“Never Hire a PR Firm”

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.)

It’s no wonder that some reporters take glee in publicly posting these spammy overtures.

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.


  1. Peter,

    I enjoyed your post.

    I think Cuban’s perspective reflects his expertise.

    He’s a gifted communicator. Yes, he’s a polarizing force, but so are many owners of professional sports teams and they don’t have Cuban’s visibility.

    If the CEO of a startup has Cuban’s gift for communications and a willingness to devote time to the function, he or she can probably build a public profile without a PR agency.

    But I would argue that description covers less than five percent of those who start companies.  

  2. Well said, Peter. As I noted in the comments of Mr. Cuban’s initial Entrepreneur.com piece (which prompted the PR industry’s response to his assertion that startups “never hire a PR firm”) and his subsequent post on his blog clarifying some of those remarks, a lot of he says makes sense … if you are as media savvy and charismatic of an entrepreneur as he is. For the 99% of entrepreneurs who don’t fall into that category, I absolutely believe they could benefit from the RIGHT type of PR counsel.

    We as a profession make the mistake of often assuming our services are for everyone and every business. Just not like every business needs advertising, not every firm needs PR and we should be secure enough in the value of our services and the value of the profession to recognize and admit that. But there is a significant benefit to our services, one that adds value to businesses large and small, young and old.

    I think the example you lay out in this post of how your own firm works with startups and provides objective and nuanced counsel to them, while also allowing your clients, as entrepreneurs, to make the case for the value of their products/services directly to key stakeholders (often, the media) is a terrific example of the type of PR counsel we should be holding up as a cornerstone of the profession.

    At our best, we are storytellers who help connect clients with their staeholders and build vibrant and successful communities between those groups that help build and grow their business. That can be done in a very proactive and upfront manner, but more often then not, it’s most successfully achieved in the background. Our counsel, IMO, is our most valuable asset, and that is something that any business or entrepreneur should at least consider securing.

    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director
    Public Relations Society of America

  3. First, I wish some of the commenters would get past the headline. For the record: I do not buy into Mr. Cuban’s reasoning.

    Second, Jeff, good observations.  I was tempted to delve into the world of start-up PR and all the other competencies we, as PR pros, bring to the table, not the least of which is the development of a distinctive (and compelling) narrative. I decided however to keep it short and sweet.  


  4. <span>Sure an owner could ideally call up a journalist to pitch them a story – or let them know something emerging in their respective industry.  But who’s to say they know how to communicate the key messages effectively, stay on topic and really find angles that would resonate with the editor/audience (besides just talking about their own company news)?
    Also, as a business owner, shouldn’t they hire trusted PR people to handle this piece of the marketing puzzle, while the owner focuses on operations, new business, etc.?  I’m sure <span>Mark</span> <span>Cuban</span> has better things to do than talk to a journalist – like running a basketball organization…</span>

  5. Peter, enjoyed your Forbes response. As you say, Cuban is wrong about PR.

    Better PR advice would be:
    – Never hire a BAD PR firm.
    – Don’t be ignorant about public relations. PR is not just media relations as millions of clients know.They benefit from corporate and internal communications, investor relations, crisis management, content marketing and social media strategies.

    My advice to PR pros? Never hire a bad billionaire client who will not follow, nor respect wise counsel.

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