Gini Dietrich

AirPR: Is this the Beginning of PR as a Commodity?

By: Gini Dietrich | June 26, 2013 | 

AirPR- Is This the Beginning for PR as a Commodity?Last Friday, when Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I sat down to record Inside PR, Joe asked us if we’d heard of AirPR.

Neither of us had so he walked us through what he knew, while we both frantically clicked links to learn more.

AirPR is a startup that “matches” companies with PR professionals.

Billed as a dating-like site for PR, you input when you want to start your campaign (they recommend three to four weeks before you want media coverage), fill out your name and email address, and answer a questionnaire.

It asks you things such as “how often do you want to communicate with your PR pro?” and at which stage your startup is in.

It also provides a list of services for you to prioritize. Those services include media relations, social media relations, business development/relationship building, communications strategy, and events/trade shows/conference management.

PR as a Commodity?

When Joe asked us both if we would participate in a site like this, our resounding answer was no.

I went off on a tangent about how this commoditizes the work that we do, we’re more than just publicists, and it doesn’t require any messaging, positioning, or strategy. Not to mention, three to four weeks before you launch a new product is not enough time.

It also allows clients to rate your services and share that with other AirPR users. Not unlike references you have to provide with new business prospects. The only difference is you aren’t providing the list of clients for prospects to call.

At most, the startup pays for a 60-day contract. Not something you can make payroll on or count on for cash flow.

Benefit to PR Pros

But, in the past week, I’ve softened my view on it a bit. We’re in the process of building the earned media department at Arment Dietrich and this would be a really interesting tool to use to see if it could help us with business development. If it works, it certainly would provide us some of the resources we need to continue growing.

And the RFP process that most companies require agencies go through? It pushes that aside and provides an opportunity for solopreneurs, freelancers, and boutique firms to compete for big dollars without having to pull their entire teams off client work to complete an RFP.

The company also says if the startup isn’t the right fit, they’ll decline them. And the PR pros? If you have low ratings, they’ll excuse you from the process.

So I think we’ll try it. See what happens. It could be a disaster or it could be genius. I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: July 16. AirPR sent a note to let me know they do not have a rating system, as described above. Rebekah Iliff, their director of product, said:

AirPR does not have a “rating” system per se like an Uber, meaning a two-way rating that other clients would be able to see before they chose a PR pro. Nor would this be like a Yelp, where the information would be public.

At the end of the PR campaign, the client is prompted to fill out a feedback form to provide us with information about their PR experience. This is then shared with the PR pro as 1) a learning tool and 2) info that can be used as a testimonial for future prospecting. It also provides us with ample data so that we can continue to create a better experience and platform for everyone. It’s not public, nor can any other clients see it unless the PR pro decides to share it.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Gini,  I’ll be interested to hear what your experience is, what quality of clients you attract via AirPR and how well you are able / allowed to deliver the Arment Dietrich customer experience as an “off the shelf” brand working for inexperienced clients whose expectations are set by AirPR.  My guess is that your gut reaction was spot on, and you wil indeed feel like a commodity. (Should at least provide a lot of good blog fodder.)

    • creativeoncall That’s the way I’m looking at it. Can I get some blog fodder out of it and provide a more educated decision on the product.

  • I just took a look at it after reading your post. My immediate reaction was that this will continue to perpetuate the misconception that ALL PR folks do is publicity. It basically says so (“for best results, your PR campaign should begin 3-4 weeks prior to when you want press coverage). I’ll be curious to see how you feel about it after you try it; my guess is that you will not find the quality of clients you would like to attract (and I see creativeoncall has beaten me to the punch with that comment!). It’s the same reason I am unlikely to use it; the clients I want would never use AirPR (or anything like it) for the kind of work I want to do and be hired for.

    • Shonali Their market is the startup community – and I know those guys often think, “Oh crap! We need to launch tomorrow” and THEN they call. I don’t think three to four weeks is enough time and there isn’t any room for positioning. I think it provides PR pros with really strong relationships to succeed, but it could come back and bite them in the butt with media.
      That said, I’m willing to try it. I’m going to do it as a client and as PR pro. We’ll see.

      • ginidietrich Shonali That was my gut reaction too. I’m VERY curious to see what happens with your experiment Gini and the responses you get as both a client and a provider.

