Gini Dietrich

The PR Firm Debate: Should Startups Hire One or Not?

By: Gini Dietrich | December 9, 2013 | 
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The PR Firm Debate- Should Startups Hire One or Not?By Gini Dietrich

Dear Mark Cuban,

I respect the heck out of you. I normally agree with most things you say and do. But this time? This time, you’re wrong.

Much love,

Gini

Never Hire a PR Firm

He recently wrote, “Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups” for¬†Entrepreneur, and I agree with nearly everything he said.

Things such as, “Keep your organizational chart flat,” “sales cure all, “no offices,” and “hire people who will love working there.”

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

But his 11th rule is, “Never hire a PR firm.”

This is what he says.

A public relations firm will call or email people in the publications you already read, on the shows you already watch and at the websites you already surf. Those people publish their emails. Whenever you consume any information related to your field, get the email of the person publishing it and send them a message introducing yourself and the company. Their job is to find new stuff. They will welcome hearing from the founder instead of some PR flack. Once you establish communication with that person, make yourself available to answer their questions about the industry and be a source for them. If you are smart, they will use you.

I’m actually a believer in the chief executive holding the relationships with the journalists that can add credibility to his or her business…so I don’t totally disagree with what this statement.

And I agree it’s fairly easy for you to call, email, or tweet the journalists and bloggers you’re already reading, surfing, and watching. You¬†should contact them.

But, let’s say – hypothetically speaking, of course – you have 10 media outlets that are interested in covering your organization. And they all want an interview, additional information, photos, bios, and more within the next 48 hours.

Your time suddenly went from growing an organization, being the chief sales person, creating the process and structure for scalability, and coaching and mentoring your team…to being a “PR flack.”

Where an Entrepreneur Should Spend Time

When I first started Arment Dietrich, I did everything. Literally.

Bills would come in and I entered them into QuickBooks. I guessed at how to categorize them (which wasn’t always right). I paid bills and manually cut payroll.

Sure, I can do all of those things and the place won’t burn down, but I learned very quickly it wasn’t the best use of my time and it was far less expensive to pay someone who had that expertise to do it.

I wanted to be able to spend my time with clients and new business prospects so I could grow the agency. I didn’t want to spend my time entering bills and cutting checks, answering the phones, or buying office supplies.

Likewise, you can do your own media relations. It’s not hard. It’s certainly not rocket science. No one will die if you screw it up. It’s all about building relationships and, if you’re growing an organization, it’s likely you’re pretty darn good at it.

But is that where you want to spend your time?

Always Hire a PR Firm

Look at it this way: A PR firm will not only help you manage the relationships, he or she will also help you determine what is newsworthy – and what is not, build a multi-media kit, do the follow-ups, make sure the story runs (and get a copy of it), talk to the journalist if anything is wrong – and get a retraction printed, provide additional information as the story is being created, and track the individual pieces’ effectiveness to your overall business goals.

And, if you’ve hired a firm that has capability beyond media relations, they will also know how to help you create content, motivate people to comment and share it, help you build community, generate qualified leads, and design the metrics for tracking to results.

So, you tell me, would you rather spend your time growing your business and getting a return for your investors…or manage the media relationships that are likely to come as you begin to succeed?

(Thanks to Sean McGinnis for the article find.)

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.

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82 Comments on "The PR Firm Debate: Should Startups Hire One or Not?"

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Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago
Mark missed the boat on that one. I am all for ‘Core Competency’ type of business focus. And you are 100% right. I think the real question is contract vs direct hire. Someone internally has to wear the Corp. Comm. hat. Just in terms of responsibility.¬† Then it comes to resources, type of business, location in the birth cycle. Also the industry is key. Opening a new Agency/Service Business needs help immediately. But a self funded org spending 3 years getting a product to launch might want to stay in the dark for 2 years. On the flip side a… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb¬†That’s where we see a lot of business – when organizations are going for their Series B financing and need some help building awareness.

EricaAllison
2 years 4 months ago

Well said,¬†ginidietrich. Well said. We can’t do it all, and yes, while we should have the relationships with journalists and media, a small business owner who is committed to truly growing their business should absolutely invest in hiring the right people to close the loop on a conversation that without follow up, might fall off the radar entirely.¬†

I love Mark Cuban, too. Sigh.

