Startup PR & Marketing | Disciplines & Tools Explained

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. It’s important. I frequently have a conversation with entrepreneurs explaining the difference between communications disciplines – PR, marketing & publicity – and the implementation tools used to deliver campaigns. There’s a lot of confusion, both inside the industry and amongst entrepreneurs and it is a common cause of failure. This is my attempt to fix a problem I encounter on a daily basis.


I’ve been helping entrepreneurs with communications strategy for more than 20 years – through the dot com boom – and bust – and have been honing my skills over that period. The core disciplines – public relations, marketing and publicity – haven’t changed in that time. The tools are unrecognizable.


  • Public relations is fundamentally about building and maintaining strong relationships with key people. I call them actionable relationships. I wrote something more substantial about the definition of public relations here a while back.
  • Marketing is about activating the relationships built as part of a public relations strategy. Specifically, marketing is about compelling a specific person (or group of people) to take a defined – commercially valuable – action in support of your startup or small business. You can read more about the definition of marketing that underpins all of the work that I do.
  • Publicity is the process of raising awareness without the specific goal of building relationships or compelling somebody to take an action.  I explained the difference between PR and publicity a few months ago.

The Tools

Networks, platforms and devices are tools used for implementing PR, marketing and publicity strategies.  News releases were distributed via fax machine [remember those?] or first class mail; the internet was dial-up and sending emails with attachments larger than single digit kilobytes was a surefire way to test even the strongest relationships when I started my career in communications. Websites were largely text-based.

Cellular phones were primarily for making and receiving calls and social networks were basic user groups or AOL communities. These days there an almost infinite number of networks, devices, technologies and platforms. What was this year’s hot platform or device will likely be obsolete within a few years.

The tools have become more sophisticated and there are definitely more of them in 2016 than there were in 1996 but the basic disciplines – building relationships, compelling people to action and awareness – haven’t changed at all. The challenge is arguably greater and more complex because of the increased number of tools and options available.

My advice to entrepreneurs is simple: understand what the objective is [relationship, action or awareness] and get the strategy right. Once you have the right strategy identify the tools that will enable you to execute the strategy most effectively.