Question: Best tech PR for startups?

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As part of this week’s effort to allow you, the readers, to steer this blog for a while, here’s the first of a few questions this week.

Question: Which firm, or which individual PR person, is the best for tech/mobile startups (either in the UK or Ireland)?

Now, this is a question I get asked a lot by startups I meet. So I thought I’d ask the community of commenters and bloggers around TCUK to contribute their thoughts (either via comments or trackback), thereby allowing everyone else to benefit from your knowledge.

I might add that I don’t have a huge amount of interest in the answer since I seem to be indiscriminately contacted by just about every tech PR under the sun. My reaction almost always depends entirely on the “story” they are trying to sell me, not on the firm or person doing the selling. I also get some of my best stories from the companies themselves. But then, they clearly employ PRs because they’d rather run their company than talk to 27 different media outlets!

Now, obviously it goes without saying that it would be nice if you were respectful and non-libelous in your answers. Plus, any PRs attempting to PR their own company in the comments below needs to be aware that they could end up subjecting themselves to a bit of pasting. People can comment anonymously but I can see where you are coming from so really terrible shilling will get “called out”. You have been warned.

I now expect a lot of PR people to furiously ring/email around their clients asking them to say nice things in the comments, so let’s take it all with a pinch of salt shall we?

  • Shafqat

    As a small startup with limited budget, we’ve gotten remarkeable mileage doing PR ourselves. I’ve found that a lot of ‘big-name’/influential/well-contected people in the industry have given us their time because we reach out explicitly in a very ‘non-PR’ way and tell our story ourselves. Probably because we can’t afford a PR firm! With that being said, its starting to become a drain on our time, so I’d love to get feedback on PR firms or individuals who are more geared towards very early stage startups without huge budgets.

  • Andy E

    We used 2 different PR companies at the launch of our online estate agents, neither of which performed as well as they said they could. They struggled with the concept, had a hard time understanding “2.0”, wrote poor press releases and generally got us no coverage. They seemed to spend more time asking us for ideas rather than speaking to journo’s and selling us in. All for the princely sum of £4k per month!!

    So, because we weren’t getting what we wanted from them, we did some research, started our own PR arm and within a month the CEO had been interviewed twice on BBC 5Live, we had coverage in national papers (tabloids and broadsheets), a live BBC news 24 interview and lots of local TV coverage.

    Since then we have continued to do all of our own PR and it has been a continuous success.

    We use the same distribution channels as the major PR firms, but we go direct instead.

    If you can string a sentence together and write a compelling press release about your company, and use good distribution channels such as PR Newswire and Response Source you will find yourself saving thousands and still getting excellent coverage.

  • Will McInnes

    I have been meeting with tech PR people for the last 6 weeks to represent our social media agency Nixon McInnes.

    I found it hard to develop a sufficiently decent long-list, but these are the tech pr people I’ve been talking with:

    Liberate Media – they specialise in tech pr, lovely people, totally ‘get it’
    Hotwire PR – Drew Benvie is the very credible face of the digital division and is a true participant himself
    Midnight Communications – long-standing tech PR division with all benefits of experience
    Rassami Hok Ljungberg (hope I spelt that right) – haven’t met in person but she came recommended
    Flannel – Claire used to work for NMA

    Google them all.

    I would also say that following Shafqat (above) advice of DIY can be a good place to start, especially because media *can* like untrammelled access to the story without an intermediary, and that way you build a great contact list.

    For us the logic is about allowing us to concentrate on what we know and do well, and get experts to do the rest.

  • Paul Walsh

    The best form of PR for any startup is the CEO – the person with the drive and passion. They should be out there connecting with the main influencers with the view to getting to know them – the influencer can then get to know the CEO and what drives them and the company. It’s important to be likable, honest and open about the good and bad.

    Startups shouldn’t use PR firms as they’re expensive and will add very little value because there’s little to talk about at the start. They should focus more on ‘marketing’ and getting the message right so a PR firm can potentially pick it up later on.

  • Shafqat

    Andy – very insightful. Care to elaborate more on the distribution channels you use and your experience using those?

  • Mark

    I’m a freelance PR and have worked almost exclusively in the tech sector for more than a dozen years, mostly in agency, with multi-nationals and start-ups. The question’s a tough one.

    Firstly, I’d say, look at your business. Or, more specifically, understand you’re target audiences. Andy E was launching an estate agency – online, yes, but an estate agency nonetheless. Were the two PR agencies he worked with technology specialists, or consumer specialists? Back in the late 90s, I ran a small agency that worked specifically with tech start-ups. We had numerous dot com start-ups approach us and we turned them away because they weren’t technology companies, even though many thought they were. They were booksellers, or travel companies, or pet product providers. Find a PR agency that understands your market.

