4 Ways Publicists are Different From Event Planners

Popular culture has led many to believe that the PR industry is just a whole lot of party planning. I blame some of our favorite fictional publicists like Sex and The City’s Samantha Jones for the onslaught of graduates with pipe dreams of planning fabulous parties for book releases, celebs and movie premieres.

Spoiler alert: it’s not always glamorous, and planning a flawless event is hard work.

While there are many similarities between PR professionals and event planners, as events are often part of a brand’s overall promotional strategy, expertise in public relations and communications doesn’t necessarily make someone skilled at producing events.

An event planner is someone who plans and executes all aspects of an event, be it internal, corporate, external or promotional. Duties often include coordinating and confirming locations and venues, transportation, on-site logistics, program schedules, guest speakers and red-carpet arrival times.

In contrast, a PR professional often collaborates with an event planner or producer on the overall concept of the event, and is often responsible for ensuring the right people (media, influencers, VIP customers) show up and are followed up with post-event. The PR person in charge acts as a defacto host during the event, facilitating media interviews and ensuring everyone understands and uses the event hashtag. The event planner in on-site to ensure all the important elements, from signage to flow, are working smoothly to ensure everyone has an amazing time.

Still, clients often mistake these two roles as one in the same, expecting a publicist to be as skilled in event execution as pitching the media. While some agencies may have an events division (particularly those who produce events regularly for fashion week, or large influencer activations), the two roles are very different.

Here are four big ways event planners differ from publicists.

A PR Pro is the life of the party but the event planner is the life behind the party.

Aside from natural differences in workload, PR professionals and event planners typically have different mindsets and thought patterns. PR professionals tend to be right-brained, possessing great creativity, critical thinking, verbosity, spontaneity, dexterity and communications skills to manage PR campaigns and client reputation with complete confidence. Event planners are usually ruled by their methodical, task-based, analytical and logical left brain, in order to give such great attention to detail on event logistics. While both jobs attract fairly outgoing and congenial individuals, each thinks differently about how to get the job done.

Preparing a client for a media interview is not the same as prepping an events team

In part, a PR professional is in the business of helping clients stay on message during media interviews, which is in part about relating to the audience or readership, and speaking in easy soundbites to ensure the best media coverage possible.

When it comes to events, every decision, from napkins to photo both props, must reinforce a brand’s unique positioning. And, beyond what attendees see, any planner worth her pay rate prepares for the worst case scenario; the host’s shoe heel to break, the bartender to run out of ice, the caterer to run late, an unexpected downpour, etc.

A PR pro friend might be able to get you out of a word jam, but your event planner friend is going to be the one with duct tape, bandaids and fishing wire in her purse.

A PR Pro is up at the crack of dawn; event planners go to bed at the crack of dawn

Those in PR are all too familiar with the 3 and 4 a.m. phone alarm to get out of bed and get on set at the TV station, primed and ready for morning show segments starting as early as 4:30 a.m. In contrast, those in event management know all too well that just because everyone else has left the party, doesn’t mean the work is done. Between clean-up, wrap-up and briefing the bosses, it could be sunrise before the event planner rests. Running an 18-hour day and falling into bed at 3 a.m. is just part of the event planers life on event days. On the other hand, PR pros will keep setting double and triple the amount of alarm clocks to keep waking up before the sun to hustle story opportunities.

A PR pro friend might be able to get you out of a word jam, but your event planner friend is going to be the one with duct tape, bandaids and fishing wire in her purse.

A PR pro faces deadlines every day, but an event planner faces the ultimate, immovable deadline

Publicists are typically facing daily, if not weekly, deadlines that keep them pitching the press, crafting great media materials, defining communications strategies, fielding crises and meeting with clients. For event planners, a ton of effort goes into just a few hours (or in the case of a fashion show, minutes). For annual or anniversary events, event planners can carry the pressure and stress of planning for months or even years.

Yes, you need “p” and “r” to spell party, but brands who understand that they need both a communications expert and an events expert will ensure better results and bigger reach from events. 

Bridget Forney

Bridget Forney

Bridget is a public relations specialist and digital media strategist based in Baltimore, MD. Her compelling PR and digital work on behalf of brands like PANDORA Jewelry, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Baltimore magazine, The National Aquarium, the United States Army Chief of Public Affairs and others earned her recognition from the Public Relations Society of America as New Professional of the Year in 2010, as well as The Daily Record as one of Maryland's Top 20 in Their Twenties last year. Follow Bridget on Twitter or Instagram @BridgetForney.