, even people in the profession will often confuse and use terms interchangeably, so you will need to be specific about the results you want to achieve.

By becoming an informed client, you will maximize your chances of finding the right partner who has the expertise you need.

Public relations - the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success and failure depends.

Marketing - the management function that identifies human needs and wants, offers products and services to satisfy those demands, and causes transactions that deliver products and services in exchange for something of value to the provider (usually money).

Integrated marketing communications (marcom) - all-encompassing term that covers marketing practices and tactics including advertising, branding, graphics, social media, promotion, publicity, public relations and more. It is the application of consistent brand messaging across both traditional and non-traditional marketing channels and using different promotional methods to reinforce each other.

Internal relations - the specialized part of public relations that builds and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between managers and the employees on whom an organization's success depends.

Publicity - information provided by an outside source that is used by the media because the information has news value. It is an uncontrolled method of placing messages in the media because the source does not pay for media placement.

Advertising - information placed in the media by an identified sponsor that pays for the time or space. It is a controlled method of placing messages in the media.

Press agentry - creating newsworthy stories and events to attract media attention and to gain public notice.

Public affairs - a specialized part of public relations that builds and maintains governmental and local community relations in order to influence public policy.

Lobbying - a specialized part of public relations that builds and maintains relations with the government primarily for the purpose of influencing legislation and regulation.

Issues management - the proactive process of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and responding to public policy issues that affect organizations' relationships with their publics.

Development - a specialized part of public relations in nonprofit organizations that builds and maintains relationships with donors and members for the purposes of securing financial and volunteer support.

Experiential marketing - the practice of providing an enjoyable, desirable, semi-immersive brand experience to an organization's target markets.

Sponsorship - An investment in community, business, government activities, the arts, a cause, sport, individual or broadcast, which yields a commercial return for the sponsor. The investment can be made in financial material or in-kind trade.

Philanthropy - The voluntary giving of funds by foundations, trusts, bequests, corporations or individuals to support human welfare, without the expectation of a commercial return.

Definitions come from these sources:

Effective Public Relations, 9th edition, by Cultip, Center and Broom.

The Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit by Kim Skildum-Reid.

American Marketing Association