    There are agencies that are well set up to work with start-ups; that perhaps have a good model for working on a project rather than a retained basis for instance. I’ve heard good things about Liberate and Hotwire spin-off Skywrite too.

    As people are all too fond of saying, PR isn’t rocket science, but it does take time to do it well. You need to work out your company’s story: why is it compelling? Why should the audience (and media) be interested? What evidence do you have to support your claims?

    Vested interest here, obviously, but you could do worse than buy a day’s time of an experienced freelancer to help you work out a few of these things, and even if you need a PR agency at all. The PR Network ( brings together a good number of PR freelancers (disclsoure: I’m a member of the network but I’m not currently working with any of its clients) so might be a place to start.

  • Dan Field

    We started out trying to do our own PR, back in 2006… but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going anywhere – not in our industry anyway where we were up against some of the bigger players (Norton, Cloudmark, Mailwasher etc).

    We now use 10 Yetis as our PR agency (And for some design work too)… Andy is the main man there, get him touch… they provide an excellent job:

    Since using 10 Yetis our brand has grown considerably with lost of coverage in the press, and more importantly lots more customers!

  • Jamie Murray Wells

    You only get 1 attempt at a launch, and it’s the best chance you’ve got to drive serious publicity. Once the story’s out there it’s no longer news, no longer exclusive etc, so get it right first time – use a good PR

    Warning – lots of cowboys. Hear anything like ‘we’ll organise a day in a hotel where journos can come visit’ or ‘ we send out a minimum of 50,000 press release’ run a mile. Our PR has hardly ever sent any press releases. Most of it should be done by picking up the phone to an editor, or face to face, which is why rollerdex is crucial.

    So – my tip – dont mess with this one, do it properly, professionally (get the best you can afford), and do it right first time. I use and I’ve also heard are good

  • Keith

    £4k is ridiculous! A startup should need about 2-3 days of retained PR work a month (in the few months leading to market there may be extra project work), and it shouldn’t cost more than £1k (stg) or the equivalent in euro per day.
    Look for them to show you the quality returns they’ve gotten – what stories they’ve made the press with. Ask for examples from other similar companies on their client base.
    Their contacts with the journalists are key – this is probably even more important in a small market like Ireland (30-ish tech journalists) than the UK (300-ish tech journalists). Press releases are important, but feature pieces are vital too. You can only get them through relationships with journos.
    Find out who their existing clients are (if they won’t tell you some, then they’re not worth dealing with), and see what media coverage they’ve had over recent months. Google News & Lexis Nexis should tell you enough of what you need to know.
    If you’re small, you probably will want them to have the capacity to do other things, like advertising/marketing, too. If they have that skill and experience, it’s useful. If you never use it, it didn’t cost you anything that they had it.
    Remember that the value or PR isn’t just the amount of sales received. It’s the collateral too. It’s easier to hire staff, retain staff, attract partners and investment and, ultimately, plan your exit strategy, if you’ve got a media profile. If your PR company doesn’t understand that, don’t waste your time. If you don’t understand that, you’re going to be banging your head off a table for a long time.

    I say all of the above as a PR person, but posting here in a personal capacity, so I’m not plugging myself…not even including a website link!

  • George Black

    I agree with Paul Walsh and others, unless you have really deep pockets then it is up to the CEO to get out there and meet the right people.

    If you have got the money then great, but keep an eye on the actual value you are getting out of the money you are forking out. £4k a month paid to a PR firm should bring you more than £4k of revenue or equivalent.

  • Dan Field

    You don’t need to spend anywhere near £4k a month to get good PR!

    Ask round, get recommendations and you may be surprised how cost effective good PR can be.

    Jamie is right… you only get one chance with a good PR story.. if you try it yourself and mess it up its much harder (If not impossible) to use the same angle correctly.

    A CEO should be getting out there and meeting people, but that isn’t the whole story. PR should be used along with many other marketing and publicity and channels.

    PR isn’t a core skill for a technology start-up and shouldn’t have to be… concentrate on what you are good at and hire the right people for the job.

  • Philip Wilkinson

    We used an agency that quite frankly didn’t deliver the goods. A lot of the time was spent “researching” people to contact and speaking to people over email – rather than trying to deliver real tangible results. They didn’t understand the blog environment and ended up fobbing us off with SEO press releases and trade magazine coverage. That cost us 10k + VAT!

