How PR Can Help Some Startups: Perspective of one Industry Analyst

There’s been a lot of trash talk about the PR industry (again), this time a small group of successful CEOs (and VP bloggers) claim they don’t need public relations efforts. When you look closely, you realize, this is true, as they’ve primarily made it part of their ongoing effort as media experts –they’re using their own tools to reach out to folks. On the other hand, most companies don’t have CEOs that can afford to constantly be part of ‘the conversation’ or have time to be interacting with influencers all the time.

I’m a faithful listener of For Immediate Release Podcast Series with Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, and they’ve been discussing this on the last few episodes.

Having observed this for a few years, it’s become very clear to me that the PR industry suffers the cobblers’ children syndrome. PR, an industry designed to help companies and industries have an improved reputation is inflicted with a bad reputation of their own. Why doesn’t the PR industry self promote their own value? Physcian, heal thyself! (I added this paragraph after I posted)

As an industry analyst, here’s where I’ve noticed a difference between companies with PR and those who don’t:

Ability to hire PR services is sometimes an indicator of maturity
I’m mainly looking for briefings from companies that are ready for prime time. They are established, have a solid product, and are ready for adoption by Fortune 5000 enterprise companies. These companies don’t have time to deal with a startup that may not last the test of time, or have weak infrastructure. As a result, often established companies may have significant funding, or a revenue stream and thereby are able to afford a few thousand dollars a month for PR services. Having PR services is one indicator that a startup is beyond the garage (but not always)

Outsource listening, but don’t replace –enhance
Secondly, some PR folks at companies have an actual job to follow all the tweets and blogs posts of analysts (wow what a job, yikes), but they don’t just have to watch analysts but also, media, press, bloggers as part of their full time job. Since a lot of what we do (myself included) is likely noise to any specific person, the role of PRs job to listen makes them a valuable filter, who can bubble up key findings to the client. The only caveat being is that startups should of course monitoring and part of the conversation, you can’t completely outsource this.

Sometimes, they have successful pitches
Setting up meetings and the pitch. PR folks are professionals at pitches (granted, many of them are sub-standard) and going to be pitching to me, I’ve found that many who get me to respond know my coverage area (social networks, community platforms, applications, widgets) also pay attention to my schedule and know when to reach to me. Some savvy PR folks know that they can automatically submit to my weekly digest of social networking events –making their clients happy

Benefit from refined communications
Also, I’ve found that during briefings, companies that have PR services often do a better job at communicating to me. How is it different? The entrepreneur without professional communications help may often yammer about how great their technology is, or spend time sharing his passions. The entrepreneur who has professional communications help often focuses on business solutions, able to talk at the market level, and puts the value statement right up front. They’re trained, rehearsed, and more refined in presentations.

Truly successful PR pros become –then lead– the community they represent
Some PR folks have become their own hubs. What’s this mean? They should up to so many tech events, that they’ve developed real relationships with influencers regardless of who their client list is. There’s a handful in silicon valley you can identify at any event or party, they literally are “hubs” and people are constantly surrounding them. These folks throw their own parties (regardless of who their client set is) introduce folks (regardless of who their clients are) and are active members of the community, as a result, they are trusted, connected, and more effective with their relationships. I’m much more likely to respond to them as they are here for the long term, and I build a real relationship with them over the years.

This is just my perspective, as one industry analyst, so you’ll have to do your own research on how to spend your marketing dollars. It is very important to note: no company, regardless of how busy they are, should completely outsource listening and talking to the market, they way I see this is PR is a competitive edge over those that don’t, or if your communication skills need improvement.