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Should You Start With PR or Marketing First? With five startups under my belt, this is what I've found works best.

By Stu Sjouwerman Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Even if you've got a fantastic product or service as an entrepreneur, guess what — you still have to connect with customers and get some sales under your belt. There's debate, though, about whether you should focus on public relations or marketing first. In most cases, it's wise to concentrate initially on public relations.

Related: Want to Do a Public Relations Push? Focus on Social Media First.

The big difference between PR and marketing

Public relations and marketing are two very different animals. PR is all about building relationships with people and establishing your brand image. Basically, you want to get word of mouth going so people realize you're available to do business with.

In contrast, marketing is about promotion. It's a natural step after PR to effectively deliver your products or services to the people who have heard about you through your PR efforts. It stays consistent with the brand image you've established and entices customers to buy.

Why PR wins out

Looking at the distinction between PR and marketing, in the first year or so of business, it's unlikely that readers will recognize who you are. Since you're an unknown company that hasn't earned their trust yet, getting them to complete a transaction is going to be a serious uphill battle.

Considering that you're a startup, you probably don't have a ton of cash in your back pocket. You have to spend every dollar wisely and not be wasteful. So, if you throw a bunch of money into marketing before customers have a sense of who you are, you're essentially throwing money away by increasing the price it takes per customer to close a sale. Think about it: customers are really savvy these days. A quick pan through a search engine tells them a lot about your brand. Shelling out for marketing off the bat via paid promotions doesn't work well if your reputation isn't there to back you up. And if you're looking for a certain number of sales to please your investors, they might end up disappointed. That doesn't bode well for continued funding.

How to make PR work for you

Let's assume you've made the decision to use your money on PR instead. Where do you start? Is there a basic plan of action that's proven successful?

In most cases, your first step is to get people referring you right away. For example, you can ask people if they know of anyone who might be interested in what you have to offer. Alternatively, if you do a demo, you might give the attendees a few extra samples of your product to share. The idea here is that even if some prospective customers don't have your trust yet, they will trust their friends and family. Use that to your advantage.

Second, create great online articles. These can be on your blog or submitted to other sites, but they should get everybody familiar with your concepts. If you don't feel comfortable creating this content on your own, then hire a great PR agency — even if just for a year or so. They can ensure a large quantity of higher-quality articles that all have a consistent voice while feeding potential clients the information you want. Agencies also usually have good connections to pitch the articles to.

Third, be your own evangelist and make yourself visible in as many areas as you can. For instance, see if you can be a guest on the radio, a podcast, a webinar or another program. Participate in panels. Get involved in community events, or create your own. All of these venues let you interact with customers more directly, and people hearing your voice or seeing your face can do a lot to humanize your business.

If you address all of these points, then there's really no reason why you should have to resort to paying hundreds of dollars for a lead via marketing. But what's really important is that you work through all these paths to get people aligned and out of their old ways of thinking. You have to be prepared to stare straight into the teeth of existing wisdom so that people come to understand the benefits of your innovations and get behind them. Working hand in hand with a PR agency is the best way to do that.

After you've survived that first PR-based year, you'll likely be ready to transition more into marketing. Start with some low-grade campaigns, such as white papers, that you can nurture into high-quality leads.

Related: Marketing Lessons I Learned From Fortune 500 Companies

A reliable strategy for any venture

PR and marketing are both essential components of establishing and maintaining good back-and -forth with customers. But because you can't sell to people who don't trust you, your initial funds should go to PR. Take about a year to grow your relationships and then ease into serious marketing. No matter the industry, product or service, it's a sequence you can consistently lean on to win.

Stu Sjouwerman

Founder and CEO, KnowBe4

Stu Sjouwerman (pronounced “shower-man”) is the founder and CEO of KnowBe4, Inc., which offers a platform for security awareness training and simulated phishing.

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