Laura Petrolino

PressFriendly: Your New Virtual PR Firm?

By: Laura Petrolino | March 12, 2014 | 

PressFriendly: Your New Virtual PR Firm?By Laura Petrolino

Go go gadget….news release?

Imagine a brave new world of news release creation and distribution where companies ‘plug and play’ important tidbits into a mad libs-style template, and then shoot out releases to algorithm-generated reporters.

Scary, huh?

This was what I was expecting to find when I ventured over to PressFriendly, a new PR startup that hopes to serve as a ‘virtual PR firm.’

The platform, which targets startups, takes founders and internal company marketing representatives through a process of developing a pitch, creating a release, and reaching out to selected media.

Co-founder and CEO Joel Andren started the company after both working in a startup himself, and talking to more than 200 founders about their experiences with public relations firms.

As he says in a blog post introducing the platform:

Not a single one of them had a good experience with PR. “Overpriced” was the number one complaint we heard. “Difficult” was the number two complaint. Many of the founders who’d raised money had chosen to work with an agency and all of them told us they regretted it.

So, PressFriendly was started as a democratization of sorts. Bring the power of PR to the people (insert rallying fist pump)!

Setting Up PressFriendly

I set myself up a ‘company’ (PetroPower, Inc., of course). And went through the process of creating my release about our recent acquisition of 80 percent of the universe.

The system prompted me with great tips, best practices, questions, and other things to think about as I was going through the process. When I reached the end I was fairly impressed by the quality of prompts along the way. This was not the mad libs style monstrosity I had expected. In the right hands, it could be extremely useful in helping a startup put together an interesting story for a reporter.

In the right hands is the key here.

Why PressFriendly Can’t Replace an Integrated PR Firm

Without a doubt, savvy startup founders should know their company and industry best. As an outside firm coming in, our first job is always to dive deep into that knowledge, and integrate ourselves into the organization in a way that allows us to combine our communications and media relations skills with a seamless knowledge of the organization and landscape. In many ways that’s one of the most crucial parts of what we do.

As an outside observer coming in, we are also able to give a perspective as to where and what the story angles are. This is something very hard for an organization to do, especially one not equipped with trained and skilled communications professionals. Anyone who has ever worked in startup land knows you tend to live, breath, and sleep in the microcosm of your organization. This passion is often necessary to fuel the drive, determination, and hard work needed to launch a successful business, but it doesn’t come without it’s drawbacks. 

A big one being perspective.

One of the most common situations we encounter with startup clients is having to explain to them that many of the facts they believe to be pitch worthy, are not only not front page Wall Street Journal news, but often not really news at all.

Our job is to go in and find the really interesting stories, the ones that are news. The ones that will position their company in the long term as a major player in their industry, as well as a trusted source for other media outlets. Our job is also to look beyond the pitches at the entire communications ecosystem, and put together a strategy to ensure all media channels (paid, earned, owned, shared) are reinforcing the same messages we are pushing forward in our conversations with reporters.

That’s a big difference than just writing and pitching a release.

How PressFriendly Can Help You

When I reached out to Joel and asked what he wanted to tell PR professionals who might be turned off by his platform, he said, “We’re not trying to replace the PR function, we’re automating the labor-intensive tasks of building media lists and creating editorial calendars to free up more time for strategic consulting.”

(PressFriendly provides ‘strategic consulting’ as a paid service in amounts ranging from a simple release review to 10 hours monthly).

He also emphasized they were very against “spray and pray” tactics, and have created a sophisticated algorithm to provide a list of 40-60 reporters for the purpose of encouraging users to build relationships with them over time.

Overall, PressFriendly seems like a great, cost savings alternative to bad PR – you know, the type all of us here  have discussed often, and cringe when we see. But by doing so, it reinforces some of those same bad habits we hope to break.

There is no doubt the setup, tutorials, and support Joel and his team have created can be used successfully by startups looking to launch their media relations campaigns.

The more important question in my mind though, is less what’s gained in the short term and more what’s lost long-range?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • i’ve learned if you can’ afford a real PR Pro and decide to go cheap by finding one willing to work for cheap……better off doing it yourself and now we all can! woooohooo!

  • Here’s the thing: I’m super happy there are organizations out there looking to better the PR process, but media relations isn’t the one to automate. It’s a relationship business, which you can’t do using software. As well, there are plenty of things, as an entrepreneur, I can do. I can do financials. I can do payroll. I can do HR. But I’m not good at any of those things and I don’t enjoy them. So I hire experts to handle that stuff so I can focus on what I do best. Why wouldn’t you expect an entrepreneur who has never done PR to do the same?

  • I agree with Gini. Much as our entire world these days seems “automated” – right down to whether we move or not during the day (fitness bands, etc.), there are some things that just should NOT be automated. What I do find interesting though, are the advancements of technology and thinking that go into creating these types of software. New technology isn’t bad. But sometimes how it’s *used*, is.

  • Will it stop you sending a pitch for hair product for teens to a balding middle-aged guy? Asking for a friend.

  • PressFriendly identified a problem and responded. That’s pretty good business.

