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I cheated.  

I wrote the blog piece about PR compared with marketing compared with social media, and before it was even posted on Channel Insider, I was in a conversation with my fellow HTG5 member Cohen Barnes of TBC Net in DeKalb, Illinois, and he was specifically asking about PR versus marketing, and I shared the raw text of the blog article before it was even posted. So I cheated.

He read over the article, and immediately came back with a question. “What is PR supposed to accomplish in the reader/watcher’s mind that in turn could help generate business for you.  How is that different from a Facebook site?”

What a great question.

PR is the art of getting other people to talk about you, as opposed to marketing, where you talk about yourself.  Social media is thus the art of engaging in conversations.

Think about this in the context of a magazine. At its core, there are two parts to a magazine: the content and the advertisements. Traditional marketing means placing your message as a paid advertisement within the ad. An organization will buy the ad space in the magazine.

However, it’s a much more compelling story if your message is part of the content. While you could buy an ad, wouldn’t you rather be the expert discussed in the article that wraps around the ad?

In a traditional marketing piece, you put together something that goes out about you. This might be a direct mail piece, an ad, a phone call, or some such item that will convey a message.  In PR, you relay that message to a reporter, who then interprets that message for editorial content. And yes, you have less control over the finished product.

Now, let’s answer Cohen’s question more directly. How do you generate business with this?

The principle is the same as marketing, in that you’re looking to build a rapport with those you might do business with.  Just as a marketing piece looks to create some interest in you or your services, PR is designed to create that same interest, simply within the context of media. Have you ever read an article on a plane and said “I like that idea/company?”  How about watched TV and then gone to a website profiled?  Ever read an article on a news site and then gone to the company of the person quoted? If you’ve done any of these, you’ve executed on the intention behind PR.

PR can also support the sales process. Which would you rather leave behind: Your marketing material, or a piece in a local magazine profiling your company and interviewing happy customers?

There are some differences between marketing and PR pieces. Marketing pieces often have a “call to action.” This is an area where PR clearly differs, because there is no clear “call to action”, in particular because you aren’t the writer of the piece.  This call to action, however, is replaced with “information legitimacy”, as the source is considered more trusted than a traditional ad. By being delivered as part of the journalistic process, the trust of the publication is transferred to those contained within it.

As a trust business, IT providers should be looking to show their level of trust. By building a trust relationship with a prospect, it establishes the legitimacy of the offering. PR, like any communications tool, doesn’t close business. It does move the process along – sometimes building trust faster.

Dave Sobel is the founder and CEO of Evolve Technologies, a consulting firm that provides information technology (IT) and computer networking services to the small business, faith-based and nonprofit communities in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.