for PR?

My friend, former client and occasional collaborateur Christine Mohan flagged the inclusion of my tweet in a TechCrunch piece yesterday on the launch of AirPR, a “”-like service that attempts to fix our “broken” PR industry. It followed TC’s first story touting the imminent arrival of this VC-fueled and managed service.

Love it when non-PR people claim to know how to “fix” our business. Introducing AirPR. (@techcrunch)
— Peter Himler (@PeterHimler) September 25, 2012

The writer Rip Empson neglected to include our follow-up exchange wherein I said I’d reserve judgement pending knowing more about the service. I also registered my firm given the prodigious amount of work we’ve done with the start-ups and the entrepreneur community over the last seven years, and before that in the big agency world during the dot-com boom.

@ripemp Our industry, like journalism, has its flaws, but I’ll reserve judgement on this outside intervention until I learn more.
— Peter Himler (@PeterHimler) September 26, 2012

So yesterday AirPR launched (with that TechCrunch exclusive, I presume). Here’s how the service describes itself:

“AirPR is a technology platform to increase PR performance. The company was founded to solve the problem of discovering top PR talent to serve specific client needs. AirPR was created with the belief that higher price does not equal better performance.

The goal of AirPR is to match “best in breed” PR independents with startups and enterprises through an innovative Marketplace. AirPR reduces the friction typically associated with discovering high performing PR talent.

The AirPR platform provides control and trust in the PR process for a fraction of the time and cost. Once clients and PR talent have been vetted using AirPR’s proprietary matching algorithm, PR professionals can view projects relevant to their area of expertise and create client proposals using AirPR’s innovative biddi [sic] platform.”

And here’s a link to the bios of the executives behind the service, which (encouragingly) included Rebekah Iliff, the former CEO of talkTECH, “one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the US.” Launch only?

As you have read, the site aspires to automate the client-agency matching game with a proprietary algorithm. So much for chemistry. I did register to join, but was only asked for my name, agency name and an email contact. So much for big data.

I haven’t heard back, so it would be unfair of me to pass judgement without tooling with the tool.  I will say, however, that the “broken” PR model to which TechCrunch alludes and which AirPR seeks to fix most likely entails the earned media equation only, i.e., the success the agency or practitioner has generating editorial coverage for the client.

Clearly TechCrunch is frustrated by the voluminous amounts of inane and misguided story pitches from PR people using unchecked automated email services that flood its reporters’ email inboxes daily. While startups wonder why their agencies can’t break through this caustic clutter.

Generating publicity (earning media) remains valuable in the conduct of the PR profession, but it is just one dimension of an increasingly complex discipline that also entails owned and paid media, and hybrid earned-owned approaches. (Think HuffPost, Forbes, MediaPost, The Atlantic…). Then there’s the navigation of the social spheres.

Most significantly, I would be hard-pressed to understand how an algorithm can identify clear, concise and compelling communicators, or those with sufficiently-honed instincts to advise the C-Suite on how to behave in a crisis. These are valuable intangibles that defy automated discovery.

Still, I do appreciate Rip’s closing comment:

“Of course, this is not just all woe-is-me for startups. PR professionals have a tough job. It’s not always easy to make virtualization backup and recovery seem sexy, and it makes no sense for them to have to rep businesses that aren’t in their wheelhouse.”