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May 29, 2007

DIY PR

Charlemagne-by-Durer.jpg (JPEG Image, 250x554 pixels)-1.jpg My buddy, Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, had a strong reaction to last week’s post about PR by Marge Zable Fisher. So much so that he penned an alternate solution to the challenge of a good client-agency relationship: Don’t hire an agency and do it yourself. Here’s what he wrote.

Nobody knows if Charlemagne could read because an advisor always read aloud for him. It was considered humbling for the king to do anything himself. The same fears drive the most captivating, articulate entrepreneurs to hire publicists. Who wants to risk looking like a fool? As a result, hardly anyone in technology ever tries to talk to a journalist by herself—except Guy, of course.

That’s too bad. Just the other day a newspaper’s technology editor told me, “It’s just so hard to meet entrepreneurs these days. You always get their PR people.” A dozen entrepreneurs sprang to mind who would kill to tell their stories. All have agencies. So what I am recommending is not howto manage an agency, but something more radical: not hiring an agency at all. Here are ten reasons why.

  1. The truth will set you free. Over and over, publicists tell their clients to stick to the agreed-upon message to avoid mistakes but this guarantees you’ll never say anything thoughtful or spontaneous. Maybe your company has two and a half customers. So what? If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not dumping toxins into a river or selling cigarettes to teenagers. Let GE and Philip Morris retain agencies. If you were stripped absolutely naked for the world to see, a few warts might show up, but more people would do business with you. Once you get comfortable with that, you’re ready to deal with the press on your own.

  2. The rolodex is already online. Almost every journalist publishes his e-mail address, and many have a blog. You can also use LinkedIn and Jigsaw. The point is that you can communicate with journalists without a PR person. Usually a sincere note from an entrepreneur is enough to start a conversation. Pick out something good that the journalist wrote and say what you really think. Make a top-five list of what your company has learned in its first six months. Suggest an idea for a story. Keep it short; ask for nothing. It’ll mean a lot more coming from you rather than a publicist. Odds are you’ll hear back.

  3. You don’t have to seem all grown-up and boring. Every entrepreneur feels vaguely disreputable. Maybe you drive a crappy car. Maybe you never went to prom. There are enough stuffed suits in this world to fill fifteen Wall Street Journals a day. As anyone who watches American Idol will tell you, what this spun-out, over-hyped world is absolutely famished for is a little genuine personality. And, outside of your technology, it’s probably the only thing you have. So stop trying to be like IBM and just be yourself.

  4. Ideas are the precious things. Most entrepreneurs are bursting with unconventional ideas: Maybe you think an ad-crazy Silicon Valley has lost its nerve; maybe you’re a grown woman delivering pizzas to diffident recruits in Stanford’s computer science lab; maybe you’ve always wanted to meet the hairy guy living in a trailer park who sends you the inspired spam about mail-order pheromones. These are the kinds of ideas that journalists love.

    Imagine how you would finish this sentence if you were having two beers with your best friend: “You know the strangest thing about what we’re going through is …” What comes next is your best story idea. Even if the story isn’t about your company, you’ll be a part of the conversation. The rest will come naturally.

  5. Let the fur fly. When proposing a story, consider Michael Jordan’s response when asked how much to bet on golf: “Whatever makes you nervous.” If there’s no drama, there’s no story. Most publicists are terrified of a genuine story with real characters and an unpredictable outcome, so no journalists are allowed into your data center on launch day nor can they mingle with customers at your user conference. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to be more comfortable with risk than a publicist. And you won’t win as a start-up without taking risks, over and over again.

  6. Nerd-to-nerd networks are where it all happens—and value speed in everything you do. Most publicists feel threatened by the Internet’s systems of attribution, glorification and punishment, where Digg can make an obscure posting more important than the evening news. Agencies don’t have the street cred, the technical chops, the instinct for candor, the distinct voice and, above all, the commitment to speed to engage in a meaningful conversation with the blogosphere. In the thick of things, you don’t want to have to coordinate with consultants or get permission from anybody. Just ask John Kerry.

  7. Even bad coverage isn’t so bad. I was once profiled in a national business magazine doing odd things in my underwear. It was terrible; I lay face down on a couch for an hour after reading it. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. Never whine to the journalist about coverage, avoid narcissistic story-lines, and don’t worry if you make a few mistakes.

