A VC Getting Its PR On

I read with considerable interest the news this week in which venture capital firm First Round Capital has started “a publishing platform to share secrets of startup success.” It follows the company’s announcement in October of a platform called hackPR, which is “a site where journalists can reach out to several companies at once around a specific story or question.” That site was skedded to launch in December.

The latter reminded me of another new, PR-disruptive endeavor wherein startups can now more easily identify agencies to hire via a self-service platform call AirPR (Get it? AirBnB, AirPR.) I was an early skeptic, then user, and now convert, though I did ask the site’s founders to consider letting participating PR firms rate the companies making the hiring. (I had one less-than-pleasant experience.)

AirPR opened its doors wider last week for more agencies to hop on board. Rip Emerson, writing for TechCrunch, explains:

“For pretty much as long as anyone can remember, a relationship triangle, or a “love triangle” if you will, has taken shape between companies and the PR firms that represent them and the press that covers them — existing in some sort of recursive loop. Yet, while that triangle should have come to represent a symbiosis and a valuable communication network, somewhere along the way the triangle broke down.”

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As for First Round Capital, I fully endorse its move into the aggregated (and original) content-publishing space around the theme of secrets to startup success. It’s smart and dovetails well in our age when “every company is a media company.” If your company has institutional expertise and the wherewithal to share that expertise, by all mean go for it…as self-serving as it may be. Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, with his “A VC” blog, has proven the value to his personal and company brand many times over.

It’s the hackPR model about which I have questions, not only because it’s reminiscent of other, more established platforms that match journalist needs with expert sources, i.e., ProfNet and HARO, but it’s membership model appears to limit the breadth of qualified sources to tap for editorial inclusion.

“We’re going to open up the platform slowly. Reporters and startups will be curated,” Berson said. “The worst sort of outcome would be having companies and journalists being spammed.”

Also, do journalists really have difficulty finding credible experts in the startup space? TechCrunch, which seems to be obsessed with the machnations of the PR industry, wrote at the time:

“Reporters will be able to put out requests to startups based on company size, industry or location, and then First Round’s platform will match them with appropriate companies. If appropriate, they’ll also send reporters the right contact information for different startups, so journalists can follow-up with more in-depth interviews.”

Maybe I’m still a little wary of VCs doing the work for which PR firms are hired. What’s preventing First Round, for example, from favoring its own portfolio companies?

Clearly, the idea of disrupting an industry that could use a little disruption is not lost on me or others toiling in the space. It’s just that if I’m going to get disrupted, let it be from someone other than a venture capitalist whose primary motivation is in the “C” of VC, and less in the advancement of the quality of the journalist-startup engagement equation.