David Beisel capped last night's fabulous Web Innovation Night with a panel on how entrepreneurs can do PR without PR agencies. Moderated by Mike Troiano, the panel included Bob Brown of NetworkWorld, Peter Kafka of AllthingsD, Scott Kirsner of his own making and the Innovation Economy column in the Boston Globe and Wade Roush of Xconomy.
This was intended to be PR 101 lesson for entrepreneurs who want coverage but don't know how to go about getting it. But the takeaway, as I heard it, was much closer to what Bobbie Carlton says in her blog post:
...if I was an entrepreneur, all I would have heard was, “Run away from PR people, they are useless to you. In fact, probably worse than useless because top reporters look down on them as a breed.”There are two main problems here. First, the panel didn't have a good idea of how PR actually helps media relations; but second is the misunderstanding that PR means only media relations. Today's PR is much more than that.
On the first issue the panel joked several times about how entrepreneurs will do silly things like send them "embargoed" press releases, or conduct an interview and to call back a day later only to say "the first 20 minutes of that talk was off the record, right?" or try to pitch a "news hook" that is a minor upgrade of a product.
Good PR counsel fixes those problems. We guide clients on how to talk with journalists so when you they get their 30 or 60 minutes with Scott Kirsner they use that time effectively, both for them and for the journalists. We guide our clients on what information is pertinent to which audiences and how to best present that information.
Peter Kafka made the point that PR firms make a lot of money selling clients on the idea that they can reach him, but the act of reaching him is quite simple. He went as far as to call PR people liars, since they say they know him when they don't.
A good media relations firm will never sell you on their contact list since we all know that the contact list is worth the pixels it appears on. The fact that any one of us knows or is known by any journalist only gets us an additional few seconds of consideration. Maybe it gets our email opened when others get tossed immediately. But unless that email or phone call includes a good story, then the time is wasted, so we focus on packaging the story.
After the panel, as I approached Wade Roush, I found myself in a very interesting conversation with one of the panel's targets: an bootstrapped entrepreneur whose company is targeting application developers. He had a few questions of Wade that frankly were out of Wade's range. The entrepreneur wanted to know how to talk with specific application development message boards and what impact news and information presented there would have on gaining coverage from Xconomy. He and I then had a nice conversation about communications strategy leading up to his launch. We agreed that getting coverage in the Globe, for example, wouldn't help him reach his audience, but later may be useful in reaching potential investors, a move that affects his communciations strategy. We also talked about his need for a "community manager" who would focus on working with the various application development forums.
And that leads to my main problem with the panel: they preached the misguided notion that PR is only media relations.
There is a reason that the landscape is dotted with the former co-workers of the people on this panel. Individuals today get their information from a number of sources, many of whom are not professional journalists. Today anyone with a blog has the potential to reach their core audience, provided they hit the right keys. Google is the gateway.
Yes, traditional PR is about getting coverage and even today many agencies sell that very thing. In fact, for many companies media relations remains an important component of their overall PR program. But PR is about developing a broad communications program that includes:
- Building a long-term strategy that establishes lasting relationships with your core audiences;
- Creating content and managing conversations that engage those audiences directly; and
- Reaching industry influencers (media relations gets lumped in here).
It happens that next week a partner and I will be announcing a PR firm that focuses on just this kind of work. Once our site is live I'll provide a link.
If an entrepreneur walked out of that panel thinking that all they have to do is call up one of these reporters and say "hey, my company's live, come write about us!" and all will be good with their PR program, then they have done a disservice to Boston's startup community. These companies need long-term strategies to drive business, not just the tactical skills to get the occasional story in Network World.
And the right PR counsel will help them do just that.