  • The thing is that what this lays out is actually more of a process than what I’d guess 90% of the “PR Firms”(note heavy “”) out there provide when putting together proposals for new clients. I’m guessing I have a similar protocol (and at least philosophy) as you all do when it comes to new campaigns and I’m often looked at like some zombie relic when I lay it out…..
    So, this is just set up to cater to the current trends (or reinforce bad habits). My guess is that it might be useful for firms like AD at first, but then will go the way of Guru and become a slaughter house for the lowest bidder….

    • LauraPetrolino I really do think it’s going to commoditize what we do, but I’m willing to try it out and see if I’m wrong. I’m not wrong often, but you never know. 🙂

      • ginidietrich You know I understand that burden….of always being right…oh so well. It’s exhausting really, yet the lives we were born to lead. Oh well.
        Godspeed Gini!

        • LauraPetrolino I really like your line “slaughter house for the lowest bidder….”  I can see startups using this as a way to get the word and they would have no idea that 3-4 weeks is not enough time to start a campaign.  ginidietrich

        • aimeelwest LauraPetrolino ginidietrich I think this is a serious concern. 
          On the other hand, is customizing a medium & long term strategy necessary for every company, esp if they are in initial growth stage? …..or do they just need to get some momentum and have people say, “oh, ok, cool, I now know what they are doing over there”
          What I think is interesting about AirPR’s model, is that it addresses a gap that isn’t getting much attention. They are an SF based co. like ours, so their model may be more of a test for startups at this point. But my experience is that there is a lot to learn from startups (tip of the hat to Gini’s recent posts about this).

        • JoeCardillo aimeelwest LauraPetrolino ginidietrich Joe, I so immediately needed to respond to this that I stopped my frantic packing of boxes to come and do it…look at the power you have.
          So I’ll say this. Start-up companies are definitely a  niche of mine; pr, branding, communications, overall identity and strategy…etc. I’ve worked with them at all stages (pre-funding, first round, second round) and all types and sizes (boot strap, venture, angel, ‘what we need money’). The one thing that I see almost across the board is a lack either of a brand completely, or lack of full understanding of their brand. Sure alot of the start-up life phases is ‘figuring it out’, but there needs to be a certain amount of consistency and understand internally about who they are, who they want to be and how they want others to see them….
          Anyway, long story short, start-ups need more, what AirPR isn’t providing

        • LauraPetrolino JoeCardillo aimeelwest ginidietrich Oh you are preaching to the choir there. 
          I mean, when’s the last time a startup said, I won’t argue with you I’ll just spend the $ on PR/brand/marketing. 
          As to whether AirPR is the solution, well, I don’t think we are in disagreement there. But I could see it being useful for certain things. For example: I have a friend running a startup who hired a small agency which consists of two people. They only have so much time, something like this could be really helpful to offload work so they can do more strategy. But yeah, if AirPR is your only or main avenue as a startup, you are going to be in trouble.

        • LauraPetrolino JoeCardillo aimeelwest ginidietrich and your point about start-ups needing more, absolutely. 100%. It’s a huge deficit, and opportunity area. I could see comms/digital bootcamps for startups being really useful (something that TS, SW and others are starting to help with).

        • JoeCardillo LauraPetrolino aimeelwest ginidietrich YES YES and YES!

        • LauraPetrolino It IS exhausting, isn’t it?

      • ginidietrich LauraPetrolino *smart aleck comment about Gini being wrong*

        • JoeCardillo ginidietrich as long as it is not about me being wrong, carry on….

    • LauraPetrolino do you think this means PR will become like government work? If you only go with the lowest bidder you never have a chance to innovate and then you die.

      • briantudor LauraPetrolino Good comparison…..although it makes me sick to think of. I don’t think this is what PR will become, simply because of the essence of what it is, a bit of self regulation, but I think more and more people will keep wasting alot of money on crap that’s pitched to them at low prices

      • GregBrooks

        briantudor LauraPetrolino

  • ginidietrich glad to see you softened your stance, I agree about the bady badness of making PR a commodity (and we all know your stand on the difference between PR and Publicity), but if I had to guess, I’d say AirPR will be a way for the solopreneures (love that and stealing it) and smaller agencies to make the next step in their growth.  60 day project work may not make your payroll, but a 60 day project can be the “foot in the door” that some talented smaller agencies need, and it a good way for the motived solopreneure to make a name in the industry.
    Like everyone in the Spin (space) Sucks community I’ll wait to hear your thoughts after testing it out.

    • briantudor ginidietrich Good point Brian – maybe it is ideal as a resource for upcoming companies. I’m willing to bet they are still figuring out the “all things to everyone” vs. fill a specific niche question.