    Frankly – I agree with the guys above in that the best PR is that done by yourself where you get to know the key contacts, can communicate your message better than anyone else, and deliver results for much less cash.

    The main thing is that it takes time and probably best bringing on an internal PR / marketing person to handle this side of things.

  • Ivan Pope

    Over the years I’ve been round the houses with PR people and companies. The question really shouldn’t be what the PR company can do for you, as if they are a discrete unit that exists outside of your company, who will just get on with the job. In this day and age, you should think of your company as a social network and all participants that you engage with are part of that network. PR is part of that network, your pr people need to be living and breathing in that network. So the ceo is a powerful and crucial part of the pr team, as are all your customers, colleagues and co-workers etc. If you want to add an external team, they should plug into this network – not be ‘briefed’ by a single person internally. They should see all sorts of things going on – the conversation between you and the outside world. Then the social network of your company should expand to include the press, the bloggers, the media etc, who again are not some discrete external forces but a living breathing part of your mission. If you can engage everyone like this, you will learn the true nature of PR.
    On a personal level, I like working with PR people because they do things and have a focus that I do not have. They are a good part of the network, whether you are paying them or not.
    Now, I must go, I have some social networking to do …

  • James Balmain

    Nice conversation going on here. PR is such a thorny subject. We all want it, lots of it, but many of us small start-ups don’t have the cash to hire the big boys. Even if we did, I’m damn certain the ROI on £4k per month would be very hard to justify…

    We’ve been doing as much stuff as we can ourselves, and using prnewswire for releases, etc. This has worked well, as a means to an end, but it’s early days, in terms of seeing the benefit (very early actually, 9 days and counting!)

    Working in retail, we’ve pushed the brands we stock to give us coverage, which has worked well in some cases. I’d definately recommend this to other e-tailers, as the brands are as keen to sell things as we are!

    There must be an angle here, for a good pr firm, to take a look at start-ups on a case by case basis, and take a punt on those with good models / ideas. Perhaps a reduced fee / no fee system in the early days, in exchange for more lucrative work down the line. Difficult to tie up, for sure, but we’d take a look at this model, as I’m sure others out there in start-up land would too.

  • Shafqat

    James – good point about the inverted model (reduced fee now for more lucrative work in the future). We’ve been using this approach while trying to strike up partnerships with some of the large news wire agencies (we’re in the news space) and it has been relatively successful. I wonder if PR firms would give this a go.

  • Andy E

    Hi James

    Funny you should say that…

    After having bad experiences with the agencies, we set up our own agency, run by our parent company. Aspiration Media now handles all of our PR, but we also do case by case for start ups. Providing complete services but on a release by release basis as opposed to a retainer or monthly charge.

    Having first hand experience of startups and what it takes to make an impact we believe we offer a perfect service for startups. Knowing full well what we wanted when we started!

    People referring to the CEO’s importance are 100% correct in my opinion, we have found much more success when CEO’s are available alongside spokespeople.


  • James

    Hi there

    I’m one of the co-Founders of – and guess what, PR for us has been and continues to be a critical marketing channel.

    In total we’ve used 5 PR agencies – and met a lot of others.

    IMHO, I think PR is a bit like any service based business. While a PR brand can perhaps give some quality guarantee, in my albeit limited experience, the actual result depends on the individuals working on your account – and how much energy and empathy they have for your business.

    My pick of the bunch were Bite. Robin Wilson was our senior partner and things were handled day to day by Susannah Hardy and Jonathan Hopkins. Robin is a great brain. We needed them to create a new category for us – and they did, Social Lending. I recently heard they’re going well and have picked up the accounts of facebook and Linked in. They really get digital, communities and how to create brands and transaction through PR. I also found David Hargreaves who runs the UK business to be extremely approachable, experienced and bright and willing to go out of his way to help a small business that I guess he must have believed in.

    We also use an excellent freelancer, Martin Campbell at Beacon Strategic who does all our personal finance PR. He knows everyone, does business over delightful lunches – and gets excellent results. Who else has got a year old start up 5 mins prime time on BBC1 6pm news.

    We also had a good agency for our launch – Sputnik – who managed to get us into every national / tv channel straight out of the door. I think they’re fab for news PR.

    Hope this helps – if anyone wants more detail I’m on

  • Will McInnes

    @ George Black

    Absolutely the CEO has to be the figurehead, but as Ivan says, she or he is part of the PR team. If my startup is serious, I want the CEO being the spokesperson, but not doing the various admin and legwork to getting to that step. I want them growing the whole business, and PR is a job and a specialism in itself.

