Gini Dietrich

PR is More than Media Relations

By: Gini Dietrich | August 11, 2014 | 

PESO Model

By Gini Dietrich

I’m fairly certain Sean McGinnis has an alert set up for “Things that are going to make Gini go ballistic” because he sends me articles all the time and then sits back and watches.

Such is the case with “5 Most Common Startup Marketing Failures.”

He said, “Pay close attention to the first mistake.”

The first mistake a startup could make, of course, is to hire a PR team early on.

Heaven forbid you focus on where your strengths lie and hire professionals where you are weak. I most certainly can keep our books up-to-date, but I really, really dislike it so we have Kasia Kaufman, accountant extraordinaire, to keep our financials in order and meet the monthly demands of the bank.

But that’s not what bothers me. If you don’t want to hire a professional or team to do work where you might not have the skill set, that’s fine. It’s fairly easy to some some DIY media relations in today’s digital age.

PR is More than Media Relations

What bothers me about it is PR is not just media relations.

You don’t need to have a PR team when your business is just starting. What you need then is a solid customer base that has formed a brand loyalty, and this is done best organically by interacting with your customers through social media accounts and being open about your business. People love to read blogs and follow Twitter accounts, so give the people what they want! You can spend the money on the PR team on something that will be a bit more useful.

Um, isn’t PR social media and content marketing?

How, pray tell, will you start your business, find your customers, sell your product or service, innovate, develop new products or services, make tweaks, and be ready to go to market if you are also writing blog posts and tweeting without any help?

To be fair, when I said this to Sean, he said, “Social and blogging certainly can be PR, but there are many companies that do not treat them that way.”

Even if they’re not treated as PR, you still have to do them…and if you don’t hire someone to help you, you have to do them yourself.

As much time as I spend on the road with business owners as I do, I know most do not have the time—and do not have the passion or skill—to do social media and blogging on their own.

Integration of PESO

No matter where they “belong,” we believe in the PESO model: Paid, earned, shared, and owned media.

PR is an integration of those four media types. You’ll see that media relations—earned media—is only a quarter of the larger strategy.

You’ll also note that shared media—or social media—is also only a quarter of the larger strategy. And so is blogging, or owned media.

The four have to work together for an organization to not only create its message, but to distribute it and get third-party endorsement of it.

It takes an experienced professional to do that.

But, by all means, startups. Don’t make a mistake and hire a PR professional or team when you begin to market your company.

You can definitely grow if no one knows anything about you (where is that sarcasm font??).

As Mr. D. said while I was writing this blog post, “Saying PR is just media relations is akin to saying your brand is about the color in your logo.” Amen, HB. Amen.

Photo credit: This is the image we use to show prospects and clients how we can help them and what types of work they can expect. Matt Camp created it for us.

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.

  • I think Mr. D’s quote says it all.

  • “Heaven forbid you focus on where your strengths lie and hire professionals where you are weak.”

    There is a “do it all” mentality that I think is really harmful to start ups of all sizes when the simple fact is we’re not all experts at accounting, marketing, merchandising, etc. etc. etc.

  • biggreenpen I thought that was quite apropos.

  • ClayMorgan I understand it, particularly if you’re bootstrapping your business and you just can’t afford to hire anyone to help. BUT that’s different than people out there giving startups advice on not hiring professionals because you can do it yourself in the early days….not because you can’t afford it. That’s baloney.

  • Watching you go ballistic is one of the favorite things…

    In all seriousness, I think the more interesting discussion is which department or discipline should handle those areas you mention. 

    My sense is the “right answer” varies by business. Some will treat social media primarily as a customer service channel, while other will focus on the social engagement as a pre-selling activity, while still others will see it as a marketing function. 

    Furthermore, content marketing is, in some circles, just a fancy new word for either “marketing” or “seo”, depending on who’s talking.

  • Sean McGinnis In this case: “People love to read blogs and follow Twitter accounts, so give the people what they want!” it really is communications or marketing. It’s not sales or customer service. That’s what irritates me. The majority of people think PR is just media relations and here is this expert saying you shouldn’t hire any PR help and then describes a PR function.

  • What startups need is clear messaging. Not just logo, tagline and website, but what to say in an interview, tone of voice and core messages for your emails (chatty or formal, motivating or informative) phone conversations and social media interactions and how to present.

    PR professionals are good at that stuff.
    Because unlike companies, which tend to be product focused, PR people are focused on connecting with and motivating the human recipient of the communications they mastermind.

    So I’m with you Gini.

