Why It’s Time for Startups to Forget DIY PR

Why It’s Time for Startups to Forget DIY PR

Bootstrapping your startup is a great way to keep costs low, but that doesn’t mean that you should do everything yourself. Unfortunately, in startup culture, the DIY approach has become some sort of badge of honor. How many founder stories focus on the early years when all the founders survived on was their resourcefulness, passion, and packets of ramen? But unlike this piece that states otherwise, we think it’s extremely risky for founders to do their own PR.

See the thing is, founders sell the product.

A smart publicist or brand journalist will play to the audience, selling only the features and benefits of the product that will appeal or apply to them. Founders trying to either save a buck or think they can do their own PR better (and I know some can, don’t get me wrong, but why focus on that when they should be building a great product?), often times get jaded by their own product. They try desperately to create angles, pitches and stories based on what they want the audience to hear, not what the audience should be hearing.

In the article “Founder-Driven PR: Why It’s Important to Drive Your Own Campaign” the author details the reasons why founders should stay away from PR firms. But it should have been titled “Why It’s Important to Not Hire Shitty PR Agencies”.

 Many of the problems founders run into when hiring PR professionals are not because the PR industry is no longer necessary, but because they hire people who suck at their job. Just because you had a bad experience at Burger King that doesn’t mean you would swear off burgers forever, right?

1. Tell a Remarkable Story

You can’t sell the product, you need to sell the story. The secret of great storytelling? Most products aren’t remarkable, but great stories are. But producing remarkable content takes commitment, foresight, innovation, and an understanding of what makes a story remarkable to your audience (Seth Godin goes into a lot of detail about how to be remarkable here). All things that are better off in the hands of professionals.

There’s this misconception that  “your message and image changes each time you change PR agencies.” No decent PR agency would suggest an angle that is not directly related to the vision of the company/founder. Angles change, but overall messaging does not.

2. Tell a Story Your Audience Can Invest In

A great story told to the wrong audience is a bad story. Part of good storytelling the ability to align your story with your audience. It’s the difference between conveying what the audience needs/wants vs. conveying something self-serving.

This is harder for founders to do because they’re so attached to their self-serving story. They are so focused on their goals for their startup that they have tunnel vision when it comes to their PR. So instead of seeing the stories they tell as something that provides value for the audience, they can only see what the stories can do for them.

It’s like what marketing expert Ann Handley says in this Entrepreneur article: “The main reason I'm a fan of hiring trained journalists is that they put the needs of the audience (vs. those of the company) first. Witness the eminently readable corporate-branded digital magazine Qualcomm Spark--two-thirds of its staff are former print or broadcast journalists.”

The proof is in the pudding. Hiring professionals who provide value to the audience works. They’re a necessity if you want to produce exceptional stories.

3. Leave Pitching to the Experts (Love, Journalists)

Founders can help guide the story (you don’t “give up control of the message”; no decent PR agency would ask for that), but they need to let the experts do their magic. There’s a huge difference between having a remarkable story and knowing how to pitch it. Emails go unread. Bad pitches get shamed on Twitter. A remarkable story isn’t enough in the same way remarkable content isn’t enough.

The thing that many people don’t understand is that journalists do want to talk to founders… eventually. But if the founder can’t pitch, they won’t get the opportunity in the first place. A journalist is a professional who doesn’t want their time wasted. So why wouldn’t you use another professional to deal with a professional journalist? Besides, a great PR agency would make the effort to know your story inside and out, whether it was there from the beginning or not.

4. Relationships Matter More Than Ever

Journalists and influencers care about relationships. Whether journalists and PR pros want to admit it or not, having an extensive network is the key to PR success.

Yes, journalists do play favourites (even if that just means they’ll always read your emails). But the only way to be a favourite is by fostering relationships, which most founders don’t bother to do. Instead, many founders waste time by trying to build them all from scratch.

5. Founders Should Focus on Product/Vision

Doing everything yourself does not mean you’re an amazing entrepreneur. It just means that you’re stretched every which way until you’re worn thin and end up burned out. Founders shouldn’t be doing PR themselves, you should be focused on creating and improving the product and vision.

Yes, startups’ short shelf life may make it seem like you should be going all in. But if it compromises your ability to execute the nucleus of it all–the service or product you’re offering, then the money you save by DIYing your own PR might come at a higher price–your time and sanity.


Some things are better left to the professionals. PR is one of them. Think of it this way. The stories your brand tells are some of the most important things your brand can do apart from the product or service it provides.

Something that significant should be handled by someone who knows what they’re doing, instead of someone who is just guessing along the way. Sometimes if you want something done well, you have to let someone else handle it.

 Agree or disagree with this post? Let us know in the comments.

What do you think?


I would suggest that the biggest value proposition for PR agencies is their relationships – something that startups often don’t have the time, energy or expertise to do.

Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more, Mark.