There are many different elements to public relations, which is probably why there is confusion about what it is and is not. Here are a few comparisons to make life a little simpler for those not too familiar with PR.

  • PR vs Advertising: PR and advertising both deliver visibility but can be very different as far as method and results. Advertising allows you to control the message — where, when and exactly how the message appears. PR, through editorial coverage, offers minimal control. Your story may or may not appear; if it appears, it may be a 1-inch news brief, not the full corporate feature you envisioned. However, PR offers maximum credibility and advertising offers virtually no credibility. Editorial coverage is a third-party endorsement and is viewed as factual, while ads are often disbelieved or ignored. Advertising is often very costly as compared to PR. For example, a one-time ad in the Wall Street Journal can exceed the cost of a year-long PR campaign. In contrast, a positive story in the Wall Street Journal is invaluable — you cannot buy the type of credibility your company will receive. Bottom line: there is a place for both PR and advertising — choose wisely depending on your company’s needs.

  • PR vs IR: Public Relations and Investor Relations are two complementary strategies for emerging technology companies. Public companies must have an active investor relations program due to SEC requirements. Private companies also should focus on investor relations due to their ongoing need for new funding, but their needs are much less defined than public companies and the program can be much more low-key. Both public and private companies that have emerging technologies should devote time and money to both areas due to the intense competition for attention. Whether you are a micro-cap stock, are eyeing an IPO or are hoping to be acquired, the type of exposure generated by both PR and IR is essential.

    Investor Relations encompasses a wide variety of DIRECT communications with the investment community, everyone from shareholders to fund managers and analysts. Face-to-face meetings, conference calls, earnings reports, annual reports — all of these are under the direction of an IR program. In contrast, a public relations program that is focused on financial media relations INDIRECTLY reaches the very same audience. Your PR firm will "pitch" your company’s story to Forbes or BusinessWeek, for example, which are read by analysts, fund managers, potential and existing shareholders. The company truly benefits when the PR and IR firms are working well together. For example, the article placed in BusinessWeek by the PR firm is then reprinted and used by the IR firm to make sure that everyone who needs to know about your company is kept well-informed. Both PR and IR can be handled in-house or by outside firms.

  • PR for Startups vs Established Companies: Public relations strategies are useful throughout the lifetime of a company. But the different stages of a company’s life create the need for different types of PR. Emerging growth companies first and foremost have the need to establish credibility. Frequently, the company is new and the technology is new and poorly understood outside of the company. These companies need to take advantage of editorial opportunities that develop confidence in the company’s future. The PR effort initially is focused on developing collateral materials that explain the company and its technology in easy-to-understand terms. Without a clear, easy-to-navigate Web site or a press kit that explains the technology without heavy techspeak, it is difficult to generate the much-needed editorial coverage, particularly in the business media. Establishing name recognition is an important element, too. A "beat reporter" who covers your industry for Dow Jones, for example, may reject a story on your emerging technology 10 times in a row. But by the time your news grabs his attention on the 11th try, he’s very familiar with who you are, has read your background materials and is ready to help tell your story. Doing PR for established companies is far less exhausting, as far as grabbing reporters’ attention. But the need to make "noise" on the PR front in a continuing way does not stop even for the IBMs and Microsofts of the world, it just takes on a different tone.

  • Business and Financial Media vs Trade Media: Up until a few years ago, the earliest start-up companies had to rely on trade press for exposure. Business media was off-limits until revenues were earned and/or the company had earned its stripes in one way or another. Today, it’s a different story. Revenues certainly make a better story, but it’s not too early to approach the business media even as a company is fine-tuning its business model and deciding where and how to market its technology once the time is right. Companies make news in many ways and fortunately, business and financial publications and programs are increasingly interested in some of these alternative news paths. The influx of online news sites has made this even more so. The best idea is to carefully analyze what audiences would best help your company grow. If you are desiring more recognition in your industry and need to boost sales, exposure in the trade press is essential. If you are seeking strategic alliances, look for exposure in both the trades and the business press. If it is premature for selling products, but you need to generate more funds and/or keep shareholders content, trying to find story angles that can be sold to the business press is what you need. In analyzing which media to go after, always look to the end result to see which way to go.

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