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Startup PR Myths Busted, via NY Tech Meetup

Startup PR Myths Busted, via NY Tech Meetup

The NY Tech Meetup mail list is a great way to keep up with the local tech community and make connections. Every day founders, developers, service providers, journalists and VCs hold forth on a range of tech and entrepreneurship topics.

It’s a noisy list, and the debate can get heated. So, I was eager when I saw a post about PR but also anxious about the crowd reaction, as I find that there can be a lot of confusion about the topic.

Indeed, several repeated myths that I’ve refuted (e.g. see this post).  In particular one nut job named Andrew W (who seems to be a troll chiefly interested in tearing down PR and promoting search engine marketing) led the charge with cynical statements, and I did my best to try to turn him around, to no avail.

It felt lonely until some others chimed in with eloquent thoughts about the value of PR and how to best put it to work. I thought the thread would make a good post, and got permission to share commentary (except from anonymous ones including aforementioned nut job), which you can find below.

Please Don’t Let me be Misunderstood

It is a good question, why PR is misunderstood in the first place.  The answer could be the subject of another post; but heck, while we’re at it, here are three (From Madmen to PR’s Holy Grail; PR 2009 – The Color of Brand; and Fighting PR’s Public Relations Problem).  Since 2007 this blog has been dedicated to educating about PR.

It does not help that many PR agencies do a poor job (that said, several journalists on the thread commented that the most amateurish efforts come from startup teams themselves).  I’d argue that every profession has its share of hacks.  But a bad experience with PR should not cause people to condemn an entire field.

Top Startup PR Myths Debunked

MYTH 1: Hiring a PR is a colossal waste of money for most startups. 

Courtney: PR and marketing is a must for any new business or service and I am always surprised how many businesses and start-ups forget this vital component… There are literally thousands – sometimes millions – of products and services vying for each consumer’s dollars… The ONLY way to stand out is through PR and Marketing.

Good PR gets you noticed.

Tony Zeoli, Digital Strategy Works: As someone who has worked on startups since 1995, I can unequivocally tell you that public relations is an important component of your overall marketing strategy…With traditional media viewership down and media ingestion fractured, it’s actually more important now than it was before.

Maybe if you’re launching rockets like Tesla does it’s not as critical, but if you have a small app that targets a niche, you’re not reaching many. So, your PR strategy is going to target that niche and get media exposure for your product. But investing in PR is a long term strategy, because publishing schedules vary among all of your outlets…

As an early stage startup, do you need PR? Well, each use case is different. Some may not need PR early on, as they focus on developing the product and ironing out the bugs. Others will want PR pre-launch to announce funding rounds and building their team and board. It all depends on your goals.

But to say that PR can be ignored is a quaint misnomer. It cannot and should not be ignored, it should just be put in place when there is a clear need to tell a story and get exposure. On the other side of PR, you need to make sure that you can onboard whoever finds your product or service and that you can convert those interested users who you want to serve. The issue with PR is when your product is not ready or you don’t have your onboarding straight, then you’re going to lose users who decide that you’re not ready for their investment in the tools you are building. It’s hard to win back users who have a negative first impression. And, it’s hard to win back media producers who will decide your product is not ready for prime time if they give you ink or exposure and your product falls flat.

MYTH 2: If you really want PR just use Cision for press releases. They have packages that will help get the press you want for a fraction of the cost of a PR agency.

Courtney: NOT having a proper PR and Marketing strategy is a recipe for certain failure. NO, you can’t do it with just a Cision subscription – PR is about RELATIONSHIPS with the press.

I know. I am both a Publicist and run a magazine. Blind pitches from companies and DIY services… where I know that the company was either too cheap or green to hire a PR person are immediately disregarded. And this is particularly true of bigger outlets.

MYTH 3: PR is not rocket science. You can spend a week or two learning it and get 70-80% of the results of a PR agency for 10-20% of the cost.

Miles Rose of SiliconAlley.com: PR clients don’t fully understand the PR process. Press, both writers and editors, see everything and sometimes, more often than not, what’s all about the PR pitch doesn’t resonate with those gatekeepers.

Start small, get some placements, get bigger.

Bob Geller: If the founder and team want to take precious time and resources learning PR instead of executing, their choice.  Most companies that launched and went big did so with the help of professional PR.

Courtney: Agreed Bob Geller. It’s the equivalent of saying you are going to perform your own heart surgery.

Alex Yong, journalist: The PR veteran Gini Dietrich (author of Spin Sucks) admits it’s very very hard. But she also says it’s not rocket science, and it literally isn’t, if we’re gonna be literal here… She also (unsurprisingly) advises against DIY PR because there are half a million pitfalls.

Marcus Logan, product manager: The big question is are YOU and your team equipped to identify the culture of your cool and conversation of your brand? Many are not. The culture of cool is a language that we do not all have and that is ok. Cool is a bit overrated to me but it is still a real thing. Many tech CEO’s and analytic thinkers tend to creatively engage culture in a manner opposite of the public who engage their tech. This is why agencies and/or consultants can be helpful.

Miles Rose: Why hire any professional services firm, just go on line and learn it.

PR works when there is a respectful relationship with the media and the PR person or agency. Prior history of success together. Getting your stuff in the NY Times will not happen unless you have the right PR firm.

PR is changing and given the playing field you need it more than ever. And for your knowledge, less press read PR Newswire than ever before.

Bob Geller: I defy anyone who thinks it is easy and “not rocket science” in this noisy ADD world to get attention for startup companies and news – and to do so consistently, in a way that yes, does, in fact, contribute to positive perceptions and brand, as the better PR shops can help with. Until you’ve done it yourself, easy to talk about and less easy to make it actually happen.

DIY PR can work, especially if the founder or team has the network and some familiarity with PR.  Sometimes, it is the only choice if you are bootstrapping or not yet funded.

Mark: Unless you’re in the industry, you have no idea what it’s like doing this day in and day out. I don’t think PR is that difficult to pick up but mastery takes time, dedication, passion, ongoing learning, etc., just like in any other role.

MYTH 4: Very rarely will a PR agency develop your brand

Bob Geller: It is more than releases, events and media relations.  These days a comprehensive and effective strategy spans channels, influencers, content, digital, traditional, analysts, etc.  it’s strategy and branding too.

MYTH 5: There is not a need for a $10K a month agency, which will not do much more for you than a freelancer or small firm.

Bob Geller: Fees can range from $2-3K per month for a freelancer, to higher for a boutique agency (6-10K) to even higher for a large agency.

These are rough numbers, you need to look at scope, experience, and other factors.  Most work on a retainer basis (meaning monthly fee) vs. projects or performance.

Miles Rose: I’ve seen PR from $3,000 a month to in excess of $10,000 and literally millions for crisis management.