|Maverick Mark Cuban
That NBA champ, author, and billionaire blogging maverick Mark Cuban offered up some mostly sound advice to the startup community this week in a post titled “Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups” on Entrepreneur.com.
I say mostly because his #11-ranked recommendation read as follows:
“Never hire a PR firm. A public relations firm will call or email people in the publications you already read, on the shows you already watch and at the websites you already surf. Those people publish their emails. Whenever you consume any information related to your field, get the email of the person publishing it and send them a message introducing yourself and the company. Their job is to find new stuff. They will welcome hearing from the founder instead of some PR flack. Once you establish communication with that person, make yourself available to answer their questions about the industry and be a source for them. If you are smart, they will use you.”
Mark, you’re right in some limited sense. Many (PR-beleaguered) tech journalists have developed an inherent distaste for a profession that peppers them with inane pitches that are mostly irrelevant to their editorial interests.
In reality, many bad pitches emanate from the lazy ones in our profession who rely exclusively on those automated services to build their media lists, but who never take the time to properly vet them. (They’ve also been know to originate from junior PR types whose bosses don’t take the time to vet their prose.)
Please know that not all PR people fall into these unfortunate categories, though at times it may seem so. In fact, an informed and conscientious PR professional can be a great asset to a time-challenged journalist looking for a lead on a hot new startup or one simply trying to find timely answers to his or her questions.
Moreover, Mark, you’re not wrong in recognizing that many journalists — especially on the tech beat — would rather hear directly from the expert or executive within the company versus the account exec at agency of record. Certainly, you above all can appreciate that startup CEOs wear far too many hats to take on the blocking and tackling that goes with engaging reporters, industry analysts or trade show programmers.
At my firm, we prefer to open the door for our startup clients, then step back to let them directly interface with the journalist. We’re hardly divorced from the process, but we defer to reporters’ desire to let the newsmaker be front and center. We’re perfectly happy to remain in the background providing counsel. Invariably, the reporter will come back to us for varied informational needs.
Most importantly, we are there for the client who may not understand the nuances of the dance between the newsmaker and journalist. I’ve had clients who’ve demanded a reporter’s questions in advance, final copy approval, or that their story appear in a certain section. (Groan.)
Trust me, Mark, many startups, especially those on the brink of losing their media virginity, will derive and be thankful for the considerable benefit a smart PR firm can bring to the mix.