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Are You Looking for Marketing When You Really Need PR? Your company shows steady growth and it's time to ramp up promotion, but which team, marketing or public relations (or both), do you go to first? Key strategies for knowing when PR is the right move.

By April White Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You've done the hard work to get here — spent the time building a great product that customers love, hired an all-star team and are ready to start scaling. Your company finally has some steady growth and it's time to ramp up promotion. What's the next step? How can you ensure your time and hard-earned dollars are well spent? Among the most pivotal early needs is building brand recognition, and one of the biggest mistakes startups make in addressing it is choosing the wrong channels to get the word out.

Public relations has traditionally fallen under the umbrella of marketing — sharing space with a rich mix of paid and earned methodologies like social media, SEO, influencer relations, advertising and digital marketing. Adding to the confusion, the last fifteen years of the tech boom has blurred the lines around what is considered "public" when it comes to the "P" in PR, so it can be even harder now to know where PR begins and marketing ends.

The latter, by definition, is the act of promoting your products or services. Its goal is to connect directly with a customer, highlighting your solution to their problem and driving them to purchase. PR is the hand that reaches out to introduce a brand to the world. As a strategic function, PR looks to build relationships with an audience of customers, employees, investors and industry professionals, working to build and maintain the goodwill and reputation of a brand. Understanding the nuances between the goals of PR and marketing, and when to leverage these tools, can be the difference between scaling a business successfully and totally missing the mark.

Related: 3 Initial Steps to Doing Your Own PR and Getting Excellent Results

Here are 5 signs you need PR, not just marketing:

1. You Need to Build Industry Credibility

Your business may be new to the market, entering an already competitive environment, or looking to disrupt an industry. In all those instances, your brand needs to build trust and credibility with audiences already wedded to the status quo. As consumers, we're unlikely to trust a brand that we've never seen or heard of before. So, as in any new relationship, you need to first introduce yourself. Doing so through paid channels is one thing, but it's no substitute for the credibility earned when a media outlet introduces you. It's the difference between introducing yourself on stage as an unknown speaker or performer and having someone more notable than you, with a national reputation, do that.
PR is an essential tool of building trust. This third-party connection not only raises brand awareness and credibility, but also helps to propel you into a meaningful relationship with audiences. By developing a consistent and confident message that can position you as a thought leader, boost brand exposure and help educate and endear an audience towards your product, platform or offering, you can catapult a company to the next level.

2. You're Looking for Investors

According to CB Insights, 29% of startups fail because they ran out of cash. If cash is king, its stranglehold on the success or failure of an enterprise is omnipresent. Enter PR, which will not only help get a brand out into the world, but also position its executive team as industry leaders.

Related: Self-Financing Your Startup

An effective thought leadership strategy will help build executives' reputation in the industry, educate key players about your business, present an opportunity to share your vision of the future, and demonstrate expertise to investors. Put more plainly: getting your story and ideas out there is a great way to pique the interest of investors. But, as a word of warning, don't fall into the trap of getting loud before you have reason to be proud; focus on making a great product or solution first, and the rest will follow.

3. You Need to Change the Narrative

Your company may be battling negative reviews, might have a divisive product or mission, or you may be dealing with a classic communications crisis and need to gain control of the narrative. As the stewards of brand reputation, engaging PR is critical when you are looking to manage perceptions and put out fires — or prevent them.

When you're forging the way to a new market or have a product that may cause some controversy, PR should be part of any strategic counsel from the get-go. The same is true for companies in industries where a number of things can easily go sideways. Controversial products can cause a PR stir, but in reality must still do the hard yards before they can make any real strides. This is where PR works best: to break down stigmas, educate a resistant public, navigate a dynamic market and earn respect.

In crisis communications, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail, as the saying goes. The right public relations strategy can work to clarify misgivings, refocus the story, and open up a two-way conversation to build (or rebuild) trust. Warren Buffet said it best: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

4. You Need to Get the Word Out About Something New

When you develop a new product or feature and need to spread that news, this is the time to see PR and marketing working closely together. While some announcements are better served by marketing, PR can help shape a launch into a compelling story that people will want to hear about.

Leveraging PR into your launch plan can help educate the press and customers about the new offering or features, as well as generate enthusiasm for that introduction. And if your announcement makes it into the news, amid the thousands of competing articles, it can further pave the way for success. It's important, however, to understand when it's appropriate to use owned and earned channels to connect with customers directly, and when PR can help spread the news more widely and build credibility more effectively.

5. Your Competitors Are Always in the News

In an already crowded market with well-established players, it can be difficult to stand out. When the competition is getting press recognition, it can be easy to think, "Why not us?" when you'd be better off asking yourself, "What's interesting about our story?" Journalists read through hundreds of pitches a day. With overladen workloads and breaking news stealing their time, if they don't know you, you'd better give them a good reason to.

Thinking like a journalist can help you understand this better. Do you have a newsworthy angle? Is the news timely? Does your news or perspective fit into conversations being had now (aka, topicality)? Why should people care? Are you able to offer a truly unique viewpoint or product? How does it address current trends, issues, pain points or developments in the greater landscape?

Related: Is Hiring a PR Firm Worth It?

PR isn't about adding to the noise. It's about focusing your brand's voice and using storytelling to communicate what makes you truly unique. Taking this approach to a communications strategy ensures that you give yourself the best opportunity for a foot in the door with the press.

The marketing rule of seven dictates that a customer needs to see or hear your message seven times before they purchase. But the way we consume content today has blown that out of the water. It's now estimated we spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on our phones and see over 5,000 ads a day — representing an unprecedented appetite for content. The path to purchases is a crowded one, so it's vital to keep in mind that PR is not the endgame to those purchasing decisions. It is, however, an invaluable tool in informing the public and engendering trust in a brand.

When you're new to a market or starting from ground zero in PR, it's also important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. The core foundational principle to understand is that PR is all about relationships, which often take time to build. But when you invest the time, money and the right strategy, the dividends pay off in ways that are nearly immeasurable. As Bill Gates famously said, "If I had a dollar left, I'd spend it on PR."

April White

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President & Founder of Trust Relations

April Margulies is the president and founder of the fast-growing strategic communications agency Trust Relations. She coined the term “Trust Relations” in 2019 to describe a new approach to PR that focuses on authenticity and transparency, which led to the creation of her national virtual agency.

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