    But what’s often missing is the business model. Approach a PR company as a startup and they won’t talk about what I’ve just mentioned. They’ll want to charge too much money. Many will be so used to stuffy corporate communications that they’ll want to churn out more of it too, rather than the much harder work of distilling the company down to its core messages.

    There’s a niche here. Potentially a very large one. But the way in is probably not through the startups themselves but through VCs and investment companies who know the value of presentation.

    PS: If you know someone who can do that well in the UK, I’m interested in working with them at Thames Valley Grow where we have lots of startups in need of just that service.

  • ginidietrich Sean McGinnis It’s just a total disconnect and that quote right there perfectly illustrates the popular and disillusioned line of thinking that says you can just put up a blog, a few social accounts and …ta da…! This is where startups, and all businesses for that matter, get in to a lot of trouble. There is no strategy, no consistency, the brand gets diluted, and the communications is haphazard at best. 

    So then marketing just starts happening for marketing sake, vs. as specifically designed strategy to further business goals.

  • Tech startups are perhaps the worst offenders, dismissing all marketing and PR activity out of hand as simple commodities. They often believe (in a Pollyanna sort of way) in the meritocracy of ideas without putting a dime into any formalized communications or marketing strategy.

  • Kirk Hazlett

    Well said, Gini. How many startups…and “older” brethren…have fallen by the wayside because no one acknowledged the value that public relations can bring to the organization? As my uncle Sam said so sagely more than a half-century ago when my Dad commented on the fact that Uncle Sam’s service station wasn’t teeming with customers: “Yep, not bothered by too much business.”

    This was “cute” in the 1950s. Not so much any more when resources are there to help you promote and grow your business. And public relations can play a major role in that growth and sustainability.

  • TaraFriedlundGeissinger

    ginidietrich biggreenpen That quote was everything. Perfection.

  • TaraFriedlundGeissinger

    ginidietrich ClayMorgan I think that’s the problem. Launching a business is expensive and scary. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s easier (and cheaper) to do most things on your own. Social media, blogging and communications in general are deceptive. They appear to be simple, straightforward tasks, but the reality is that there is strategy and lots of time involved.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Gini: what makes you go ballistic, usually makes me go ballistic. 

    Disclaimer: I have worked in/with startups for years.

    I think this guy must have gone to the Mark Cuban School of PR. Don’t get me started on the very questionable advice of many so-called “experts”, “influencers” I have read lately. This is definitely one of them. I don’t get “Hiring A PR Team Early On”. What does “early on” mean? I hired a PR team “early on” in two startups. Got tremendous results. 

    What bugs me about this article is that many start-up founders/leaders are reading these articles for help and when you throw things out there like this, these articles hurt rather than help. (Some of the articles this person links to aren’t much better). Also, I know that these aren’t the most common startup marketing failures in Silicon Valley. A lot of startup founders/teams are looking for startup help and they just aren’t getting it. 

    Startups should focus on understanding their market and helping buyers. Didn’t see that in the article.

  • TaraFriedlundGeissinger

    PeterJ42 Great thinking! I love the idea of partnering with VCs and offering some sort of streamlined start-up communications plan that could be modified for various industries. I think it would be a win-win because working directly with a VC would mean a continual stream of new business for the PR firm — and being that most of the new clients would be start-ups, there would naturally be some overlap of services needed.

  • Preach it Gini! 
    One thing I would add is that having these different components of the PESO model (paid, social, blogging, media relations, etc.) doesn’t mean that you have a strategy – it just means you have the pieces of the puzzle. If you don’t know how the hell they fit together, then you are going to fail at getting anything useful out of them.

    So even if the bandwidth argument doesn’t apply. even if an entrepreneur is an excellent writer and good at creating their own content, a startup will still be in a better place if they have a clear communications strategy put together.

  • Playing Devil to your Advocate:
    as SusynEliseDuris points out, this is a founder speaking… look where he actually cites and does a bad job of paraphrasing:”1. Hiring a PR firm too early
    PR is sexy. It’s exciting to see your name in print, to have others
    talking about you, to have articles framed on the wall and shared with
    investors. And PR can be an important component of early marketing
    strategy for some startups. But hiring a full PR firm might not be the
    right answer, at least not yet.
    Your initial PR efforts should be organic. They should stem from
    self-published channels and social networks, spread via employees,
    investors and customers directly. Executing on this opportunity
    requires a smart strategy and well-understood messages & objectives,
    and may very well require some outside help to coordinate. But
    early-stage startups can typically achieve these objectives and save
    money in the process by working with an independent socially-adept PR
    consultant who can help coordinate the internal and organic efforts that
    will drive early PR momentum.”
    ok so that is just awful… but in his dope defense, he does end his “precis?” with:
    “Marketing is usually done in teams for a reason. It is a big task that
    requires a multifaceted view and lots of time dedicated to it. You have
    other areas of your business to worry about, and marketing is one area
    where you cannot afford to fall behind. Many business owners solve this
    by or a few marketing focused employees to take care of their needs.”
    Gert, did you get past the first paragraph? Where is the anger REALLY coming from?

