PR Is Essential for Startups…or Is It?!

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These guys (don’t) get it…

Many professional communicators will argue that every single worthwhile startup needs some public relations assistance by default–but some ambitious tech entrepreneurs disagree!

Shocking, we know. A recent point/counterpoint in the digital pages of Fast Company makes clear that this debate will continue for some time.

Earlier this month, entrepreneur Stephen Robert Morse wrote a piece titled “Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Hire a PR Firm.

The article understandably sparked a bit of controversy; some key points–and today’s rebuttal–after the jump.

To start, Morse has had some bad experiences with tech PR specialists:

“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.”

Those quotation marks did sting a bit. Here’s his core point:

“Nobody is better at telling your company’s story than you are…You will never stand out if a PR flack pitches your story.”

Hmm. The implication is that the very fact that a PR person is the one pitching your story ensures that it will find a natural home in the average tech journalist’s trash folder. So what’s Morse’s alternative?

“…as a mild control freak, I rest more easily knowing that the job of pitching and managing media relations is done by me…When a PR pro hypothetically pitches this story, there is no way he or she can capture the nuances like I can…”

Now it’s starting to make sense. On the strategy front:

“Also, as a former professional journalist myself, I understand the stress and pressures that other journalists face. A little empathy goes a long way…My motto is to always keep pitching until the journalist tells me to stop.”

In other words, he can handle it. The preceding sentiments may seem to contradict each other, but Morse acknowledges the usefulness of outside PR in one case:

“…if you run a small business that is based in a specific city, and you will only be dealing with local and regional press.”

His argument is that PR is only a worthy expense when your company is big enough to stand on its own two feet. Of course many disagreed, and the response went live today via the founders of 7 Second Strategies, a firm specializing in startups. Their points:

“Successful branding does not come easily, nor is it an intuitive process.”

…which is why you need to hire someone who doesn’t specialize in programming to define your brand to the outside world. Also:

“PR professionals use precise language, phrasing, and sentence construction to make sure reporters pay attention”, which is something you don’t have time to do.

While you may understand who your target audience is….

“PR firms…are able to effectively cultivate brand love because they truly understand your customers.”

And:

“…the media will craft its own narrative for your company if you don’t persistently reiterate who you are.”

While we appreciate these points, none of them directly counter Morse’s argument that he knows his own story better than anyone else could and that he’d prefer to bear the responsibility for telling it himself.

Unsurprisingly, he’s not buying the response.

We think it safe to say that–Morse’s story aside–startup founders do not always make the best spokespeople.

But we have to ask: what’s the most effective way to sell the necessity of such services to the average startup founder beyond “let us handle it so you can attend to the things you do best?”