You’ve built your business from the ground up, laboring away far, far past the the clock signaling the end of a 9-5 job, coming in nights and giving up weekends with friends in favor of spending your Saturday and Sunday hunched over your laptop. Establishing a business is tiring, time consuming and not always a straightforward process. Now that you’ve laid the foundation properly, it’s time to put yourself–and your business–into the public eye.

How does this work? Most of us will start by turning to Google you begin typing in “public relations” before you shake your head, backspace, and replace it with “marketing.” Or perhaps “advertising”. What is the difference anyway?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. As someone with an extensive background in marketing, I’m certain that by the end of this piece you’ll know for sure whether you need public relations, marketing or some combination of both.

Marketing vs PR

To start off, let’s get some definitions of the two similar, yet different management functions on paper.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Public relations, on the other hand, can be defined in a number of ever-changing ways, but the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines it as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Two vaguely similar, wordy and, if nothing else somewhat confusing definitions of words you probably thought you knew.

In the simplest terms available, marketing drives and supports an organization’s sales efforts, while public relations supports the brand as a whole through the power of the press. In essence, marketing is about selling a product or service to the public, while PR is more geared towards gaining positive press and building a good image.

To determine which approach you’ll need and why, you’ll have to answer a few questions.

Do You Want to Drive Sales, or Build Brand Awareness?

If your goal at this point is to move goods and services from your business to the consumer so you can boost your sales profits you’ll be wanting marketing know-how, whether you self-educate yourself or get the assistance of a good marketing team. In a nutshell, marketing is geared directly towards appealing to potential customers by delivering the message of why they need your product and where they can get their hands on it.

If, on the other hand, you want to build awareness of your brand and ensure that the public (consumers, shareholders, investors and stakeholders both internal and external) trusts your company, you’ll want to tend more towards public relations.

Do You Want to be Proactive or Reactive?

Marketing and public relations can also be looked at through a proactive vs reactive lense. Often, marketing is done in a proactive manner – you want to get your product in front of people and tell them why they need it before they realize they need it.

Public relations, which involves sending out press releases, getting media placement, organizing speaking events, and so on, is a more reactive industry. For example if your business is undertaking a new business model, has just brought home an award or two, or is working on rolling out a new line of products, then public relations will probably be exactly what you need.

All in all, to grow a business you first need to focus on marketing which gains you an audience and earns you profits. Public relations is the second step after you have a well established business.