    • briantudor Bady badness? Is this a term you’ve made up??

  • Criteria. This is the most important thing in an endeavor such as this. Are the start ups qualified or vetted? Are the PR professionals qualified or vetted?
    A lot of sites like these have sprung up over the years and few had any real value and even fewer were able to retain what value they had.
    At one time, I got some decent projects from Elance, Guru and the like. Now, they are filled with $2 articles – and people willing to bid that. The problem is they don’t qualify the projects nor the bidders and in an effort to gain more money from commissions, they’ll take pretty much anything.
    AirPR’s challenge will be to keep quality projects and quality PR professionals in the fold, and each at high enough levels to keep plenty of the other engaged. I mean, if there aren’t enough projects, how will you attract the pros, and vice versa.
    My fear? This is going to boil down to “I need someone to write a press release,” and won’t offer meaningful short-term projects.
    I hope I’m wrong.

    • ClayMorgan They *say* they vet both sides really well and will decline you if you don’t fit their qualifications. Of course, it’s all algorithmic, which means it could eventually be gamed. Who knows…it’ll be interesting to see.

      • ginidietrich ClayMorgan Agree w/you Clay that criteria = biggest challenge. 
        I don’t really see this as competition for digital agencies like yours Gini, since what they are offering seems like it’s not about strategy, it’s about publicity / promotion. In that sense, as long as the metrics are clear and reasonable, I think it’s a potentially useful model. 
        Having said that, being in a startup with a marketplace model myself (full disclosure: AirPR is a fellow 500 Startups backed venture) one of the questions I have is, does crowdsourcing model work for less tangible services like consulting / strategy? To Clay’s point, I don’t think I know anyone who would bid that sort of thing on eLance.

        • JoeCardillo ginidietrich ClayMorgan What’s the model for success metrics? In a lot of agencies now, especially with regards startup clients, much of the fee is based on success and performance (agency delivers X, startup pays Y).
          If targets aren’t met because of a rogue agency, who is held accountable – the agency or AirPR?

        • Danny Brown JoeCardillo ginidietrich ClayMorgan That’s the golden Q…. what DO they mean by “Standard metrics based on real data”?

        • JoeCardillo Exactly. Real data on the real target customer/result? Real data on today’s market? Real data on archival success? I can’t help but feel this seems a lightweight solution to a heavyweight issues – kinda like the lazy marketing “solutions” I talk about in today’s post. 
          Ah well, guess we’ll find out when ginidietrich reports back. 🙂 ClayMorgan

        • Danny Brown JoeCardillo ginidietrich ClayMorgan Ah ship. 
          …all this time I’ve been using fake data on fake customers as part of my fake marketing. This marketing and PR thing is so HARD.

  • littlegiantprod

    I’m weary on the 60 day portion.  Depending on the message, launching a PR campaign can take longer.  I can attest to this. On a side note, as a previous publicist, I have learned how different publicity is from Public Relations.  Look forward to read your results.  Always enjoy reading your posts.

    • littlegiantprod Funny seeing you around here lately, Maritza!

      • littlegiantprod

        ginidietrich littlegiantprod I’m making time to read your posts everyday.  It’s worth it.

  • I think this is very interesting. I don’t like the fact that it’s such a tight timeline (you know how I feel about those.) I think this reactive approach to PR could potentially disrupt other business development efforts because you’re scrambling to jump start 60 days of work. However, I’m not opposed to trying it to see what relationships form …

  • On their website, they say that each of their top PR Pros has “WWF’d their way to AirPR – meaning, they fought to get to the top and they are the best.” Is WWF another one of those industry acronyms this outsider doesn’t know? (LOL and I am seriously asking this question —- I looked it up, googled, etc. and can’t figure out what they mean unless they’re drawing some parallel with world wrestling). // Otherwise it’ll be awfully interesting to see how this pans out and I applaud you Gini for keeping an open mind and dipping a toe in the water.

    • biggreenpen Ha, if it is wrestling someone needs to remind them that it’s been WWE and not WWF for at least 10 years

      • JoeCardillo biggreenpen I totally think it’s a wrestling reference. At least that’s what I assumed when reading it!

      • JoeCardillo biggreenpen Maybe they all dressed as pandas and had Greenpeace referee?

        • Danny Brown JoeCardillo biggreenpen I like Danny’s conclusion. Go with that.

        • ginidietrich Danny Brown JoeCardillo biggreenpen dang it guys — I saw this earlier but wasn’t able to respond. I had started thinking it must have been World Wildlife Fund’ed. Now I need to do a little detective work. Panda style.

