Most PR professionals I know are flat out busy right now and being really picky about new clients that they take on. But the way that they do business is under fire. Today’s volleys are just the most recent example, although one of PR’s own is leading the charge (Steve Rubel from Edelman, a master at his craft).
The issue Rubel brings up is whether PR really serves any purpose today given that more and more journalists, particularly tech journalists, are finding the interesting stuff on their own and ignoring the canned pitches that hit their inbox daily.
I can’t speak for big media journalists who’ve been in the game for years and years, but from my experience with blogging for a few years, I agree that PR as a profession is broken.
They’re trying to apply the same rules they used when the number of journalists covering their companies was a manageable, chummy lot. Today there’s a whole spectrum of people writing about startups in big media publications, large and small blogs, Twitter, Friendfeed and everything in between.
Most PR folks don’t read blogs and certainly don’t understand them. All they see is a Google alert with their clients name, and rush to put out a fire. Down the road they may try to bring those bloggers into the fold, largely relying on word of mouth as to the best way to approach them in lieu of actually reading the blog itself.
That leads to the occasional massive clusterfuck and some truly hilarious moments that I would like to write a book about some day. To sum it all up, the relationship between bloggers and PR firms is shaky at best. Or at least it should be. Some bloggers really cultivate PR relationships, but for me PR is the last refuge when I’m attacking a story. They keep trying to put out the fires I’m starting.
So back to practical advice: what do you do if you’re a startup looking for help in getting the word out about your company? First off, don’t hire PR help until the volume of inbound requests by press are simply too much to handle without help. That’s way down the line for most companies.
Until then, take the time to start reading blogs and other publications that cover what you’re doing. Go to an event or two. This should be fun for you, since they’re writing about stuff that you’re spending all your time on. You’ll start to see links to other relevant sites, and before long you’ll fully understand who’s who in the space, get a feel for people’s personalities and passions, etc. Leave a few thoughtful comments. Better yet, start your own blog and link appropriately. And in your leisure time participate in the fascinating conversations occurring on Twitter and FriendFeed.
Suddenly you are no longer just a spectator with an agenda. You are now part of a community. You are a person that gives and takes. Someone who makes the overall network stronger. And I guarantee that after a few weeks of actually participating in the community, you’ll have far better press connections than most of the PR people we deal with daily.
And best of all, you aren’t sucked into the web of politics and intrigue that guides the relationships between PR firms and the press. You can build your own relationships and bypass all the mess.
Of course there are exceptions to this advice. Some startup founders just aren’t comfortable talking directly to the press without guidance. And there are a lot of good PR people out there that really understand what’s going on with the profession today. The problem is, they’re not taking on new clients.