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Any experience with startup PR services like Publicize or CrowdBooster?

I'm looking at ditching the classic agency model and using one of these new types of services. I'm curious if anyone has any experience they'd like to share. Or any general tips/advice. (I am experienced in PR, but have always used a firm.)

10 Replies

John T. Maloney
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John T. Maloney Advisor
Internet of Things Executive Consultant, IoT Engineer
The answer is self-evident: ditch the agency. Startups and entrepreneurs make a huge mistake by stepping out with a PR agency. Using scarce startup capital for PR is laughable. Beware. Far better to own your PR.

As far as apps serve your own customer discovery and creation strategy, they are fine.

Remember, the purpose of every business is to create a customer; not have lunch with well-manicured PR hacks.
Jennifer Nedeau
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Jennifer Nedeau Entrepreneur
Director of Strategic Communications, Bully Pulpit Interactive
The automated PR services will likely be a waste of time. PR is about relationships and strategy. Also, most importantly, you need a good product. So yes, focus on your product first. Have a story worth telling. When the time is right, either before a launch or once your product has some scale, work with a firm or consultant who can go beyond the media outreach and help you plan for a larger, strategic public communications play.
Alex Eckelberry
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Alex Eckelberry Advisor
CEO at Meros.io
John Maloney, I know that's the popular sentiment, but I've used agencies for my last two startups with great success. I also ran global marketing for a large public company previously, and used agencies to great effect.

But then again, I didn't sit passively -- I had clear objectives, and knew exactly what I was going for, and recognized what they were useful for.

Of course, anyone who just hires a PR firm and thinks magic will occur is fooling themselves. Used correctly though, they are a powerful tool. But they are just that -- a tool.

Jennifer, I agree with your sentiment.
Mark Bain
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Mark Bain Advisor
President
Alex, I think the answer is behind two questions: a) what help does your startup really need to achieve key milestones and overall goals, and b) who is best qualified to provide that help? Sounds like you have those points in mind. The right consultant can support in many ways, including refining and amplifying your story, connecting you to partners, building the right culture, etc. My general suggestion would be to use qualified resources on higher value needs, keeping the low-value activities (e.g., press releases) in-house or foregoing them entirely.
John T. Maloney
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John T. Maloney Advisor
Internet of Things Executive Consultant, IoT Engineer

This matter is settled mostly. Tip: don't try the the zero-sum game. It's a technique for trolls.

Look, extremely few startup entrepreneurs have run "...global marketing for a large public company..." You suffer confirmation bias. Beware.

See:

http://bit.ly/1T3ZGdU
Keith Peer
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Keith Peer Advisor
Chief Operating Officer at Certified Security Solutions (CSS)
These PR tools are for people with no budgets and without any sense of what PR really is. Alex, go the traditional PR route but manage the relationship. These services won't get you in front of the people who you need to be in front of to really grow a business.
Chris Taylor
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Chris Taylor Advisor
Director, Channel Marketing at Yuneec USA, Inc.
As with so many of the questions asked of this group, there are so many variables that go into determining the "right" decision.

In this case, what are your marketing objectives and how will PR help you achieve those? What are your expectations for PR? What are the realistic opportunities for media coverage in your space for your company? How important are personal relationships with press/bloggers/influencers? What's your budget? What are your internal resources capable of handling? What strategies do you think will get you results e.g. spray and pray, relationships, etc. Are there PR contractors who might have what you need or internal people at a much lower cost and better ROI? And more.

But to your question about personal experience, I'll share one example:

I joined a startup that was paying $10k a month for a very good PR firm. The company had a CMO (who I replaced) who was enamored with the idea of having a reputable PR firm. Problem - the firm was not delivering $10k/month in value. They had secured very little media coverage and not much value in other areas. I discovered they did not have relationships in the space and were not having much luck establishing relationships. And worse, as I looked at the space (new one to me) the reality was there was not a huge upside in potential coverage based on our product and the market trends. And they really didn't deeply understand our company.

So two weeks after I started I put the firm on notice and terminated the agreement. (They were great and agreed with me.) I then did the PR myself, reaching out to the media and influencers in the space. My emails coming from the company seemed to have much greater success in getting a response and building relationships than the PR firm. And the relationships benefited our company in many ways besides just media coverage (especially around content marketing). Did get some press coverage that was beneficial although not a huge amount. And importantly I personally learned so much about the space by doing it myself, things that helped me in every other aspect of marketing I did.

But I was at another startup that used an agency and through their relationships got us on the Today Show and some other great coverage that wouldn't have happened otherwise. It was an important part of the initial growth.

So back to my original point that it's all about your specific circumstances.

Best of luck.
Alex Eckelberry
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Alex Eckelberry Advisor
CEO at Meros.io
John Maloney, your point about confirmation bias is a fair one; in my case, however, I've seen the difference (as Chris Taylor pointed out above) with a good agency.

At my last two startups, I used agencies to great success, and to very successful exits. And, I'm working with a company right now that, with a good PR strategy and agency, has dramatically improved their lead volume from when they were doing it "alone".

That being said, there are a lot of really shitty agencies out there, and the PR landscape has changed markedly. So there's no perfect answer. A lot, also, has to do with the product being marketed. Industrial scientific tools aren't PR sexy; while a new hip accessory is.

Anyway, thanks all for the feedback.
Jennifer Fortney
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20+ years’ experience in PR & marketing comms; Founder of Cascade PR, Chicago firm for small business & startups.
Good comments here of which I agree and disagree. My fellow Jennifer is dead on and guess what, media HATE these automated services. I guest post for a local NBC affiliate startup blog and ended up on a list. I feel for media because I only get 30 unsolicited pitches per day (clearly they aren't doing their homework on the outlet because they would see I am not a fit!), where they are getting hundred(s).

Most of our success still comes because we pick up the phone and "talk" to people. Imagine! :)

I have had clients go with these "crowdfund PR" companies and be very disappointed. Mostly because they could never get them on the phone after they signed a very tight agreement which pays them whether they achieve anything or not. Now, we all know for every bad experience are good ones or they wouldn't be in business. My advice is to research them carefully. Some in our industry believe this is just the hottest PR model of the moment but most really don't know what they're doing. That is not to say there aren't a few that do.

Research and due diligence.

I agree there are some bad agencies out there, but you can avoid this by asking the right questions and making sure you're not dazzled by a large agency, or any, that is going to cause you to spend far more than you should. More importantly seem hungrier for your money than doing good work.

We specialize in startups and have a business model that keeps us affordable and still strategic. That's what you need to look for. This kind of agency really understands your needs, budget and puts them first with idea that you will grow together.

When it comes to PR, it is the best credibility builder you can have. Perception IS 9/10ths of the rule, always. Customers, and even other media, see your coverage online and they are more likely to engage. However, in today's environment, we can drive tons of traffic to your website through this invaluable credibility, but if the website fails to engage, make an emotional connection with customers and hence the sale, you can't blame them for doing their job. They've created the interest. This is why we work with your clients to ensure their site, messaging and all marketing comms are aligned for success.

Please let me know if you have any further questions. Happy to help you get where you need to be in your decision process.

Best,
Jennifer
Haider Alleg
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Haider Alleg Entrepreneur
Managing Director at Kainjoo
On my side I had great experiences when the agencies rate was indexed with the success of the project. They would be on the same boat, forced to make it happen.
I hated the agencies working on the hours mode, mostly the common denominator was there when we worked on deliverables that we measured (e.g. reach in a niche target, penetration rate...)
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