Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Slam? Or A Continuation of the Debate?

Before the long holiday, Jason Calacanis wrote an article that fired up the PR world much like Steve Rubel's musings from a few weeks ago. Entitled, "On How to Get PR For Your Startup: Fire Your PR Company," the The interesting part is the amount of response Jason's posting fired up the old guard in the PR world. Richard Edelman took to his blog to address Jason's criticism of the PR world and his general attitude towards PR people.

I've read both gentelmen's posts and for what it's worth here's my thoughts.

1) (Obvious) Jason's headline is extreme to get a reaction. It works. Good job.

2) Jason's NOT WRONG about certain things. For a STARTUP COMPANY it is essential that the CEO and other certain members of its core team do some key things. (Paraphrasing) Be visible, transparent, accessible and open. Not rocket science. I would add another observation/tactic to Jason's list: be fearless. He didn't overtly state this and while beginning a startup may automatically make one think that the CEO is out there, that's not always the case.

I personally thought Jason's article was interesting in that it provides the flip-side of the coin that so few PR people see: A former journalist, current entrepreneur and CEO, Jason's seen and been there. He built his own personal brand and linked it to his business. That's why he's successful. That's why he's liked (or hated) and that's why journalists (like the one's he mentions in his article) have sought him out.

3)Transferring Jason's notion to ALL businesses (e.g. every company should fire their PR company) is baseless. In social science that's false attribution. The leap isn't legit.

I've only ever worked with one mature startup company. The minute they were looking "for the next step" they called a PR firm. Why? They recognized the following:

1) They weren't sure what the next step was (IPO? Sell? Merger?)

2) They knew they weren't going to get the intelligence, insight and analysis of the market and mindshare from their current sources (existing relationships with journalists, blogosphere, etc.)

3) They weren't sure how to "maximize" their current existing communications to go beyond what they were already doing (and yes, there comes a point where a successful startup can no longer rest on its laurels).

4) Finally, they wanted the thought leadership beyond the C-suite that had alluded them (it's great to have a strong C-suite, but if you're known only for that one or very few people, it makes it hard to gain marketshare for products and services).

So what ended up happening? The team and I developed a 12-month thought leadership and awareness campaign to get them to the next level. In nine months they had a very successful resolution as to what the next step would be. ;) And I'm proud to say the CEO and everyone there walked away with a smile on their face and with more than a few shiny pennies for their effort.

When I read Richard Edelman's response to Jason's post, I found myself thinking that both men are right. Richard is dead on: not all journalists hate PR people (sorry, Jason - you're wrong there) and not all startups (whether they just started or are maturing) should "fire" their PR agency. In-house or professional corporate communicators can be a valuable resource to a startup. Actually, it's crucial that one person (perhaps not the CEO of the company) work with an agency to help further the startup. CEO's, especially those who have so much wrapped up in the company they helped or in some cases built, need a mediator who can manage the agency and learn the company from inside out. In doing so they can help spot "blind spots" that some CEOs miss.

Moreover, PR is NOT JUST about media relations and getting the client ink. While this will always be the staple of our industry, it is evolving where we need to change the ways we do traditional media relations and how we advise clients on the strategic use of new technologies.

Welcome to the new PR frontier my peers.

What do you think of Jason's article and Richard's response?

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