“News is something someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising.” – Lord Northcliffe
We’re reporters, so we hear a lot of bullshit; Lately we’ve been hearing that it costs $750 to get a post on TechCrunch, which we initially thought meant that one of our writers was receiving direct compensation for posts. This is what happened the last time we heard something like this.
However, when we tracked the rumor through a game of tech PR telephone, we discovered that a PR firm called PRserve had been charging startups $750 to get a post on an “A-level blog “like TechCrunch and around $400 to get on lesser blogs, or, as the industry refers to it, “placement.”
We’ve since proved that this is in fact true, and that a couple of our writers were on the receiving ends of these “pay for play” sorts of pitches, though none of them were offered or took money for their work. This practice (“PR by the pound”) isn’t illegal. We’re fully aware that some PR firms do get bonused for a percentage of press hits on top of their monthly retainer. And yes, even though some of those retainers are between $5k-$15k to essentially get press coverage, we believe that there’s something smarmy about putting an a la carte price tag on an individual article like this, even if it’s a relatively inexpensive $750.
Imagine somebody doing this to The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.
While we’re not in the business of advising PR people on their pricing, we think that making press coverage this transactional crosses an ethical/editorial line and diminishes the integrity of our brand and our writers. Startups and investors, you shouldn’t be paying for TC articles, or any press coverage for that matter, you should be paying for the help with your message and communications, which, if you have a good and/or compelling product, might result in more coverage. And while a (legit) PR team can be useful in many cases, a direct and fair relationship with our writers is always the best way to get on TechCrunch.
Because of these principles, we will be banning PRserve or anyone who we catch doing this from pitching us moving forward. As of today, we’ve told our writers to ignore all pitches from this firm (and its director Chris Barrett), and advise his clients to reach out to them directly if they indeed have a worthwhile story. And, if you spent $750 to get your startup on TechCrunch, you should ask PRserve for a refund. If they don’t give it to you, I will personally give it to you, out of my own pockets, not Aol’s.
Because we actually get paid to write amazing stories, not write amazing stories to get PR people paid.
Update: PRserve’s Chris Barrett responds: “Traditional PR firms typically charge retainer fees of between $5,000 – $10,000 per month, with no contractual obligation to garner media coverage. The only difference between PRserve and a traditional PR firm is that PRserve does not charge retainer fees, irrespective of results. PRserve only collects a flat rate of between $425 and $750 per story, depending on the media outlet, to meet the media strategies of promising startups.”