How PR Can Help Some Startups: Perspective of one Industry Analyst

There’s been a lot of trash talk about the PR industry (again), this time a small group of successful CEOs (and VP bloggers) claim they don’t need public relations efforts. When you look closely, you realize, this is true, as they’ve primarily made it part of their ongoing effort as media experts –they’re using their own tools to reach out to folks. On the other hand, most companies don’t have CEOs that can afford to constantly be part of ‘the conversation’ or have time to be interacting with influencers all the time.

I’m a faithful listener of For Immediate Release Podcast Series with Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, and they’ve been discussing this on the last few episodes.

Having observed this for a few years, it’s become very clear to me that the PR industry suffers the cobblers’ children syndrome. PR, an industry designed to help companies and industries have an improved reputation is inflicted with a bad reputation of their own. Why doesn’t the PR industry self promote their own value? Physcian, heal thyself! (I added this paragraph after I posted)

As an industry analyst, here’s where I’ve noticed a difference between companies with PR and those who don’t:

Ability to hire PR services is sometimes an indicator of maturity
I’m mainly looking for briefings from companies that are ready for prime time. They are established, have a solid product, and are ready for adoption by Fortune 5000 enterprise companies. These companies don’t have time to deal with a startup that may not last the test of time, or have weak infrastructure. As a result, often established companies may have significant funding, or a revenue stream and thereby are able to afford a few thousand dollars a month for PR services. Having PR services is one indicator that a startup is beyond the garage (but not always)

Outsource listening, but don’t replace –enhance
Secondly, some PR folks at companies have an actual job to follow all the tweets and blogs posts of analysts (wow what a job, yikes), but they don’t just have to watch analysts but also, media, press, bloggers as part of their full time job. Since a lot of what we do (myself included) is likely noise to any specific person, the role of PRs job to listen makes them a valuable filter, who can bubble up key findings to the client. The only caveat being is that startups should of course monitoring and part of the conversation, you can’t completely outsource this.

Sometimes, they have successful pitches
Setting up meetings and the pitch. PR folks are professionals at pitches (granted, many of them are sub-standard) and going to be pitching to me, I’ve found that many who get me to respond know my coverage area (social networks, community platforms, applications, widgets) also pay attention to my schedule and know when to reach to me. Some savvy PR folks know that they can automatically submit to my weekly digest of social networking events –making their clients happy

Benefit from refined communications
Also, I’ve found that during briefings, companies that have PR services often do a better job at communicating to me. How is it different? The entrepreneur without professional communications help may often yammer about how great their technology is, or spend time sharing his passions. The entrepreneur who has professional communications help often focuses on business solutions, able to talk at the market level, and puts the value statement right up front. They’re trained, rehearsed, and more refined in presentations.

Truly successful PR pros become –then lead– the community they represent
Some PR folks have become their own hubs. What’s this mean? They should up to so many tech events, that they’ve developed real relationships with influencers regardless of who their client list is. There’s a handful in silicon valley you can identify at any event or party, they literally are “hubs” and people are constantly surrounding them. These folks throw their own parties (regardless of who their client set is) introduce folks (regardless of who their clients are) and are active members of the community, as a result, they are trusted, connected, and more effective with their relationships. I’m much more likely to respond to them as they are here for the long term, and I build a real relationship with them over the years.

This is just my perspective, as one industry analyst, so you’ll have to do your own research on how to spend your marketing dollars. It is very important to note: no company, regardless of how busy they are, should completely outsource listening and talking to the market, they way I see this is PR is a competitive edge over those that don’t, or if your communication skills need improvement.

  • Jeremiah, thanks for doing this– the Industry analyst perspective was one of the missing pieces in this whole series of posts.

    As a PR agency guy, of course I am pleased you are able to point out the advantages- to you- of a company having professional PR representation, while not ignoring the potential downsides (some PR people suck).

    I think that taking these posts as a whole will draw a better picture of what a company ought to do for their PR, than relying on one post. Not everyone is Jason Calacanis, not every blogger is Robert Scoble- and as you point out, not every analyst is Jeremiah Owyang, either. There are dozens of perspectives, and the more we have out there the more objective we can be.

  • Thank you, Jeremiah. I’ve grown weary of the “PR people suck” memes that crop up every 6 weeks or so. It’s nice to see an outside influencer step up with some rational counter-points.

    I do empathize with the Arringtons of the world, who no doubt do see far too many misdirected, poorly-crafted pitches – but don’t we all tend to remember bad experiences and discount the good ones?

    To paint the entire industry with a broad brush of disdain is too simplistic, and, misses out on many of the relevant points you make here.

    Again, thanks.

  • Great post Jeremiah, I’ll join in saying thank you. As a PR director, I notice our industry gets a ton of flack from the blogosphere.

    Glad to see some smart people showing the good side of things.

    Cheers,
    Adam

  • Joe

    Jeremiah,

    After a lot of emotional, non-fact based rants, it’s great to hear your rational perspective on this.