  8. Go in alone. It’s hard to make a move when your dad drives you on a date or to sound contrite about the neighbor’s begonias with your mom standing behind you. It’s just as hard to connect with a journalist when a publicist is always at your side. You often need a candid space in which you can say what you really think. Just bring a notebook so you can jot down any follow-up items and you’ll be fine.

  9. Passion + expertise = credibility. A publicist will never have your passion for your project, and she’ll never have as many colorful customer stories as you do. A friend of mine once told me about “the greatest idea in the history of capitalism,” which turned out to be a semi-pornographic massive multi-player video game. A publicist would never have pitched it as well as he did.

  10. Make time. Most entrepreneurs say they don’t have time for DIY PR. Sure, it takes a while to spam 100 journalists with every press release. But that doesn’t work anyway. Focus on a few big ideas, and you can tell them yourself. Use a feed-reader and Google alerts to track industry news and company mentions. Conveying your company’s story in a personable, compelling way is one of your most important jobs.

  11. (Who’s counting?) Hire an employee, not an agency. When you need help, hire a person, not an agency. This is especially important if you’re not interested in journalism. And if you can afford it at all, it’s worth hiring an employee rather than a contractor. You want someone who can dive into what you’re doing whole hog because he believes in it, without all the staff churn and management overhead of an agency.

    What should you look for in this employee? The worst PR person has contempt for journalists because he either believes journalists can be easily spun or because he becomes aggravated when they can’t. The three best questions to ask when interviewing a publicist are “Who are your favorite writers in journalism?” Why are they your favorites?”—so you can find someone who actually cares about the craft of journalism—and “What is an example of a feature story that you’ve pitched?”—so you can find someone excited about ideas.

    Also, ask for a writing sample. As with any other position, value brains, drive and a soft touch over looks. Most of all, don’t hire anyone fake. Of course, you’ll need to make it clear that the PR person won’t be managing an agency.

A battalion of agency publicists will try to terrify you about the perils of launching your company without their expertise, but anyone who tries to scare you from DIY PR, starting a company, or buying a house online usually isn’t someone an entrepreneur should heed.

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Comments

i would really love to hear from you

Just like everything in the world, you have to take the good with the bad - PR is no different.

Although not every business needs an agency, some do. They're there to help with the overall message.

It may not be 'fun' or 'spontaneous' in any sense of the word, but at least they offer some clarity on issues that not every journalist can/will understand.

I beg to differ,
Companies should stick to their core business. PR is a business that has its own set of know-how and of expirience. Companies can learn how to do this but it takes time and money they would be diverging resources from the core business.
For instance The Telecom sphear has houndrads of Magazines in the UK alone. getting to know the press, the editors, and reporters is a time consuming process. However PR firms that deal with telecom already have that knowledge. When you are hiring a PR Agency you are hiring knowledge and experience not just a Tele-Marketing service.

Eran Kolran
Account Manager
NaoriComm Public Relations
http://www.naoricomm.net

I'm all for DIY PR.
I've been in about 15 publications nationwide for my non VC start up. The key is to make the reporters job easier. Hand it to them on a silver platter. Be their free assistant if need be!

Go get em!

Frank- Frankly

Hi,

Your commentary on PR is very accurate.

Although there are a number of business owners that are scared of going to journalists themselves, we see (yes, I work in a PR firm) the main problem is time (lack of it), and lack of cash to pay someone to do it for them (employee or contractor).

For instance not every business creates its own website, they don't have the time and skills, so they outsource it, the same applies to PR.

However the interesting thing with PR is that with very little time you can get some very good results.

I think the key here is for people to maximise they're time, they need at least a guide of the things to cover off.

For instance when do I call a jouranlist so I don't get flobbed off because they're on deadline. How do I grab their attention with something newsworthy.

We discovered this some years ago, and created a DIY PR pack that covers all of this.

The layout, the text, the headline, when to call, when NOT to call and how to deliver a pitch, and all the templates you'll need.

