If a startup or small business can’t build awareness, credibility and trust, it is going to have a hard time getting customers or investors. That’s why marketing is important. There are many marketing disciplines to choose from, but for the startup or small business, none is as cost effective as public relations.

Okay, so what does that really mean?

The value of public relations to any organization – large and small alike – is to build relationships with the media and industry influencer communities that generate favorable coverage. There are nuances, and some outliers like crisis communications. But at the end of the day when you cut through the fancy words and hyperbole, getting media and influencers to write and talk about you is what public relations does best.

Public relations is uniquely suited for helping small businesses succeed on what I call the Reputation Management Continuum. That is building awareness, growing credibility, solidifying trust, and influencing audiences’ behavior.

Is Reputation Management important? Well, the key components for reputation management are credibility and trust. The greater your reputation, the greater the number of qualified sales leads you will have. Ultimately, it will help drive your business.

For small businesses, why is public relations so effective at generating awareness, credibility, trust, and then those much coveted sales leads? The answer is in who is speaking about your company and in which conversations that is taking place.

But isn’t it easier to just insert your company into those conversations with advertising, social media, or content marketing?

The short answer is no.

Praise from a third-party is more valued than self-promotion. Little kids know it. Adults too. It’s called word-of-mouth. It is powerful stuff.

Kind words from a well-respected third-party like a reporter or industry influencer has a multiplier effect that beats all other forms of marketing, hands down. Media and industry influencers reach decision maker audiences better than your young company can and they also pass along their credibility when they do so. When media and industry influencers project your company’s key messages – through an article, report, speech, blog post, tweet, etc. – it is the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing.

Advertising is much more expensive and can help your company gain awareness. But it does not establish credibility or trust. It can help raise it, but it won’t establish it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT advocating that advertising is wrong or should not be done. Use it in conjunction with your company’s product or service awareness PR and other marketing campaigns. But first you need PR to help establish credibility and to do the heavy lifting in building trust.

Components of social media are very effective weapons in the public relations arsenal, as they are for advertising and other marketing disciplines. However, self-promotion through conversations and content sharing over social media is not nearly as effective as having third-parties positively talk about your company or share your content with their social media networks.

So how does a startup or small business succeed in its public relations efforts?

There are a number of key activities that make up successful public relations campaigns. They include developing solid positioning / competitive de-positioning, messaging, targeting the right media-influencer mix, building relationships with the media and influencers; and generating news, feature articles, reviews, and bylined articles.

This is the first of many articles, where I will share concrete public relations best practices and industry insights. They will help startups and small businesses either execute successful PR campaigns or assist them in better understanding how to work with their public relations firms.