Telling Startups to Stay Clear of PR Agencies is Bad Advice

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Entrepreneurs who have had a bad experience or two working with public relations firms really should put the lid on advising other start-ups to forgo the hiring of agencies and to just do the PR themselves instead.   Proclaiming that all PR firms are cheats because they ran into a few who may have been reeks of shock talk and does a disservice to younger, more impressionable entrepreneurs who are working night and day trying to build a business.

My concern is less about sticking up for the PR profession and much more about the fact that it’s just bad advice.

  1. Search for relevant reporter.
  2. Compose an email pitch.
  3. Reach out to reporter.
  4. See Spot run.

OK, I threw step 4 in just to make a point.  But steps 1 -3 represent the actual advice — beyond some basic detail for each step — that a company calling itself Criminally Prolific is now providing to start-ups.  In addition to other marketing services, the company offers Just Reach Out, billed as a do-it-yourself service that helps start ups connect with reporters who may be writing articles they are interested in being part of.  And in a blog post written last April,  “Why Startups Should Forget PR Firms & How You Can Do Your Own PR”, Criminally Prolific founder Dmitry Dragilev makes it clear that his PR service was born out of his frustration working with a couple of apparently really bad PR agencies.

You may remember the anti-PR agency rant by Kevin Leu, a young entrepreneur who published a post just about a year-and-a-half ago in Venture Beat called “5 Reasons You’ll Regret Hiring a PR Firm for Your Startup.” Same deal as Mr. Dragilev.  Had a couple of bad PR agency experiences and decided to slam the industry at-large.  At the time, a number of agencies published counter arguments. We did too with “5 (more) Reasons Why a Company Needs a (good) PR agency“.

Dragilev says “most” of the times agencies 1, Don’t know how to tell a story. 2, Rip you off, 3, Act like they know everything and 4, Take more credit than they deserve.  This type of gross generalization doesn’t do anyone any good, especially the young entrepreneurs he’s addressing.

“Instead of using PR Firms I urge startups to take control of their own PR, this way startups build their own relationships with reporters, the interaction is much more genuine, and startups control the message and information communicated to the reporter,” he says. “In the long run this will be much more valuable to them.”  From there he walks readers through his easy-as-pie steps for engaging with reporters and achieving media relations success. 

I’m not arguing that every start-up needs to hire a PR agency.  But initiating relationships with members of the media is one thing.  Developing them and sustaining them over the long-term is another.  If entrepreneurs are spending time searching Google for the names of journalists writing about their market, then brainstorming unique pitch ideas and then scrambling to find a reporter’s contact information so they can engage — and forget about all of the necessary follow-up and the tracking down of the details most reporters require to develop a story — then who’s building the business?

Steering start ups away from hiring a PR agency and encouraging them to do it themselves is just bad advice.

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2 Responses to “Telling Startups to Stay Clear of PR Agencies is Bad Advice”

  1. Scott Robertson July 31, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Nice post, Jim. And oh so true. As I always say, the correct answer to any marketing question is “it depends.” And spoiler alert, it usually depends on the person asking the question. Mark Cuban recently also said that it’s dumb for startups to hire PR firms. Cuban providing professional communications advice is pretty funny. Because you have to fundamentally care about relationships and reputation for PR to be important to your business. Rock on.

    • Jim Barbagallo August 1, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      Thank you, Scott. Particularly enjoyed your statement: “Because you have to fundamentally care about relationships and reputation for PR to be important to your business.” That says it all.

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