Why Hire a PR Firm?

May 30th, 2007

“You have to embrace your critics and your competition” is just one of the lessons I’ve learned over the 10 years I’ve spent building my own company. A big part of what we do is help other companies achieve thought leadership, and leaders always have more competitors and critics than non-leaders. If you listen hard enough and look deep enough, you can almost always learn something from those who don’t see the world the way you do.

So when I read a thread of posts on Guy Kawasaki’s blog about start-ups working with PR firms, I went looking for a lesson. Believe it or not, it was right there on the surface. Here is the most recent (abridged) post from a guy who thinks entrepreneurs should NOT hire an agency. Brace yourself, it’s a long read but one that strikes true and can actually serve to enhance our value as PR professionals. There’s a lesson at the end of this post…promise.

Just the other day a newspaper’s technology editor told me, “It’s just so hard to meet entrepreneurs these days. You always get their PR people.” A dozen entrepreneurs sprang to mind who would kill to tell their stories. All have agencies. So what I am recommending is not howto manage an agency, but something more radical: not hiring an agency at all. Here are ten reasons why.

1. The truth will set you free. Over and over, publicists tell their clients to stick to the agreed-upon message to avoid mistakes but this guarantees you’ll never say anything thoughtful or spontaneous.

2. The rolodex is already online. Almost every journalist publishes his e-mail address, and many have a blog. You can also use LinkedIn and Jigsaw.

3. You don’t have to seem all grown-up and boring. Every entrepreneur feels vaguely disreputable. Maybe you drive a crappy car. Maybe you never went to prom. There are enough stuffed suits in this world to fill fifteen Wall Street Journals a day.

4. Ideas are the precious things. Most entrepreneurs are bursting with unconventional ideas.

5. Let the fur fly. When proposing a story, consider Michael Jordan’s response when asked how much to bet on golf: “Whatever makes you nervous.”

6. Nerd-to-nerd networks are where it all happens—and value speed in everything you do. Most publicists feel threatened by the Internet’s systems of attribution, glorification and punishment, where Digg can make an obscure posting more important than the evening news.

7. Even bad coverage isn’t so bad. I was once profiled in a national business magazine doing odd things in my underwear. It was terrible; I lay face down on a couch for an hour after reading it. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad.

8. Go in alone. It’s hard to make a move when your dad drives you on a date or to sound contrite about the neighbor’s begonias with your mom standing behind you. It’s just as hard to connect with a journalist when a publicist is always at your side.

9. Passion + expertise = credibility. A publicist will never have your passion for your project, and she’ll never have as many colorful customer stories as you do.

10. Make time. Most entrepreneurs say they don’t have time for DIY PR. Sure, it takes a while to spam 100 journalists with every press release. But that doesn’t work anyway.

Yes – this is one of my longest posts ever, so thanks for sticking with it to this point. This also might be one of my most important posts yet – for the PR community at least.

Here’s the point: we can teach our clients every one of these things without losing our value. In fact, we probably should. (I especially love the point “passion + expertise = credibility” – quite a few of our clients could learn from that.) What a start-up or small business or major corporation gets from us as agencies is (or should be) fresh thinking and diverse points of view. They get a perspective on what is newsworthy and how messages can be crafted to meet strategic company goals.

A member of our team went to see Seth Godin present his book, The Dip, a few weeks back. Someone in the audience asked if he was ever afraid to give away his ideas, to have them stolen by someone else. Seth answered that if you have a good idea, you can write it on a piece of paper and send it to your 50 biggest competitors. They will never be able to implement it the way you will because they don’t understand it like you do. I would argue that what we do as PR professionals – provided we do it well – is the same thing.

So thanks to Guy and Glenn Kelman of Redfin (who wrote the post) for sending it to our competitors and customers. We – and our clients – are only going to be better for it.

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