  • stevesonn

    If startups did hire PR professionals, those professionals could advise the startups to dismiss the author’s third point to be on every new social site just because it’s the latest. I didn’t think there was anyone out there who still thought that was a smart idea… The PR person could also explain to the startup that PR is part of the marketing mix, so the author’s fourth and fifth points seem contradictory.

    Kind of a scary article. The author is entitled to his opinion, but it would have been better for him to help frame how to think about these areas instead of just saying “do this” or “don’t do this.”

  • BillSmith3

    When I read this on my iPhone this morning I almost shouted out “Amen sister!” This rant speaks on two levels, one agencies who almost deliberately leave money on the table by not offering services beyond events and media relations because they are scared of the paid, owned and shared part of the equation. Those agencies holding onto a publicity and event only business model are going to be endangered species if they are not careful. 

    In the second part of this rant, in terms of the tech start up culture and their disdain for marketing, PR and to some extent even sales, here’s an article stemming from the whole Tinder lawsuit mess that got my attention a month ago:

    There’s a quote in it that grabbed me in the lede and really made me think what our role truly is: 

    A CEO once told me there are only two types of people truly crucial in any company. Those two are:
    1) “Someone who makes something”, and
    2) “Someone who sells it.”
    If you’re not doing one of those two tasks in your corporation? You are, he shrugged, just moving paperclips around for the people who do. (If we’re talking about the service sector, we can substitute “providing a service” for “making something”.)
    As this CEO saw it, those are only two truly essential tasks in a firm. Without someone making something, there’s nothing to sell. Without someone to sell it, the thing made rarely sells itself.

    Ladies and gentlemen, if you are in marketing, PR and all that fun digital owned, shared and paid spectrum, we’re on the selling side of the equation and not holding paper clips.

  • That paragraph did has me laughing….I suggest you run from Inc as fast as you can Gini! They don’t deserve you for printing that paragraph.

    Lie 1: this is done best organically by interacting with your customers through social media accounts.
    Fact: Impossible to do in a short time. Focus on selling your product to real people and have them like it. F social media

    Lie 2:  People love to read blogs and follow Twitter accounts, so give the people what they want!
    Fact: No they don’t.
    AmyVernon taught me how to Face Palm properly

    Though to be fair if the business sells a product through retail brick and mortar hiring a direct sales rep to get your stuff in those stores should be the first priority (or do it yourself like Life is Good people did out the back of their van).

    The funniest thing is I talk with small businesses in Vermont all the time many hire a social media ‘expert’ that isn’t, or they do it themselves but have no idea the time investment to do it well….and they do great business in spite of that with great products or services or experiences…and paid advertising.

  • stevesonn ginidietrich to be honest I agree with the author that in the early stage unless you have Angel or VC funding a PR person/agency probably isn’t affordable. I wrote 3 blog posts about this where my client at the time had only $300 a month for 3 months to start and found PR Pros willing to take the discount in lieu of later getting a higher rate. None of the three met the commitments they made and in the end my client spent $2700 over a year and got nothing in return.

    It was his reasoning and his other recommendations that blew my mind. trust me every brand if they could afford a marketer or PR pro or paid advertising would do it. Just if you are boot strapping chances of having the extra cash flow is slim.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Todd Lyden thanks for the shout-out, Todd!

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Howie Goldfarb stevesonn ginidietrich For startups, it depends. It depends on your strategy and what outcomes you want. Yes, if you have received a bunch of VC or other funding, you might want to invest in PR. And, you might decide early on you want to invest in PR. That’s why a strategic plan at the outset is vital. But to just throw out “don’t do PR early on”, is crap. If someone wants to say something, say why it’s wrong, implications if you do this, and then what is right, why’s and how’s. Startups are craving for the content to help them. I wish writers would really keep the audience in mind when writing. (@ginidietrich, seems to me we were just discussing this about the millennial who was complaining in PR Daily it was time for PR disruption?).

  • SusynEliseDuriss stevesonn ginidietrich my guess is he lost some business to a great PR Pro and is still bitter.

    also start ups aren’t homogenous. Each has different needs separate from their cash flow. I hate when posts throw everyone in the same basket.