    Thanks!

    Joe

  • Great post Jeremiah. When I read your first Tweet, I was gearing up for yet another “PR people suck” piece, but you did a great job, as Doug pointed out, identifying the advantages we PR folks can bring to not only the start-ups, but the established players. Thanks for that.

    It’s just unfortunate that there are some PR people out there that are giving us good guys (and gals) a bad rap and I agree, we should (we, meaning the PR industry) self-promote our own value and many of us are doing that through various outlets (see: http://tinyurl.com/6qeqjj) and are dedicated to getting out there and building valuable relationships even when a client is not involved (and investing in our own hubs:)

  • it is very simple … if you are into manipulation, you suck …. if you are into service, you add something to human life.

    if you think about giving, you’re ok. if you think about gettin, you suck.

    it all depends on YOUR intention. completely simple.

    (in a hyper-connected world, you can no longer fool others. you can still fool yourself, though.)

  • Thank you, Jeremiah, for this discussion. I have followed your commentary for some time now and typically find myself in complete agreement with your perspective. As an Accredited Public Relations practitioner, former president of the local PRSA chapter and current president of the local IABC chapter, I often speak out in defense the profession. Both professional organizations provide codes of ethics that guide any serious PR person and serve as a resource for both networking and professional development. If more self-proclaimed public relations practitioners would invest in their profession, continually learning, improving knowledge, skills and abilities, I think the industry as a whole would do a better job of promoting itself and we’d see less poor examples and more good examples of the power of PR – because those of us who see that power are wise (whether we hire someone to do the work or are fortunate enough to be able to do it ourselves).

  • Jeremiah,

    I too cringed when I first saw this Tweet, but was thrilled when I read it. It is refreshing to see an influencer like yourself calmly explaining the value that PR can bring to a company.

    Believe me though, I totally understand the frustration that the PR industry has caused – “we” have brought this on ourselves by not changing with the times, by not respecting analysts’ and journalists’ time and preferences, and by doing substandard work. But occasionally, its nice to hear someone like yourself, acknowledging that there are those who are doing their best to be that “hub” and not be a part of the problem.

    I note those commenting early on this post as some of the best in elevating our industry and humanizing it. I hope that I, along with those in my company, can be counted among them.

    Thanks again, this really made my day.

    –Lisa

  • Pete

    I think part of the problem is that PR folks speak in the ‘defense’ of the profession.

    The PR industry has failed to demonstrate thought leadership for their own offerings.

    Let’s see case studies, numbers, increase in influence, and moving the needle.

    The ailing physician needs to heal themselves, but start by showing how you’re healthy. In a proactive –rather than reactive manner.

    The PR industry is VERY lucky to have Shel Holtz and Neville around, they influenced me through rational discussion on the hours of FIR I’ve consumed.

    I didn’t realize the value of PR till I got into this role as an analyst.

  • Jeremiah – the problem with the PR industry doing some PR for itself is that the practitioners are blessed with a ton of client work to do!

    The failing of the industry to promote its good works, imho, is largely a failing of its largest special-interest organizations (e.g., PRSA, IABC and others). Then again, most PR pros that I know are working so hard for clients that they’d ignore a clarion call for more case studies.

    Lastly, I’d argue that there are more than a handful of great PR bloggers who have truly tried to goose along both the PR industry and the larger Social Media sphere. Such good-natured, smart PR bloggers are trying to lead, but their good efforts are too often countered by the bone-headed moves of some less knowledgeable or less caring peers.

    But this is becoming “inside baseball” stuff. I’ll shut up and just thank you again for such a reasoned post.

  • Jeremiah,

    We of course speak in defense of the industry – but we also have lots of case studies, examples of movements of the needle, etc… You can see them in our industry awards where we showcase how PR has affected the bottom line for our clients, how PR has helped to do many of the things you mention in your post. We’ve won several awards that highlight how PR has positively affected our clients. Also, every good PR firm has these types of case studies on their sites.

    In fact, we just had a client recently show us a HUGE customer win which could be directly attributed to our efforts in PR. The case studies are out there, but I’m not sure who else besides those in PR are reading them. You are right though, perhaps we need to be more vocal about these – the carpenter’s kids have never been in more need of their own shoes.

    –Lisa

  • Todd, PPRlisa

    No, this is important to know. These awards you speak of are within the PR industry, and are not being told elsewhere –again part PRs’ problem with self-PR.

    Time to put the plaque on the OUTSIDE of the building, not just the inside.

  • Jeremiah,

    Thank you for this. Im sure it’s going to be required reading for a lot of start-ups.

  • One influential, rational endorsement is worth a hundred short-sighted rants. Much appreciated, Jeremiah.

  • Once again, great insights and interpretation. As one who is just (yikes) embracing the power of social media, I much appreciated this rationale post and replies about the responsibilities and power of PR in this important strategy. Thanks, Jeremiah.