ClayMorgan
2 years 4 months ago
Yes, a writer or PR person may prefer to hear from a founder rather than a PR Flack, but there are issues. First, I believe Cuban overestimates many people’s relationship-building abilities, initiative to do PR on their own, time to do PR on their own, and strategic sense when it comes to communications. There has to be a strategy behind contacting media, and it takes skill to make sure YOUR message, not the reporter’s interpretation of the message, is what makes print. Then there’s this. A lot of people just aren’t good at communications (or other aspects of business). About… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

EricaAllison¬†In his defense, that’s the only thing out of the 12 I disagreed with. And I am biased – owing a PR firm and all. But I do think business leaders should focus on their strengths and grow their organizations. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan¬†The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is the “this is news” for every, little thing they do. A PR firm can help them determine what truly is news and what is not.

ClayMorgan
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich Too true.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

“Contact the journalist yourself – he or she will immediately sit up, take notice, and publish you’re news – IF you’re bloody Mark Cuban!!!” I mean, pu-lease. How many businesses and CEOs out there will listen to this – spend hours reaching out – only to hear *crickets*…?? A lot, that’s how many. Nice breakdown here Gini, on what PR ‘flacks’ really offer to corporations large and small. It behooves a CEO of any size company to truly understand what those of us in the industry really do.

lauraclick
2 years 4 months ago

Totally agree with you, Gini. The other point to add is to not wait too late to hire help – whether internally or externally. I’ve had startups contact me a month before they want to launch. That’s too late. It’s really difficult to get the coverage you want and need with that little time. It’s far better to bring in PR help at a much earlier stage of the game.

KristenDaukas
2 years 4 months ago

I think the same can be said for a few key areas like that. Like you said.. sure I “can” do that but “should” I? Probably not.. I’d run my company into the ground if I were handling the books. I’ve had a few prospective social clients contact me recently as they were (literally) getting ready to launch Kickstarter campaigns wanting us to work our “magic” so their campaigns would go viral. Always makes me want to put on my favorite tshirt that says “I’m an expert not a miracle worker”. #WashRinseRepeat

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago

The only think that trumps getting help for that is you would need a naturally charismatic show person type of leader. Like Richard Branson. They are very rare.

biggreenpen
2 years 4 months ago

KristenDaukas¬†The other reason to have someone external is that they have objectivity — this goes to what Gini was saying below about entrepreneurs believing that everything they do is “news.” It takes someone not as enmeshed with your biz to see what an outsider would see (or need to see) and emphasize that.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 4 months ago

After working with/for a number of tech startups, there’s something worth noting: developers seem to have a nearly universal distrust and disdain for communications professionals, especially PR people. I saw it first hand. Too many fledgling tech entrepreneurs think that the idea alone is going to net them millions of users because, darn it, it’s just that good.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich EricaAllison Remind me to tell you my Mark Cuban story sometime.

ClayMorgan
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay¬†You are so right! “Who” you are does matter sometimes.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb¬†But even Branson has a PR team. He’s not going out and getting those interviews – or managing them – on his own.

jenniferwindrum
jenniferwindrum
2 years 4 months ago

Like you Gini, I solely run my startup and all of it has been through PR tactics to spread the word. The books, numbers and “stuff,” I get help with, but without PR and social media strategy, my startup would be dead. Media relations is a craft. He obviously doesn’t understand what it takes to “send them a message introducing yourself and the company.” It doesn’t always work as easily and smoothly as that, bro!!

Robb Wexler
2 years 4 months ago

jasonkonopinski¬†ginidietrich¬†EricaAllison¬†I’m pretty sure eveyrone has a Mark Cuban story. I’m actually working on my third. We should write a “Stories About Mark Cuban” book. I’m SURE he wouldn’t mind.