  • Howie Goldfarb I am honored to have been the person to teach you to facepalm properly, Howie. 
    Also, that paragraph is worth a DOUBLE facepalm, at least. 🙂

  • stevesonn

    Howie Goldfarb SusynEliseDuris stevesonn ginidietrich Totally agree that budget may make it a mute point. If and when to hire outside help with PR/marketing is a decision each startup needs to make. The author just seemed to make it sound PR help is a waste of money, at least early on. Of course the opposite is true. Good PR (marketing) helps accelerate growth, and not everyone can do it well.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Howie Goldfarb stevesonn ginidietrich

    Absolutely agree that each startup is different. They have their own paths to travel. Very irresponsible writing to, as you say, “throw everyone in the same basket”.  Based on the tone of his article, in general, sounds like some sour grapes somewhere.

  • Todd Lyden I did get past the first paragraph. I read the entire article three times. What I can’t get past – and the biggest issue this industry faces – is people (including some of my peers) think PR is just media relations. THAT is what this blog post is about, not about whether the guy enforces marketing later. He says not to do PR out of one side of his mouth and organizations should blog and use social media out of the other. The thing is, he’s advocating PR. He just doesn’t know it.

  • SusynEliseDuris The Mark Cuban school of PR drives me batty. Sure, MARK CUBAN doesn’t need PR help because he’s MARK CUBAN. Journalists want to talk to him about what color his poop is and about his latest venture. Most entrepreneurs don’t have a name for themselves and they haven’t yet figured out what’s different about them or their product (to PeterJ42’s point about messaging). The CEO of MuckRack wrote a post on LinkedIn about how to measure your PR efforts. In it, he describes how involved Steve Jobs was in the communications effort, but that he had a team who helped guide him. That’s what is required for success today.

  • PeterJ42 Nor will they talk about the business, how it sells, the buying process, and how their efforts affect results.

    You have me thinking about a business model. It could very well be global…doesn’t need to be in any certain part of the world.

  • jasonkonopinski I truly believe that people think communications is just about talking. I was tossed a question during an interview last week. It was, “But we all communicate and if I can say “I’m sorry” and mean it, doesn’t that mean I can do your job?” I was kind.

  • Kirk Hazlett Part of it is our fault. Inside the industry, we can’t figure who we are, what we do, or how to measure our efforts. If our peers think PR is media relations, how can we expect clients to think differently?

  • JasKeller Exactly – just having the components does not a strategy make.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    ginidietrich PeterJ42

    I was more referring to what Mark Cuban said about PR for startups which pissed a lot of people off. He provokes. That’s his style.

    Startups really need to look at the market, what’s missing and how their solution meets a need. Yes, they have to communicate an appropriate message that differentiates them from the rest (see “Startups should focus on understanding their market and helping buyers.”), but starts long before the messaging. Look at Apple, they wanted to develop a computer that they could use. They saw an unmet need. 

    As for Steve Jobs, he got involved in Marketing because Regis McKenna told him to. Later, he had a team. 

    My point with my comments about the article is that on the PR thing, we shouldn’t go around saying PR shouldn’t be used early on. It is different for different folks. Let’s be responsible in the writing. There are startup founders of tomorrow listening in. They are craving for the right advice.

  • BillSmith3 I once got kicked out of a LinkedIn group because I advocate PR as sales. The moderator of the group told me I’m a snake oil salesman and kindly removed my invitation to the group.

  • AmyVernon Howie Goldfarb Can I see this face palm?

  • Howie Goldfarb I totally agree if you do not have the funding, hiring a PR firm is very dumb. Just like I couldn’t afford an accountant early on, I don’t advocate hiring any external help until you have the cash flow to support it. But you can bet the second I was able to afford help with our books, I hired for it. That said, the thing that really bothers me about this article is he says you shouldn’t hire PR help and then says you should blog and tweet. Then he says marketing is a team effort, but doesn’t recognize PR is part of the marketing mix. It makes my head hurt.

  • JoshuaJLight

    It’s so difficult to say what a startup should or should not invest in.  Each startup is completely different, and are often at different phases of development.  

    The environment is completely uncertain, and resources are usually tight.  Adding a new member to the team, or working with another firm can completely change the dynamic/culture of your startup.

    It’s also unclear what early on means in this case?  Pre-sales? Pre-funding?  Funding?

    Experts also advocate different approaches when it comes to PR.  For example…Mark Cuban says don’t invest in PR firms.  My brother’s company took money from Cuban, and he has an extremely advanced business development team.  He’s seen a lot of startups fail, and succeed. 

    Obviously PR is extremely important (like you indicated).  

    Whether or not your startup decides to go with a PR firm it’s probably a good move to recruit an “advisor” who is an expert at PR (at the very least)…or raise some money from one.  Nothing like aligning incentives with experts where you lack expertise.

