Tech startups, Want to Go Big? Get PR Help, for the Love of God

Dont-Try-This-At-Home-logoWhen giving advice, it generally helps to have real credentials, such as professional experience in a field.  But I have noticed a trend in which armchair flacks such as VCs, journalists and CEOs spew forth about PR (saying things like you don’t need PR, or an agency, or you’re doing it all wrong, etc.)

The straw that broke the camel’s back was an article in the NY Times, by Robert Moore, CEO of RJMetrics (which my friend Judy Gombita shared). He wrote that you don’t need “pricey PR firms” because it is not “rocket science”.

I AM a PR pro, and find advice like this to be misguided, simplistic or just plain wrong, and even potentially harmful to young companies that are trying to figure out the best way to launch and build sales and brand.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are no guarantees  in PR.  Not all investments pay off, and yes, just like in other professions, there are the good and bad apples.  But it is an area that has consistently proven value, especially when compared with other marketing vehicles – and most startups that have gone beyond the emerging stage, to grow, capture market share and exit successfully have done so with the help of professional PR.

Here are the reasons that you need professional PR help (whether you hire a firm or an in-house team), stated as answers to the most common objections.

Agencies are too expensive
Compared with what? There are firms to fit all budgets, from freelancers, to boutiques, to the big shops.  And what is the opportunity cost of not getting good PR?

We don’t need PR experts, reporters want authenticity and direct access
Right, and I am sure your top execs could handle legal briefs and accounting too. Should they be mired in the all the work required to get media and social media attention these days? Don’t they have other things to do?

PR is an incredibly rich and complex field, one that is constantly changing (20 years in, and I am still learning every day). Leave it to the pros: hire a person, team or agency that has PR experience in your field.  They will not compete with or compromise your authentic, expert voices – but will make the best use of your time, and bring you and other execs in when needed. The PR team will run interference with media, who often do like to get help with access to sources and info.

We need sales leads not fancy, agency PR
That kind of sounds like Robert Moore, whose article ran in a section of the NY Times that focuses on SMBs. If you want to graduate to become a big business, and maybe even cash out via a successful IPO or acquisition some day, use PR to build long term brand and company value. Hire a team that will get you there.

It will cost less to hire someone and run PR in-house
It may cost less if you look at hourly wages vs. fees. And it is better to hire an experienced person or dedicated internal team than throw the job at top execs or people who are already wearing multiple hats.

That said, with an agency you get a team and benefit from senior level counsel, admin, and the extended network of contacts and relationships. You also get access, through the agency, of info services they offer. They serve as an impartial sounding board and proxy for what works in the media.

Our CEO is a social media rock star, we don’t need outside PR
It is a great that your CEO blogs and/or has thousands of Twitter followers. But what about credibility that can be gained through media and analyst coverage? A good PR team can leverage your established / owned social media channels and use these and other assets to get even more attention / visibility.

Sure, it is possible to find the outliers like Uber, who apparently succeeded without PR, and it is sometimes fun to stir things up and take a contrarian view.

Uber and RJMetrics are two examples, what about all the companies that did call upon PR pros to go big and exit?  Here are some you may have heard of (I know from first-hand experience or media reports that the following companies had agencies and/or hired top PR talent): Fusion-IO, Nest Labs, Waze, SoftLayer, Skype, Airbnb, Twitch, Square, SnapChat, Pure Storage, Pinterest, MongoDB, DropBox, etc. etc. etc.

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  1. Pingback: Taking on the PR Agency Haters - Flack's RevengeFlack's Revenge

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