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Leadership

Why Your Startup Shouldn't Hire A PR Firm

Hiring a public relations team doesn't have to be at the top of your startup to-do list. You should be your own best PR pro.

Why Your Startup Shouldn't Hire A PR Firm

[Image: Flickr user Elizabeth Albert]

There are millions of PR pros in the world, and I won’t hire any of them. Here’s why.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, there are over four public relations professionals for every one journalist in the U.S. As an entrepreneur, it is your job to fight to get your story told by a decreasing supply of writers.

Nobody said this was going to be easy, and unless you’re Jack Dorsey you’ll face a lot of rejection.

If you’ve ever been to a tech party—or any party—chances are you’ve had more than a few public relations "experts" hustle you to give them new business.

Why should you go it alone

Easy: Nobody is better at telling your company’s story than you are. When you contract your storytelling efforts to a third party, your story is immediately diluted. But when you’re telling your own story, you can make it bold, you can make it interesting, and you can even make it sexy.

You will never stand out if a PR flack pitches your story: Your pitch will be buried under the other 400 PR emails that most journalists receive every day. But if you pitch your product or service yourself, you significantly increase your odds of rising to the top of the inbox.

Nobody Can Tell Your Story Better Than You

I tell the SkillBridge story to my family, my friends, random people I meet at bars, dudes sitting next to me on the subway, and every person I meet who may be a potential customer.

I have refined this story to focus on specific plot points for different people. In some instances I focus on the inefficiencies of Bain, McKinsey, and other large consulting firms, and in other versions of my story, I focus on the opportunities for growth that SkillBridge is giving to small businesses that, for the first time, have access to an elite pool of talented consultants.

I work in the business-to-business world, which isn’t nearly as sexy or as cool to the media as the business to consumer world. However, once you realize that you don’t need to be mentioned in every single blog, and that it is far more important to be discussed in niche publications that are relevant to your specific industry, you can create more effective targets to pitch your story to.

Hustle (and Passion) Required

Yes, this requires me to hustle a whole lot more, but hey, isn't that why I got into this startup life anyway? If I wanted to work in the traditional business world I wouldn’t be doing this.

That said, as a mild control freak, I rest more easily knowing that the job of pitching and managing media relations is done by me. I don’t have to worry that the PR person I’ve hired has mangled the story or forgot to include some of the most important details.

I have told my company's story a thousand times. When I tell it, it's genuine, as there are no more firm believers in the freelance work revolution than me. When a PR pro hypothetically pitches this story, there is no way he or she can capture the nuances like I can, and there’s no way he or she can be as passionate as I am about the need to reform the consulting industry. I eat, sleep, and breathe this world.

Making Contacts and Getting the Pitch Right

Yes, PR pros oftentimes have strong contacts, but simply getting a quote from your company's founder in an article isn't necessarily enough. You need to be the story. And oftentimes that means you need to create the narrative, you need to be the narrative.

I may have some strategic advantages: I am based in the media capital of the world, New York City. I frequently run into journalists at social gatherings, media gatherings, and business gatherings. However, using email and social media, there are still plenty of ways to get a hold of journalists when you have a compelling story to tell.

Also, as a former professional journalist myself, I understand the stress and pressures that other journalists face. A little empathy goes a long way, especially when you acknowledge that most journalists are passionate about their jobs, and surely aren’t in it for the money.

I recognize that there are subtle and not to subtle differences in pitching to different audiences. I wouldn't give the same pitch to a local business journalist as I would to a national tech journalist or regional human resources beat reporter.

Follow-through is also very important. There’s little chance that a journalist will respond to you the first time you pitch them. Thus, some effort is required to refine your pitch and always be sharing new and interesting information. My motto is to always keep pitching until the journalist tells me to stop. Also, it makes sense to always have a few stories ready, and always have satisfied customers ready to give quotes. When you make life easier for journalists, they appreciate it.

When to call in the pros

There are times when a PR professional can be of value to you: For example, if you run a small business that is based in a specific city, and you will only be dealing with local and regional press. In that case, there may be a few key reporters and editors who cover your relevant beat. Therefore, hiring a flack with local knowledge and strong local connections could certainly be useful.

As your company and budgets grow, when you can afford to bring in a full-time PR and communications pro, whose job it is to always keep pitching and look for media opportunities, do it. But until then, keep media management within your own realm.

But, until I reach the point where I can hire my own flack, I’ll keep pitching myself.

Stephen Robert Morse Stephen Robert Morse is the Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at Skill Bridge. He previously founded MyTwoCensus.com, worked for Quirky.com, Seamless.com, and Lightbox.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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