Robb Wexler
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich¬†Howie Goldfarb¬†Most don’t. We very infrequently get calls from the top person. Almost exclusively from the PR firm or publicist. And of course I get calls from my wife, but that’s an entirely different thread.

sydcon_mktg
2 years 4 months ago
jasonkonopinski¬†Well, I have seen this. But, we never fell into this category. Sometimes I think developers feel this way towards PR or marketing firms because those types of folks/firms feel they don’t need to hire us for the same reason Cuban said not to hire PR. They feel that with the growth of WordPress they can handle all of their web, programming, tech stuff. ¬†Many preach you can teach yourself the tech and save time and money. ¬†I know many a tech firm who says whats the difference? Why waste your time doing your web but not your PR or… Read more »
sydcon_mktg
2 years 4 months ago
Ah the choices start-ups have to make. What to spend their limited cash or precious time on and what to hire someone else to do for them? ¬†I agree with Mark Cuban on many things just like you do. ¬† In my tech world we see a similar issue as this. ¬†We see people advising startups to do their own websites or tech, programming etc. They are advised that WordPress is the answer to all your problems and anyone can learn to do it, and no developer is needed. ¬†Many developers/programmers we know say well if the PR/marketing people can… Read more »
Neicolec
Neicolec
2 years 4 months ago

My question isn’t about PR, it’s why does everyone think Mark Cuban is so great? I don’t dislike him, but I certainly don’t think he’s a god. Is it just because he owns a sports team on top of being a successful entrepreneur?

JoeSloanSays
2 years 4 months ago
Thank you very much for writing¬†such a concise statement demonstrating the value of PR professionals¬†to a growing organization. While yes, it is possible for someone to do their own PR and media relations, it is not probable that they would then¬†have time to do much of anything else. As a young man I sold real estate for several years and when nervous about an upcoming¬†meeting¬†with a¬†potential client who was a well established physician I consulted a seasoned agent in my office for guidance. “Herb, I’ve got an appointment coming up with a doctor. Doctors are so intimidatingly smart, why would… Read more »
belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

JoeSloanSays¬†I love this. I want it in poster size! ūüėČ

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan¬†G’AH!!! YOUR news!!! *stabs self*

matthixson
matthixson
2 years 4 months ago
I have had a ton of experience with this over the past year. ¬†We have spent quite a bit of money on PR with mixed results. ¬†We have been in the WSJ multiple times, Bloomberg, TC, Venture Beat, etc. ¬†Great. ¬†We got some exposure but very few of them generated leads. ¬†When I looked back at the last year of our coverage about 50% came from my efforts not the people we were paying from PR.¬† It may make sense for a startup to have a PR team but there is one critical milestone they should reach before doing that… Read more »
JoeSloanSays
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay¬†Thanks! Feel free to blow it up and toss it on the wall :) I’m glad you see the value in it.¬†I’ll never forget that conversation, I¬†use the insight I gained in¬†that short¬†moment all the time.

fontbandit
fontbandit
2 years 4 months ago

matthixson¬†“We have been in the WSJ multiple times, Bloomberg, TC, Venture Beat” — and you’re calling that “mixed results?” I feel very sorry for your firm.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

matthixson¬†Clearly you didn’t hire the right firm, Matt! LOL

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

matthixson¬†Really the answer isn’t if it’s when. There is definitely a when, but if a startup jumps the gun on it the value is lessened. A parallel is growth hacking v. marketing. At some point you have to transition, and that point is when you start establishing an overall strategy that your testing (hacking) has to fit into.

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

sydcon_mktg¬†There’s definitely a level of growth after which DIY isn’t smart. Unfortunately there’s a wide knowledge gap between marketing/growth/PR for early phase and when you actually get big enough to hire outside (which I find immensely valuable). Lot of stuff falls through the cracks in that space.

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

sydcon_mktg¬†jasonkonopinski¬†ginidietrich¬†Have you heard of Cynefin? It’s a pretty interesting approach, I was just at a lean unconference yesterday and we¬†talked about it in relation to how companies progress

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

sydcon_mktg jasonkonopinski ginidietrich http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin

JRHalloran
2 years 4 months ago

Very good thoughts, Gini!
I guess Mark Cuban was insinuating that PR was an “unnecessary” expense for a start-up? Obviously PR people know their own value to every kind of business whether it be a start-up or a Fortune 500 company.¬†
The ultimate thing we buy such companies is TIME. That time, as you mentioned, helps them cement solid relationships with the right business partners at a very vulnerable state of infancy. 
We also keep such start-ups from looking like morons when they attempt to pitch something entirely unimportant and insignificant to the rest of the world at large.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo
2 years 4 months ago
ginidietrich’s point is pretty valid across competencies. We find the same situation often in our world of video content creation. Of course people can do things themselves but the amount of time it takes someone to shoot shaky iphone footage with terrible sound and edit it into a far too long final video that is outputted into the wrong format, they could hire someone competent and (hopefully) creative to do it right. Like anything there are situations where DIY works and there are others where your time is valuable and it should be spent doing what you think provides value.… Read more »
Jesse Aaron
2 years 4 months ago
Mark’s statement belittles PR to “pushing emails.” That statement in itself shows just how little he understands or cares for a massive industry. Also, most of his “rules” are just general statements…like fortune cookies. PR encapsulates marketing, advertising, and arguably engineering & programming. If there’s one thing I remember from capstone, it’s the structure of a PR campaign. A business goal is determined, fueled by communication objectives based on primary and secondary research, fueled by multi-layered strategies and tactics. Short and long-term gameplans are set in motion, with monitoring and tracking to gauge performance and pivot for a better shot… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago
matthixson¬†It’s disappointing to hear half of the coverage came from your efforts. Of course, no one will care about the business like you do…or tell the story as well. I also think expectations around media relations are off for a lot of entrepreneurs. We all hear the stories of Oprah making a company successful by airing a segment on their product. But those success stories are few and far between. Media relations isn’t meant to generate leads. It’s meant to build awareness, create credibility, and drive thought leadership. It also helps build the credibility you need to get a second… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago
matthixson It’s disappointing to hear half of the coverage came from your efforts. Of course, no one will care about the business like you do…or tell the story as well. I also think expectations around media relations are off for a lot of entrepreneurs. We all hear the stories of Oprah making a company successful by airing a segment on their product. But those success stories are few and far between. Media relations isn’t meant to generate leads. It’s meant to build awareness, create credibility, and drive thought leadership. It also helps build the credibility you need to get a… Read more »
Steve Birkett
2 years 4 months ago
I find a lot of this sentiment from independent musicians, who all too often pay a lot and get very little from those they pay for PR. Of course, that rarely takes into account the good work that goes on every day… as we know, folks are far more likely to complain about a negative experience than praise a good one. In the end it comes down to your closing point, where do you want to spend the time? As with wider marketing and online media, the vast majority of activities can be learned, but that takes time (and potentially… Read more »
JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

bigteethvideo¬†ginidietrich¬†belllindsay¬†This is right on. Personally, I’ve made a decent but amateur presentation that did ok, and then shipped it off to a talented designer and the increased clicks, shares, conversations started. etc… don’t lie.

JoeCardillo
2 years 4 months ago

Neicolec¬†He’s pretty smart, he gathers information well + moves quickly in business, and is generally a decent person. But of course, to your point he’s also wrong sometimes too and I’d argue this is one of them = )

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman
2 years 4 months ago

I couldn’t help but read this and snicker…at Mark Cuban. ¬†Everybody thinks they can do their own PR…then they grow up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called in at the 11th hour to help out those who thought PR was the science of the painfully obvious. Also, a good PR pro will help their client think ‘beyond’ the quick media hit and what their short term/long term objectives should be.

I’m also willing to bet Mark Cuban doesn’t make a move without his own PR person….!

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman
2 years 4 months ago

matthixson¬†Hey Matt…I think you need to have better defined your objectives and messages before embarking on a media relations strategy. Being in all those pubs is fabulous – but what was your message? Was it consumer oriented? Did you have the foundational key messages to help drive your point home? And was media relations the best strategy for you in the first place??

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi
2 years 4 months ago

I can think of another reason to have an agency in your corner: Good public relations council prevents people from making mistakes they can’t undo. They keep you from proverbially crying wolf, looking silly, reducing your credibility, and ultimately being ignored by the folks you need to impress.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

CommProSuzi Yes, yes, and YES!!

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

ElissaFreeman¬†You’re probably right…but he’d likely say he’s no longer running a startup.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Steve Birkett Every business book in the world advises to work on your core strength and outsource (or hire) for your weaknesses.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Jesse Aaron I wish I could like this comment 100 times!

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

bigteethvideo¬†You know, to¬†JoeCardillo’s point combined with yours…I’m pretty proficient in WordPress, but I’d never design my own website.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

JRHalloran I love the word moron.

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