  • BillSmith3

    ginidietrich BillSmith3

    From where we’re sitting we build audiences and to some degree generate leads if we really dabble on the marketing side of things. The results of our efforts are supposed to help the sales side of the out. 

    Don’t know what that PR Group on Linked In thinks we do, I guess they are holding paperclips for the others. 

    Not to veer off topic here but I just saw a headline that Robin Williams died.

  • ginidietrich PeterJ42 From my experience in a startup incubator in the UK I can see both the need, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and the value to investors in the startup, never mind those directly involved.
    I agree it could be global – happy to work with you on something.

  • ginidietrich when you have a business, everything should be sales. “what we’re doing right now should by no means, generate sales,” said no on ever. BillSmith3

  • As you’ve said in a few comments below Gini, people can call it what they want but there’s definitely comms activity for startups early on. I think the challenge that doesn’t exist for other companies is that startups that are still finding product-market fit aren’t going to have a solidified story of who they and what their future will be. 
    In that context, I tell founders that I talk to that one of the most important things they can do is blog, interact with others in their space, and align inbound channels (similar to the PESO structure you have). In other words, start engaging in integrated comms. 
    It’s worth thinking carefully about when to hire PR / comms help and the triggers are different for different companies, but you sure get a better conversation about it once the founders and/or early employees have scratched their way into those activities and had a few moments where they looked up at 7pm and realized they spent their whole day doing comms stuff.

  • The reason why we don’t work with startups – there’s always some list or some advice they received that tells them to not do things that are good for other businesses. Where is the logic in that? In fact startups should do more and invest more than mature businesses. We estimate a startup should invest approx 45% of their expected revenues into what Gini calls PESO. When I say that people freak out. Every time someone says “our goal is $1million year 1,” and we work back from that number, we get to that 45% range. Are there exceptions, of course. But generally, a startup should put everything into PESO years 1-3.

  • manamica BillSmith3 Said. No. One. Ever.

  • BillSmith3 Can you believe that about Robin Williams? I’m so sad.

  • BillSmith3

    ginidietrich BillSmith3 You and me both.

  • BillSmith3

    ginidietrich manamica BillSmith3 You are both preaching to the converted:).

  • manamica Yeah, I image they would freak out about that. But I agree with you – you can’t expect anyone to know about you if you don’t communicate.

  • JoeCardillo And it makes our jobs easier when they do that and are invested in its success. Without it, it’s hard to be successful for them.

  • JoshuaJLight I have a friend who, very early on, build an advisory board and put me on it. I have a small (very small) percentage of his company and he gets communications expertise for his business. In the past four years, there have been only three occasions where he’s needed me…but he’s really needed me. You can work around the tight resources for the right team.

  • BillSmith3

    ginidietrich BillSmith3 Likewise. I watched Mork and Mindy when I was a kid and seen Robin Williams in more movies than I can count. He truly was the funniest guy alive.

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight how’s his business doing?  That’s awesome.

  • JoshuaJLight It’s doing VERY well. He’ll probably sell in the next couple of years.

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight nice!  What’s it called?

  • Sigh. You beat me to it as I too would – do – have a few bones to pick w/ that post. Actually there’ve been a few such Inc, Forbes, etc. posts I’ve jumped into the fray, arguing against the media-centric publicity b.s. and for integration business communications. h/t to JoeCardillo for being one of the first commenters to use that word: communications. Because no matter where we ‘belong’ on the spectrum and even though PR is more than ‘just’ communications and more than a function that drives sales (I’ll duck the flying tomatoes, argue that there are other meaningful business objectives, that PR drives as well), that whole post is about marketing written about.. communications.

    As many others have written, it completely contradicts itself as it ill-defines, limits PR to publicity. (BTW the PESO model and graphic, very nice. ) Look at their ‘new technology’ example: Facebook! Seriously is that either new or technology really? And then writing it as if successfully managing a FB page has nothing to do w/ PR. Because brands do SO well when they tweet and FB nothing but self-promotional sales pitches. The ‘marketing’ bullet.. see your sarcasm font on getting discovered and how exactly is that awareness earned? Oh right, communications. Then there’s another 180, as the DIY point says to.. bring in the experts. The whole thing: SMH.

    Reading some of the smart comments, I’ve gleaned lots of: HR from references about employees; marketing, content development, web SEO; customer service and support; VC and investors; even a few on products/services, hello R&D… so many stakeholders, so little time. All this in a post about how PR is much more, it screams INTEGRATION to me. And maybe it’s my innate bias, I think what integrates, what breaks down silos is communications. FWIW.

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