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Here is a mail I recently received from a well known PR firm
“My colleague told me that your website covers technology landscape in India. Our client, <> is launching <> and we would like…”
Apart from the fact that the person didn’t even know details about the website that she was mailing to (did she even visited the site?), she also accepted her ignorance about her job.
This is ofcourse an exception, but I have seen startups using PR firms to get the word out. Nothing wrong with that, but one needs to understand the flip side of using a PR service, especially in the early days of the business.
Startups and PR Firms – The Disconnect
Business is about building relationships and if you are a small company trying to get hold of your market, last thing you would like to do is outsource the relationship part to somebody else.
Relationship isn’t just about vendors/media, but its also about possible liaisons.
During Unpluggd event, a well known (incubation) firm’s PR agency asked us if they could get 2 minutes to announce their upcoming programme. I rejected. Had it been the incubation firm directly, we would have give it a thought. But bringing in middlemen in a smaller ecosystem just doesn’t work.
Lack of Research
For PR firms, technology is a very broad subject. Anybody and everybody who uses the word ‘technology’ in their website/blog is a potential target and that shows up in the kind of emails we receive. PR firms sending out emails regarding ‘’launch of USB stick’ to other non-relevant topics.
Who really gets hurt in the entire process is not the PR firms, but their client (and they will never get to know this!).
(Dis)Connecting the Dots
We recently profiled a startup and a VC firm asked me to connect with them. It took me 3 days to do the same.
Why? Because the firm preferred to use a PR company to send their details. It is of course in the interest of the PR firm to not connect the dots, but for a startup it was a lost cause.
Embargo et al
Scoble recently wrote an excellent piece [Where oh where did the great startup launch go? (Startup events have killed it)] which is pretty much applicable to India as well. Essentially, event organizations/PR firms restrict startups to not talk about their product/service until the ‘big’ day (embargo).
This works with big organizations (like Opera/Nokia etc), but for a startup – you just need to get the word out. If you align to one power center, others will not cover you. So its better to be a little more open and build relationships.
Scoble puts it aptly
It keeps you from letting us talk to customers or potential customers about you. Think about it. If you give us a week or two we’ll call up your potential customers and learn a lot more about how they like or dislike you.
Kill the meat
So you get funded and the VC asks you to keep your mouth shut until they prepare a pro press release (and delay the news as much as possible). Unfortunately, the word leaks out and in the entire matter, what really happens is that you (i.e. startup) lose out on the traction that you should have received.
Even when the announcement is to be made, the PR firm ensures (as per the agreement) that controlled details are shared (and they act as mediator).
Honestly, we all need to understand is that no one else cares about your startup or your business [just the way no one cares about other’s business in this wild world] and if you (i.e. a startup) use PR as an information channel, you are grossly wrong.
PR firms are to be taken as a great marketing tool, but cannot ever substitute for you making a phone call, writing an email, building relationships. PR firms help you reach out to geographies you do not have access to, they help you reach out to some of the powerful voices, but unfortunately the onus of building relationship lies with you.
Take it or leave it.
[Update (May 2nd, 2010) : Another startup firm approached us via their ‘social media consultant’ and even though we profiled the startup, we aren’t introducing them to people (including VCs/potential partners) who asked us for an intro.
Why? Because we do not know the founders’ email id. The social media consultant dodges off this part (they say it’s firstname.lastname@example.org) , in order to charge his client and show marginal success. #Fail]