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The topic of public relations (PR) has been on my mind. It came up as a discussion point in my HTG meetings recently, and there certainly was some confusion. Is it marketing? Part of marketing? A stage of marketing? Is social media PR or marketing?

Marketing is often the dark art of our businesses. As solution providers, we are often engineers by background. We come from that technical understanding, and build out businesses based on that knowledge. Sales could be an easier group to build, as the function seems slightly more intuitive even to those who aren’t “sales people”. Selling is getting someone to agree to buy your services… but what is marketing?

I view marketing as all of the activities that happen before a potential customer expresses interest in your services. Thus, how do they know about your organization? How do they hear about you? What have they heard? Do they know your name? Your reputation?

Marketing covers a lot of different areas. “Traditional” marketing is the idea of sending messages out to potential customers in hopes they will do something to express interest. This could involve direct mail pieces, radio or TV advertising, or any marketing pieces like this. Online marketing added to this, such as your website, online advertising, newsletters and email blasts.

Social media takes this in a different direction, allowing “marketing” to be done by a two way conversation with your customers and potential customers. Social media is designed to allow for sharing and communication, and thus is a way to share your message to those who are interested in you or your organization. Like traditional marketing, it works best when it is targeted and relevant.

Public relations adds the idea of working with media companies to express knowledge, information, and expertise via outlets such as newspapers, magazines, TV, and online, and rather than use the “advertising” slots, the information is put within the content itself. Good PR is the idea of being a resource to journalists who are covering the news.

All of these activities are interrelated, and ideally they should all support the sales function. Everything that happens before you or your sales person shakes hands and says “Hi, I’m Dave Sobel with Evolve Technologies” shapes their impression of you, and is all the marketing that happens before hand. Direct mail, newsletters, blogs, press quotes, websites – everything that happens before you actually meet me is marketing.

Now, here’s the focus of the conversation we had last week. How much time, energy and money do you put into each of those parts? If you take your “marketing” budget, how much do you put in traditional? Online? Social? PR?

The answer is horrible – there isn’t one answer. The right mix for you will come from understanding your needs and desires, and what the desired outcomes for your organization is. I would argue that it’s a “non-zero” number for each of the parts, as you can’t ignore any one part to have a well functioning machine. The right mix will come from your own experimentation.

Make lots of small bets, and make them often. Find out what works, and do more of it, and if you lose some bets don’t do that again. For example, for every blog I do that gets reposted, shared, and commented on, there are likely five that didn’t. For every press release that gets people’s attention, there are three that didn’t. For every successful effort, there are going to be numerous failures. Making sure the failures aren’t costly is the trick.