Don’t Hate the Player, Change the Game

Don’t Hate the Player, Change the Game

thank you for smokingI’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m tired of the myths and generalizations about PR people. Just like with lawyers and politicians, a few bad experiences have managed to sour many peoples’ perception of our industry.

As someone who has been doing Startup PR for the last five years and who is proud of the work that I and many of my colleagues do, I want to set the record straight.

So, how did we get here? Why all the hate?

Let’s take a look at how some old-school PR methods have tarnished the good name of publicists everywhere, and how a new age group of publicists are changing the rules of the game.

Problem #1: Agencies Can Get Complacent.

Here’s where a lot of mistakes happen. Traditional agency models operate on long-term retainers that can span years. And when retainers span years, many agencies grab at opportunities to scale. They begin pulling senior people away from these ‘bread and butter’ (read: cushy) clients, replacing them with up-and-comers and providing little more than the status quo.

When people get complacent, new ideas stop being brought to the table, and as a result the client stops seeing value week over week. The minute this happens, they’re doing the entire PR industry a disservice, but even worse, they are taking advantage of their client.

Problem #2: You Can’t Put a Price on Good PR.

Spending money can be scary for a startup, as understandably you want to get maximum bang for your buck. We’ve all heard from startups who largely credit the press for their early successes, but the minute hard-earned money is spent on less-than-explosive results, the blame game begins.

One of the worst things for a client to do is to distill their PR representation down a pay-for-performance model. Don’t get me wrong - I am all for accountability and delivering value to our clients, but the minute you start putting a specific price tag on press coverage, no one is invested in a relationship and broader strategic goals get lost in the race to the front page.

Like TechCrunch Editor Alexia Tsotis’ calling out of Startup PR Agency PRServe (with whom I have no personal experience) and their pay-per-play model of compensation. (PRServe charges per media pickup - $750 for an A-list publication, and $400 for a more generic mention.)

My primary concern with their model isn’t about value, it’s about strategy. They can’t possibly be about to commit the sheer manhours required to truly understand their clients’ long-term objectives, or be dedicated to significantly impacting their clients’ bottom line.

Agencies also need to carefully manage client expectations. Explosive wins can’t happen every day but smart, timely press outreach can.

Problem #3: PR People Rub Journalists The Wrong Way.

When was the last time you caught a journalist raving about how great it is to be fed leads from such an amazing PR person? (Seriously. If you ever have, I’d love to see it.)

More often than not, well-intentioned PR people are digging a deeper, and deeper hole for themselves (and the rest of the industry) with every pitch they make for these two reasons:

1. Journalists are Professionals, Too

Building on Alexia’s beef with PRServe, no journalists want to feel like they’re being pimped out by a PR agency. There’s definitely an aversion among journalists to seeing the direct correlation between money and their published work - whether it’s through agencies or otherwise.

2. The Crappy Pitch-itis Epidemic

Sadly, many PR folks have come down with a chronic case of crappy pitch-itis. That is to say, the sheer volume of half-assed, terrible, irrelevant, non targeted pitches journalists receive on a daily basis is beyond understanding for most. And then there are the PR stalkers who know no boundaries and give the rest of us a bad name.

Some journalists push back harder than others, turning to Twitter to criticize publicists as a whole. For example, dozens of publicists has been ridiculed for their honest attempt at a pitch to TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler. While we haven’t been told off by Ryan personally, he has taken to Twitter on several accounts to tear an anonymous strip off of those sending ill-timed pitches, over-done pitches and sarcastically sharing his love for the same people on mock account @NiceRyanLawler.

Problem #4: PR Agencies Forget to Focus on Metrics.

When was the last time a PR firm asked to see your analytics, or metrics dashboard? Or, suggested they tie their efforts into something measurable/tangible? These are just a few of the questions that clients need to be asking.

One of the most important considerations when hiring a PR firm should be how success will be measured. Are they willing to admit when they’ve scored you a vanity win over one that will actually convert? Will they give you honest feedback if outlets you’ve set your eyes on aren’t a good fit for success?

When we see companies using a pay-per-play model, we can’t help but wonder what happens after you’ve gotten your TechCrunch or Mashable piece. In the end, what did your $750 article get you? Maybe you saw a wave of traffic but did it stick? Did it generate user acquisition? Were you even measuring it? Did you get your money’s worth?

While even the greatest PR firms can’t guarantee success every time, by examining your analytics, we can show you how each media win led to your success and identify possible causes when things don’t convert. Without metrics - you have no way of telling what you did right or wrong. PR is only worth it if its efforts are measured.

Why we do PR, but aren’t a PR Agency.

Working with any kind of PR or marketing consultancy is an investment in your long-term success. Whether you’re signing a six month or six year contract, you are building a relationship which will (hopefully) positively impact your business for years to come.

Which is why it is something you must enter into carefully and give a considerable amount of attention to when choosing the right company to partner with.

If you have any fear of commitment - it’s probably kicking in right about now just thinking about it.

At Onboardly, we understand that everyone needs a little help getting noticed but we’re not out to charge you by media outlet nor are we cool with harassing journalists at home. We get to know your product and your company so that we can do our job as efficiently as possible. No half-assing here. Only what’s best for your startup. Period.

We do smart, timely PR that supports overall marketing and strategic objectives. We measure our hard work so that you can see where acquired users are coming from and learn more about your audience. We help you identify what works and what doesn’t so you’re not left hanging when we part ways. All while letting you concentrate on what you do best - building a great product.

That said, what is your experience joining forces with a PR firm? Are you a fan of DIY startup PR? Why? If you disagree with any of the above - we’d love to hear from you. Been the victim of a journalist’s rant? Happens to the best of us! And the best of us love to hear about it! Tweet us @Onboardly or leave us a comment below!

What do you think?


This was flipping brilliantly written. LOVED THIS!

Thanks Ryan. We all do our part.

It’s an interesting subject. I think you could Problem #5: too often PR people neglect to help the journalists they’re trying to court. Examples: sending a release and not being available at the contact number, or not being able to answer basic questions about the release. PR execs need to anticipate what journalists will want once they receive the release, and make sure beforehand that within reason, the hacks will get what they need.

Great point and I agree. Always be prepared to have the necessary material upon request and always be available.

As someone has worked on the PR side and as a journalist, this is bang on.

Thanks Gary!