I enjoyed taking part in the FIR Live Panel programme today about the value of professional PR to a tech startup. The conversation stems Jason Calacanis‘s post Fire Your PR Agency. Shel and Neville asked each of the panellists to consider these questions.
- What’s wrong with Jason’s assertions?
Well, actually I think not a lot is wrong, for Jason. If you are a born communicator. If you have a thorough understanding of the publishing industry, the internet, social media and marketing. If you are a natural extrovert. But most people are not like that. I know of one MD of a technology company who would rather put fish hooks in his eyes than go into a networking situation. He’d never speak to a reporter. He couldn’t write a news release if his life depended on it. But he runs a successful, profitable business. It’s not that his personality doesn’t cause problems. It does. But having a PR professional on his side helps. A lot.
- What can a PR professional do for a startup that a CEO can’t or shouldn’t do?
For this one I said focus, perspective, contacts and knowledge. A CEO needs to deal with a thousand issues a day. They just don’t have the bandwidth to do PR. It’s that simple. We bring perspective to the job. Tech CEOs are often software engineers and are the main architect of the product. It’s like asking a new mother to describe how beautiful their baby is. They can go on and on and on about every detail. But they can’t actually articulate the information that people actually care about. When you are just starting something new, you don’t often have all the contacts and relationships you might need. Hiring a PR consultant is a real short cut because they bring all their relationships into the mix. And then there’s knowledge. The CEO is expert in his industry, but a PR professional has a thorough knowledge of publishing, media, internet, presentation practices etc etc.
- What PR activities or outcomes are important to a start up beyond publicity?
I always say that the R in PR is for relationships and the is the best payoff. That’s relationships with all stakeholders…employees, shareholders, regulators, legislators, householders…and of course customers. To me gaining and maintaining a beneficial relationship is the ultimate goal.
- What CAN a startup CEO do to promote his company?
I’d say, generally anything he is confident in and has time to do. If he can be the public face of the company, the main personality behind it, excellent! But maybe her role is to hire the right skills to get the job done.
- What are the considerations for selecting a PR agency for a start up? What should they look for in an agency?
For me it’s three things. Flexibility, industry knowledge and people. You need your agency to be there when you need them, to leave you alone when you have to focus on something else. And at startup if they can work with you about fees and payment and are willing to take a risk, you’ll have a loyal partner. The more industry experience the better, the quicker the ramp up, the better the results. And, you can’t overestimate the importance of the people. Could your PR advisor be a personal friend. Do you like them. Do they work the way you like to work. People and personality are crucial.
- How should a startup measure the ROI of its PR activities?
Without trying to sound vague, this is entirely dependant upon what you set out to achieve. We recently launch a new hospice facility and got 8,000 visitors through the door during the open week. Client was delighted. We launched an egaming site and made it to number four on Google in a couple of days. Client was delighted. You get the idea.