Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read Write Web started a bit of a meme frenzy today with his post Does Good Tech Need PR? The post got me thinking about my experiences using both internal and external resources for PR and what has worked and what hasn't.
First, PR for tech is often more than simply the traditional media relations. Most successful startups are staffed with great technical people but are typically weaker on the business side. If you're lucky, you've got a good product marketing/product management type, but it's rare to have strong marketing communications capabilities, particularly in the early stages. As a result, techs often look to their PR firms to help them create messaging and positioning material, developing decks and perhaps some marketing collateral.
Next, the PR firm will develop the communications strategy for reaching five key audiences:
- Traditional media
- Bloggers and alternative media
- IT analysts; and, perhaps
- Sales prospects (particularly for enterprise software)
- Investors if the company is raising capital
Then, on an ongoing basis, the PR firm should be doing constant outreach, at least to the first three groups above.
So, should tech companies utilize PR? Of course they should, but with a few caveats:
First, keep in mind that while PR firms can craft and communicate your message, they don't understand your product or your market the way that you (hopefully) do. So, you have to work closely with your PR firm in developing the messaging, hopefully based upon real-world experiences with your early adopter users. If you can't explain the benefits that your users are getting from your product, no PR firm in the world will be able to come up with those answers.
Next, it's important to match the capabilities of the PR firm to the audiences which you are targeting. Trying to get TechCrunch and Mashable to pay attention? That's a different skill set than reaching out to Gartner or the New York Times. You'll want a PR firm that has proven adept with social media marketing. But don't expect that approach to work with the Times or the Journal.
But do the alternative media want to be pitched? Scoble argues that he'd prefer to find cool stuff on his own or through word of mouth. That may be cool but if you're going to wait around hoping your technology will be discovered through serendipity, you'll probably be disappointed. And most bloggers are happy to have ideas floated to them, as long as the ideas are relevant to the world that they cover. So, I think that PR plays a solid role in the web 2.0 world.
But can't you do this stuff yourself? In theory, of course. But most startups don't have the resources, the know how or the bandwidth to do this effectively. A good PR effort consists of an ongoing outreach program, where someone is calling, emailing or Tweeting a couple of hours every day. Do your senior executives have the time to make that commitment? I doubt it. I've also found that founders tend to think their pitch is a match to every reporter's needs but a PR pro knows not to pitch off-target messages.
The challenge for companies is in hiring the right firms and matching their capabilities to your needs. Yes, there are a lot of mediocre PR firms out there but the bigger problem, in my opinion, is hiring good people for the wrong projects. A big agency may not yet understand PR 2.0 and may also put first year associates on your account rather than the senior executives who came in for the pitch. A firm adept at social media strategies may not have the relationships to get you into the Times or the Journal. Define your requirements, set realistic goals and measure and monitor and you'll find that your PR dollars are a solid investment.