  • Wonderful post… I’ve seen many a startup fail because they thought they could do all their own PR and DID speak emotionally and far too passionately about the product. It was tragic.

  • And darn it Jeremiah – I was typing too fast – I meant cobbler, not carpenter!! can you change it 🙂 Or post this so I dont look totally uninformed – hee.

    –lisa

  • Jeremiah, lots to discuss, thank you. I’m always amazed that this topic continues to generate such heat. It stands to reason that if the media industry is in the midst of massive change, the PR/marketing industry is thrashing around at the end of that particular evolutionary whip. Kind of Darwinian when you think about it: and we need to adapt or die.

    I think one really interesting point is about setting the balance between what parts of the conversation to outsource/facilitate and what companies themselves must own and integrate into their DNA. I see a lot of companies struggle with this as they try to gauge the ROI of social media. If it’s not a marketing channel, how do you measure it? If PR people are not “pitching bloggers,” what ARE they doing? And if we’re out at conferences talking to bloggers and media, where’s the end game?

    It’s a real challenge, because the open-endedness is key in social media, but social media is still measured by-and-large in traditional media and business terms.

    No one would argue that there is an art to simply trying to understand how to engage with this new, highly segmented audience, but the problem is that degree of listening, research and person-by-person specificity doesn’t actually scale very well. We have to look at the basic value of what we do, which you outline very clearly, and adapt that to a new, uneven landscape. By hand.

    IMO, that’s a big part of what’s driving all of this silly drama–multiple, conflicting agendas, lots of change, lots of fear, some old and new dogs, some old and new tricks.

  • Great post here, Jeremiah. I’ve had an up-close look at the efforts of our PR team since joining LiveWorld back in July.

    Our PR colleagues are doing several things well in helping our marketing team in our outreach and briefings with journalists, bloggers, and, yes, industry analysts: 1) They’re giving us detailed backgrounds on the analysts/journos/bloggers ahead of our phone calls with them 2) They’re encouraging us to stick with the most important talking points and not meander in our briefings 3) They’re helping us to frame the real story for the people we’re reaching out to.

    In short, our PR team helps me do my job better. I’m very grateful.

  • Bryan I know the feeling, my PR team (Tracy) has set me up for success for those I’m trying to influence too. I’m also grateful.

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  • Sales reps have a basis salary and they have to close sales before getting seriously paid. This is used in almost any industry.

    If PR would be paid a basic fee and a bonus for the number of qualified leads they generate, it would be a fair deal. Of course one needs to prove the origin of the leads, which makes it more complicated.

    What PR agency works on a “No cure – No pay” basis?
    Do you dare as a PR agency to work on a “No cure – No pay” basis?

  • Different people come with different skills.

    CEOs with good PR skills or background indeed do not need to hire PR firms such as those who started this discussion.

    People like me who are engineers by training do not need to hire product management.

    My friends who are hands on engineers do not need to hire outsourcing firms or people to build their systems.

    There is always a way to just “get by”. You have to choose what you are good at or what is the best use of your time and then outsource or delegate the rest.

    I interpret what has been said by those who said you don’t need to hire PR as “If you don’t have the money, you can learn a few tricks from us and do something that can get you some results”. For that I thank them. Other than that, the summary dismissal of PR firms is unnecessary.

    Some of us do NEED help!

    C.H. Low, CEO, Orbius

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  • The fact that you are talking, specifically about how to HELP START-UPs is a healthy sign.

    I have encountered a fairly spectacular range of interpretations among PRs as to just they are supposed to do. Personally, I think that everything a PR does for a company should clearly further the objectives of the company. If PRs could focus on that concept — and many do — it would benefit both them and their clients.

    IN THE COMMENTS ABOVE, “Gregorylent” said that if you’re into manipulation you suck but if you’re into service you add something. Well said. I think this is getting down to the essence of it all.

    Yes, PR does need to promote itself to the outside world. But is also fairly important for the industry to focus on serving the needs of its clients. By that I mean, helping the company achieve its own objectives.

    REG CROWDER
    Freelance Financial and Investment Writer
    London, England and Brittany, France
    http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TgTQ/REG-CROWDER

  • Great post but I think the missing connection between PR “people” and their clients is knowing the industry.

    When my company started looking at if this was an investment worth making, we realized that we offer such a niche service (CPA Review) that hiring on PR folks to do the footwork would simply dilute our business plan and we were better off doing it ourselves.

    But you’re absolutely right – if there is a misconception in the industry, who better to alter that than PR people themselves?

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  • Web PR is priceless! I agree that there is enough weight behind some CEO’s but you cannot deny the advantage of PR activities in today’s world. PR is not limited to fan following. It’s about being creative and making the buzz. There’s always some advantage for everyone, if you’re not uptight enough to see it.

  • Joe

    Jeremiah,

    After a lot of emotional, non-fact based rants, it's great to hear your rational perspective on this.

    Thanks!

    Joe

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