    Secondly, to expect £4k revenue for £4k expenditure is naive – most PR is not done for out and out lead generation. The agencies I’ve been meeting say that PR is usually commissioned by their clients for things like: prove to would-be investors that we are a credible businsess; get on the radar of would-be trade acquirers.

    In my business we are investing in PR for – ultimately – lead generation but with our eyes wide open to the fact that many things contribute to generating a lead – and PR is just an important but contributing factor. As such, our expectation for payback is in say 12 months and onwards, not less than because its a momentum activity, a long-term investmet.

    If you want to put £4k into a marketing sausage machine and get more back in a time horizon that’s less than 6 months you need to be looking at direct response activities – PPC, DM, telemarketing, and other harder and often more ghastly activities. That’s my experience anyway.

  • James

    Shaa Wasmund is fantastic at PR.

    She did and dyson vacuum cleaners.

    That was back in the dot com days….

    I have no idea what she is doing now…..

    But she was very good at selling a story……

  • Will Rowan

    aha, so how do you define “best”?

    I’ve worked with a fantastic food’n’health PR who delivered press coverage that, in turn, begat sales, on & offline. The “investment” delivered a profitable return; the timescale was driven only by publications’ lead times.

    But a PR might also reasonably be tasked with gererating noise/awareness/footfall, call it what you will.

    I guess the point is to know what “success” looks like – and define it a measureable way. Then George Black can have his £ RoI, and Will McInness can have his less tangible (and equally valid) success.

    The “best” PR in my experience is the one with a black book of the journalists from whom you’d like coverage – and the relationships to turn phone calls into coverage. Which means that the Best PR for Company A is almost certainly not the Best PR buddy for Company B.

  • Nicholas

    First of all, thanks Mike for getting this discussion started. It is such a crucial point for any start up that it is great to read what other start up’s have experienced.
    I certainly agree that the CEO/ Co-founders of the business ought to do the main work of the PR. They will be much more passionate and committed to the cause then any PR company, simply because it’s their ‘baby’, so the CEO will handle the interviews or discussions with the media with a lot more passion.
    However, I also think that if you don’t have any experience in PR that you should mix your own efforts with those of a professional, because as others have rightly said, you only get one chance at this so get it right. We ( have about two more months before launching and I am speaking to as many contacts in the media as possible. However, shortly before launch we think we will bring someone on board. This will stretch our budget, but we always calculated it in. I think many start ups make the mistake of only thinking of the development and technology costs, but I would say you have to at least calculate around 5.000 pounds for marketing.
    For any of you who speak German, here is a brilliant link to all German (and some European) journalists, including e-mails and phone numbers. I have found that if you pick up the phone, tell your story with a lot of passion and commitment they will listen and if you catch them on the right day, might even write your story.
    So, good luck to all other start ups. Nicholas (Co-founder, Twidox)

  • Rob

    Rachel Bremer at sparkpr is very good. Helpful and energetic as well as understading the tech industry very well by anyone’s standards.

  • NewsCred Blog » Blog Archive » What To Do When You Can’t Afford PR

    […] UK has a really good discussion going about PR. I think the most important takeaway is that no PR firm can replace the passion, […]

  • Philip Wilkinson

    Reading all the comments above – isn’t it actually about getting the agency to commit to tangible deliverables?

    Personally, I’m fed up with “this agency is good”, and “this one worked really well for me”, and the agency saying “of course we can get you coverage, and yes we really do understand your business, and yes we know all the bloggers” – where in fact it’s normally BULLSHIT.

    Instead of setting goals as “we will contact all the main journalists, 20+” – we should make PR agencies deliver tangible goals such as “we will get you prime coverage on a radio show for 2 mins” or “we will get you on page 3 of the a london paper (metro, londonlite)”, or “a column coverage in the sunday times supplement”, or even “we will deliver x leads to your site”.

    If we don’t get firm with these goals and keep PR being “fluffy” then they will get away with things like “well we did contact person X but they weren’t interested” or “we got you coverage in this crappy SEO newswire” or “here you are in the daily mail – a small link right below the classified section.

    If a developer or a designer delivered a product that wasn’t completed or full of bugs – you would tell them to go and fix it till it was done. Why not with PR – it’s time we put a stop to it don’t you think?

  • Ben

    I agree with Phillip in that PR companies avoid goal setting.
    A while ago we approached 2 well known London PR companies that asked for over £10k while both saying they could gurantee any results. What?!
    Naturally we didn’t do it but was ridiculous that they expected us to hand over a relatively large amount of money for a 2 week campaign while only promising some viewings on a youtube video they would post.

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