Anyhow, if you've got any questions we have setup a forum at www.mybusinesspr.com.au/forum.htm

We've also setup a coupon for readers of blog.guykawasaki.com

If you visit www.mybusinesspr.com.au/diy.htm and enter the coupon code: guykawasaki
you will receive 30% off.

Sorry for the pitch, but it's true, DIY PR gets you results, but a LOT of people need some basic direction.

Cheers


I think there are two lessons here. 1) If you claim people don't need a Realtor to sell a home, Realtors will bombard your blog...if you say you can create a living trust on LegalZoom.com, attorneys will say you are crazy, on and on and on. And 2) if you are running a business, you probably have many strengths and a few weaknesses. If you are a sales and marketing whiz like Guy, you don't need an ad agency...if you are an experienced operations person, you probably don't need an HR attorney to write your offer letter of employment.

Glenn is good at PR and clearly doesn't need a PR firm. He got on 60 minutes by himself, and if that isnt evidence enough, he also got 60 mintues to purposely air a laughable traditional agent rebuttal and not cross examine the critical productivity claim (which I was very quickly able to toss out with 10 minutes of research) that is the center piece of the business model.

Good news for PR execs, many companies need you, but it is also time to realize some do not.

Guy -

This post reinforces the common misconception that "PR" means simply "publicity" or getting clients covered by the media. But PR is so much more than that. PR stands for public relations. That means that the true function of PR is a deep and strategic process that involves listening to organizations' constituencies, sharing that knowledge with the management of the organization so that it understands its customers perceptions of the brand, needs and desires regarding the products and services being offered and can react appropriately -- ultimately creating a stronger relationship with its public.

The PR function involves helping the organization to create a comprehensive strategy so that it can effectively share its story and knowledge with all its constituencies, not just chasing after media hits. In today's world of new media and communications, PR professionals have new tools available to them that provide the most exciting opportunity ever to become more strategic and valuable assets to their organizations.

The public relations function today should be about:

- Learning to use new communications tools (e.g., blogs, podcasts, online video, RSS, etc.) effectively so that we as communications professionals can become better listeners and help establish our organizations as thought leaders through the use of these tools. The media is no longer the sole conduit for organizations' communications with their publics.

- Expanding the number of communicators in our organizations and empowering colleagues across all disciplines to have a voice by teaching them how to use these communications tools

- Giving up stringent control of the message and sole control of our relationships with media and instead allowing for communications and relationships to develop organically and dynamically and robustly with all our audiences and across all levels of the organization. By promoting our organizations' many experts - by giving them a voice, the media will find more value in speaking with the representatives of our organizations

- Fundamentally changing the image of PR and re-educating our organizations, clients and our own industry about what the true role of PR is and always has been - that of relationship-building.

Jen McClure
Executive Director
Society for New Communications Research

I have to say that this is such an interesting point. I feel that you do need to have someone because delegation is important. I also believe that you are right that maybe it isn't even the agency industry as a whole, but that you hire the right employee or agency that will understand what your wants are and maybe read your article so they can screw their head on straight!

Great article, because the #1 problem that we publicists see with clients is that they "expect" instant coverage. When we do value journalists, we realize that we must provide what they are looking for, and that may not be instant for the client.
Entrepreneurs call me because they say they want to "get some publicity." That is the wrong way to approach the process. This is not Field Of Dreams. Just because you built it, doesn't mean they will come - journalists or consumers. A little work and time is needed.
Good thoughts, Glenn and Guy!

Brilliant. I'd add only one thing: If you are hiring a PR person for your staff, hire someone with recent journalism experience and connections. They're the ones the journalists know and will take a call from. Avoid the people with PR degrees like the plague (journalists certainly do).

I couldn't agree more with the idea of hiring a single individual PR pro to drive visibility for your efforts.

I wrote two articles last year called (1) Fire Your PR Firm and (2) The Placement Crash - The Failure of PR in a Conversation World, that addresses the issues of knowledge, skill sets and technical abilities lacking in 90% of today's PR agencies.

To fix it, PR needs to invest heavily in training for skills in the new age of communications. As a former large agency owner, I know this is one of the few areas PR firms focus on.

Fire Your PR Firm can be downloaded at:

http://www.capturetheconversation

and The Placement Crash can be found at:

http://snipurl.com/1n147

Thanks for keeping the conversation active and positive.