    My biggest concern is not PressFriendly’s product or that someone might use it. The real issue, the real concern, this post brings to my mind is summed up in this quote:

    “Not a single one of them had a good experience with PR. “Overpriced” was the number one complaint we heard. “Difficult” was the number two complaint. Many of the founders who’d raised money had chosen to work with an agency and all of them told us they regretted it.”

    Why is this? This is a deeper issue than whether or not PressFriendly can be a useful and viable tool.

    Is PressFriendly trying to treat one infection that stems from a larger disease?

  • Nicely done, Laura. I can see you did way more than pay mere lib service to this important topic.

  • Howie Goldfarb  Yes, I have a feeling “overpriced” to many of these start-ups means “we’re too cheap to pay to do the job right” or “we don’t understand PR well enough to recognize the value it brings to the table” (and thus we’re not willing to pay enough for it).

  • RobBiesenbach  Well said Rob.  “We don’t understand PR well enough to recognize the value it brings to the table” seems to be the issue here. Despite the fact we live in an almost “automated” world with lots and lots of information at just one “click” distance, understanding PR and their importance (crucial, I´d add) is still in the past century, so to speak.
    Going cheap, usually gets quite expensive in the end.

  • belllindsay I agree. I am intrigued by the automation, but I’m not getting the gut feeling that this is going to ‘better’ the PR industry as a whole. It seems on the surface to make it easier to pump out releases and mass distribute them in a shotgun approach. That being said, I haven’t used the service, so I probably shouldn’t comment! LOL

  • RobBiesenbach  HAHAHAHAHA! Touche’ Rob! #madLIPSmakesmoresense!

  • ClayMorgan  Clay, that was my thought exactly. I think PressFriendly is a targeted solution to several problems. Some of them are problems in our industry. Some of them are problems in client expectations, and understand about what we do. Some are a combination of the two.

  • Danny Brown  In theory, a certain sector of balding middle age men might be a great target for a hair product for teens. It supports their denial of such a hair follicle deficiency, and helps them relive their youth.

  • makeaner  I’ve done the same thing in a non-profit setting when you have lots of small (often non-funded) local chapters you need to support. It’s a very different thing because you are starting out from a very targeted point and the local angle is always there.

  • TaraGeissinger belllindsay  I will say that Joel emphasized the fact they turn away people who are just looking to spray out releases (for what it’s worth). But Lindsay, I agree completely. In the right hands this could be a great tool….

  • ginidietrich  Exactly! Part of being a good entrepreneur is looking at your needs and strategy and figuring out where your wheelhouse is and, more importantly, where it is NOT. Having the ability to get beyond your ego and plan accordingly in that way often makes or breaks businesses.

  • RobBiesenbach Howie Goldfarb what Rob said. But Howie, I do agree, taking it in house is often a MUCH more effective and less dangerous solution than trying to make a cheap PR firm work. We’ve all heard horror stories to reinforce that fact.

  • LauraPetrolino TaraGeissingerbelllindsayThat’s awesome that they are aware of that and monitoring it!

  • Jack Newton

    One of the reasons why companies tend to be disappointed with their PR firm is a lack of understanding of how to get the most value out of the relationship. Too often PR firms are expected to act like media vending machines — and that’s often the fault of how many PR firms promote themselves.

    The most valuable things agencies can offer smaller companies, IMHO, are relationships with influencers and years of experience securing earned media on behalf of clients. 

    I can see how PressFriendly will be a helpful service for those who are PR savvy and can take the data and counsel and put it to good use. But if getting earned media is an expectation of its users, there are going to be some disappointed customers in short order.

    Even so, PressFriendly’s innovative approach is intriguing, and I hope they are successful. It will be a boost to companies (and agencies) who want to put the time and energy into using the media lists and editorial calendars the system produces. Those items alone are a great value compared to competing offerings.

  • LauraPetrolino That makes sense – this, then, shall be my new look!

  • RobBiesenbach  LMAO!! I love you.

  • And here is the accompanying St. Patrick’s Day themed video!!!

  • Jack Newton  So well said Jack! I’d like to +1 all of this!

  • Danny Brown LauraPetrolino  HAHAHAHA! This is quite amazing! Not just anyone could pull this off, but you Danny, are just the man to handle a look like this!

  • amritachandra

    I actually think they would be better perceived if they had different messaging. Bear with me…

    I don’t see this so much as an automated PR service as PR-coaching-on-demand for business who are too small to afford a PR agency or even a PR consultant but may have an in-house person who is tasked with getting media coverage. 

    I work with a lot of early stage startups who would probably consider this, not for a long period of time but to give some support to their junior in-house person, the equivalent of sending them to a workshop for training.

    I haven’t tried out the service and am just hearing about it for the first time here, but I can see how it fills a need for the small end of the SMB market and/or startups.

  • amritachandra  You know, that’s a really good point. I think you are right. It is a bit of a ‘workshop’. As I was going through it, I thought to myself, ‘this is a bit like media relations for dummies’, or something you’d work through in a PR lab of a 101 college course.