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Live Longer – Fire Your PR Firm

May 5, 2005

Most startups are better served by running PR in-house. That’s our opinion. There are sound reasons for larger publicly-traded companies to bring on an agency, but for most startups the primary motivator seems to be insecurity and a desire to do as the big boys do. Here are five reasons not to hire or to fire your PR firm:
1) They’re full of baloney. In their pitches, PR agencies will boast of their relationships with journalists and claim responsibility for every positive story run on their portfolio companies, almost as if they actually wrote the articles. This is why journalists hate PR professionals – because PR flacks can’t help but ooze a sense that they create the news. Indeed journalists do hate flacks. We once worked with a respected tech journalist who broke up with his girlfriend because he couldn’t stand the fact that she worked for a PR agency. If startups execs could hear the tone in the voice of tech journalists who take calls from flacks they would be appalled that they are being represented in this way.
2) Journalists prefer direct contact with the startup. This can only be anecdotally supported, but in our experience it is always a smoother experience for journalists to contact or be contacted by someone in-house. PR agencies get in touch when it is convenient for them, and they often have some silly, over-scripted message.
3) PR agencies don’t get the new model. Increasingly journalists are influenced by bloggers or they have become bloggers themselves. One thing that bloggers love most is when startups run blogs and eschew pap press releases. But PR agencies are generally not on-board with blogging. They still rely on the bland language of the press release and the artificial constrictors of the exclusive story offer.
4) Look at the startups that do PR best. They are invariably companies that forgo PR agencies. Topix.net, for example, gets tremendous, positive PR coverage without a PR agency. They get it because the CEO and leadership take it upon themselves to network with journalists, bloggers, and analysts. They contribute to the conversation. PR professionals might cringe because these people are not on message and are too transparent, but journalists dig it and will return to Topix for future stories.
5) Its a big waste of money. A PR firm might charge you $10K per month minimum. That might buy you 1/3 of a junior associate’s month. For $10K, you could hire a full-time person in-house. In other words, you wouldn’t pay 3 times as much for an outsourced programmer why would you do it with PR? That person will know much more about your company, will care much more about your company, and can carry out other functions during PR downtime.

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