Public relations is one of the most misunderstood and poorly utilized resource in industry, especially technology start-ups. It is seen as a tactical function of marketing and, sometimes, a subset of advertising. It is often employed too late in a marketing program to be effective, generally blamed for the failure and rarely given credit for the success of those programs. This misuse and misunderstanding makes PR more a necessary evil than a valued part of the corporate effort. You're not sure what it does, you know are going to hate paying for it. But you know you have to do it, so lets do it as cheaply as possible and get it over with.
As a result, few PR programs succeed, especially for start-ups. Most PR firms understand this situation and, for the most part, many have given up trying to convince entrepreneurs of how to do it right. They just try to do what the client asks, collect the money and move on to the next client.
Personally, I'm one that isn't ready to give up. I've got some pretty cool clients who get it, so I know it's possible. So I'm going to give you what I've learned in 35 years of being a professional communicator.
PR is not a subset of marketing. It's not a subset of advertising. It is the precursor for both. The market is a conversation. You have something you think is valuable. So you talk to people who might buy what you have. You listen to what they want. You talk to their competitors and industry analysts and journalists and find out what they are saying. You read. And then you look again at what you think is so valuable and you put it into a context that your customers will accept as value.
That's what PR is. Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, put it very simply. Public Relations is engineering opinion in the marketplace of ideas.
From all the information gathered in the process of your market conversation, you develop a marketing strategy. You build messages that are not filled with platitude and buzzwords because you know exactly what the market needs to hear and can put it in a way they accept. At this point, PR steps in along side of marketing and provides a continual flow of information between you and the market. Once the message is established, advertising comes in and walks in step with the PR program.
The problem is you are not going to get this kind of service from a college grad or someone who looks at PR as an entry point for promotion to a marketing VP position. You need someone who is dedicated to the conversation; who understands that communications is a difficult, sometimes tedious, but never-ending process of discovery and change.
Whether you hire a PR firm to provide this service, or you hire a professional to work in house, you need to have confidence that this is a resource that can sit down with the CEO, CTO, marketing and sales staff and provide strategic input and counsel throughout the course of your market conversation.