James Clark
Owner
Room 214

excellent. care to have "DIY start-up 101"? (just kidding)

Thanks for the suggestions Guy! We just launched a Press Release Builder Tool to help entrepreneurs build press releases and I linked this post as a valuable resource for our readers under the Step 5: More Resources section.

Keep up the great work!

Evan.

Good article Glenn, I agree with all your points and like others, emphasize #9 to the greatest degree.

Jon

Very interesting article Guy! It brought to mind an article in Wired magazine a couple of months back discussing "radical transparency" and the benefits of being completely and totally authentic in the workplace. DIY PR would allow for trust to build in the buyer-seller relationship to a greater extent than a publicist would be able to achieve. Looking at the article again now, it discusses the philosophies of none other than Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman! Here is the link: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.04/wired40_ceo.html

Justin Davey

I think Steve sums up my view on DIY PR with this comment.

"The more I blog, the more I write and the more I build my business I am realizing that the real secret to success is getting as close to, "the people" as you possibly can."

Like everything in life there isn't a quick win. It takes time and effort and that is where most people fail. People try to dabble, don't get any results and decide that PR doesn't work. Its the same with so much else in business.

In relation to point 10 - Make Time. I think everyone (not just those actively doing PR) should be monitoring what is being written about their company. Google alerts is a good start, but we found that a high percentage of the alerts weren't about the company, which in turn wastes time that you could use more productively else where. I have blogged about 10 strategies for monitoring what is being said about you online. http://www.distilled.co.uk/blog/reputation-monitor/top-10-strategies-to-improve-your-online-reputation/

Wow, this is a fantastic article. Thanks so much Guy and Glenn!

Hey there,
We didn't mean to degrade anyone, and we haven't had any bad trips with an agency. Really. We just wanted to outline an alternative to hiring an agency, which involves more engagement from the entrepreneur yes, but also at some point hiring someone who really cares about the media too. By working for the company, this person has a good position to understand media relations in the broader branding or strategic context that several commentators have noted is lacking here.
Regards,
Glenn

Keep in mind that Kelman is a CEO and that being a CEO means being the primary PR guy. Of course he's going to suggest DIY PR because that's what he does.

Also note that Kelman is approaching the subject of PR as though PR means only publicity. I don't know about anyone else, but Guy's reinforcement of the misperception that the practice of public relations boils down to publicity is quite obnoxious. Thus far, that's two degrading posts with no attempt at clarification.

"Polarize your audience" does not mean "make enemies."

How truly cool and nifty to see that what I've been doing since 2003 is more-or-less exactly what Guy is saying that I should be doing.

Brian Dunbar
LiftPort

Did you realise that "D.I.Y. PR" looks like a phonetic spelling of "DIAPER"?

Get the Huggies!

"Nerd-to-nerd networks are where it all happens". Nuff said!

Guy - Glenn has obviously been burned and clearly does not understand the difference between publicity and public relations. His mistake was in hiring publicist(s).

A lot of public relations professionals take issue with the approaches Glenn details. Some of us are trying to educate others about the right way to conduct media relations (a subset of public relations).

Wow, Glen. I am sorry. You have clearly had some very bad PR people.

RedFin is an impressive business, so clearly you are a very talented entrepreneur.

That said, mostly a good entrepreneur will know how to find a good PR person to help grow their business.

A bad entrepreneur will mostly be the person complaining about their PR person.

dave

remember, most reporters and press personnel need a story that'll impress the boss, get people reading, and they need it fast. find out what they need, help them achieve that, and you'll make a valuable connection. don't be shy to pass them on to a few friends in the business for additional material or even follow through if the opportunity isn't suited for you; it may make your position seem a lot more sound if others back you up and it enhances your credibility.

finally, be accessible, help them understand the story and what's there (why their readers care or, more importantly, why their editor cares enough to run it), and offer follow up help. chances are it's not clear to them the first time, so work on that.

if you're interviewing someone to do your PR, i suggest a graceful tiger that's got experience, is savvy in your market position and knows the pubs and people, and who listens to you t help tell your story. you'll know this person when they show up, and others will gladly point out that they have these qualities.

these tips have worked for me as a business person working with PR staff around the world.

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