There are many rewarding careers in public service, and finding a great fit in one of those careers involves consideration of your goals, strengths, and personality type, as well as understanding the differences in public service careers. They may sound similar, but they’re actually quite different. For example, public affairs, public relations, and public administration are three exciting careers in public service that sound the same but may appeal to different types of people.

What’s the Difference Between Public Affairs and Public Relations?

Public affairs and public relations professionals can be found working for a wide range of organizations, including:

  • Corporations
  • Trade associations
  • Nonprofits
  • Government agencies
  • Private companies
  • Political organizations

Public affairs and public relations are similar in many ways. Both involve communicating and building relationships with the public, but public affairs is more political in nature while public relations tends to have a more commercial focus. Public affairs professionals disseminate information to stakeholders with the goal of influencing public policy and building support for the organization’s agenda. Public relations targets creating positive publicity to help build public loyalty to the organization or to improve or promote the organization’s image.

What Do Public Affairs Professionals Do?

A public affairs professional may be engaged in a variety of activities including:

  • Lobbying on specific policies or legislation
  • Providing information to stakeholders directly or through media engagement
  • Monitoring political activity and information
  • Advising
  • Consulting
  • Advocacy

You might find a career in public affairs rewarding if you are outgoing, enjoy meeting new people, like to advocate on behalf of your organization, and would like to be involved in setting public policy.

What Do Public Relations Professionals Do?

In the public service field, public relations is an arm of marketing that builds a positive image for an organization, policy, or agenda by generating positive publicity instead of buying advertising. Public relations professionals may be engaged in these types of activities:

  • Designing marketing campaigns
  • Drafting press releases
  • Branding
  • Public relations crisis management
  • Social media
  • Marketing research
  • Speech writing

You might find a career in public relations rewarding if you are creative, outgoing, and enjoy interacting with others in a dynamic environment.

To get started on an exciting career in public affairs or public relations, consider pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in public affairs, communications, or public relations.

What is Public Administration?

Public administration focuses on the management of public organizations including:

  • Local, state, and federal government agencies
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Nonprofit agencies
  • Educational organizations

Public administration professionals work in all levels of government and other public agencies that provide vital services to the public. They face many challenges such as ensuring effective delivery of services to a diverse population while operating within budget limitations. Public administration professionals need to have highly developed skills in a variety of areas including:

  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Budgeting and finance
  • Regulatory analysis
  • Interpersonal communication

You might find a career in public administration rewarding if you enjoy working as a team with others to reach a common goal, problem solving, and interacting with the public.

What’s the Bottom Line?

For any career in public service, you will need a solid education and a firm commitment to service. By choosing a career path that fits your own unique abilities and aspirations, you will be building a foundation for a rewarding career in public service.


Written by David Mackusick, JD, CPA, former Assistant Professor in the Forbes School of Business & Technology

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