        • ginidietrich Danny Brown JoeCardillo Big Green Panda reporting in. This was the response from AirPR (and Joe I’ll leave the reminding about that whole WWE thing to you). Also will point out that it’s verbatim; that’s why I’m leaving the typo in: “Worldwide wrestling federation … As I fought their way:)”

  • susancellura

    I second everyone’s comments and look forward to hearing/reading about your experience, but I won’t lie: We work so hard not to be a commodity and I’d hate to see this become a standard in the industry. A red flag for me is the “3-4 weeks” statement. And, as I mentioned in another discussion, I have colleagues who honestly think a press release is the easy answer and they just need to send it to a list of editors. Blerg. 
    Go get’em, Gini!

    • susancellura My thoughts too Susan! I’m weary of this like everyone else so it will be interesting to see how it works for Arment Dietrich.

    • susancellura There are many people in this world who think that way. We had a new business meeting a couple of weeks ago where the prospect said, “Wait. Can’t you just send them a release? We can write it.” Um. No.

  • Interesting concept for your industry; I guess it depends on what your ‘ideal’ customer is and if this is just another way of reaching them. Parts of the insurance industry is certainly treated like a commodity, but we choose not to play in that arena. Are we missing out on ‘easy’ dollars? For us I say no because we would have to totally change the way we do business and run the risk of looking like everyone else. 
    Everyone will buy insurance, not everyone will buy PR. Maybe this platform will expose more people to how effective it can be to help their business. Spending $5 to make $20, right?

    • bdorman264 Maybe…we don’t have a product to sell so it’s harder to commoditize our business. It sucks when people will work for less than what they’re worth. It hurts all of us.

      • GregBrooks

        ginidietrich bdorman264 Agree, but the problem of people and agencies undercharging — whether  it’s because they overpromise on fixed-fee work or because they still charge the same $150/hr bullshit rate they established seven years ago — is rampant in the industry. AirPR won’t help raise rates, but it’s certainly not going to be the thing that drives them through the basement.

  • I commend you for being open minded about this Gini, I can see how it would rub PR pros the wrong way. 
    It sounds to me like AirPR’s model = tool + light / pre-defined strategy. If I were running a startup (the target audience) this would be an attractive option because it fits a niche: need to start PR/marketing momentum but don’t have time or budget to define strategy. Heck, when you are in initial growth period you might not even have strategy to define yet, since there is a lot of testing going on. 
    Having said that, I’m not sure using “PR” was the best decision (other than it’s super catchy). It’s a word with a lot of history.

    • JoeCardillo Kinda like “Archives”!

    • JoeCardillo I can see it if it’s just for media coverage. No positioning. No messaging. No strategy development. Just take your news and go with it. We’ll see!

      • ginidietrich JoeCardillo Exactly. It hinges on what they are saying “success” is. If it’s used like a tool, then I can see it working. Otherwise, it seems like a shortcut to hell.

  • Fascinating – and hilarious seeing you and I just had a conversation about how much Fiverr creeps me out! LOL I can’t wait to see and hear more about this test!

    • belllindsay I thought we had a conversation about how weird you are.

      • ginidietrich That part was understood.

        • belllindsay ginidietrich Being weird is an unspoken understanding in my life too..

        • JoeCardillo belllindsay ginidietrich please don’t have conversations about being weird without including me in them. I’m pretty sure this is listed in statue 4.567 in the Petrolino handbook. Thank you

  • I like long walks on the beach and earned media. I’m a dog person and I have no tolerance for smokers.

    • jonmikelbailey What about smoked sausages?

      • Danny Brown jonmikelbailey Are you hitting on me?

        • Danny Brown jonmikelbailey Sorry, couldn’t resist.

        • jonmikelbailey Your smoked sausage answer will be crucial. 😉

        • Danny Brown jonmikelbailey Crap, now Gini’s going to yell at me.

        • jonmikelbailey Danny Brown ginidietrich I My guess is she’ll be mad because you made the crack first before she had a chance.

        • JoeCardillo jonmikelbailey Danny Brown What Joe said.

    • jonmikelbailey I also love dogs, but I have to tolerate belllindsay

      • ginidietrich jonmikelbailey Wait. What!!??

  • Pingback: Does AirPR commoditize PR (and is that a bad thing)? « Celebrity Blok()

  • I loved all of these posts. A lot of these things we have, but I got some really great ideas. 

    2 Latest blog post: ,