Entrepreneur Self Test: Do I Need a PR Agency?

If you’ve been following my PR4Priates blog for any amount of time, you know I write all about the nitty gritty of helping entrepreneurs do their own PR, so hopefully my answer is obvious– not necessarily.  But take the test to find out.

ReadWriteWeb posed a different question today: Does Good Tech Need PR at all? Yes, you absolutely need some level of PR.  What RWW suggests is that there’s an inverse relationship between how compelling your idea/technology is and how much PR you’re going to have to do.

The fantasy world scenario is that you release your product on Monday, get some initial coverage on a few blogs, more bloggers find it, you hit Techmeme by the weekend, and then before you know it Walt Mossberg (WSL) and David Pogue (NYT) are calling begging for exclusive interviews.  Then the press is calling non-stop.  Before you know it, you’re joking around with Leno in the Green Room.

Ahem, the more likely scenario is that your technology is great but needs some explanation.  Nobody is begging for an exclusive and getting coverage requires actual sustained effort.  So then the question turns to whether you can sustain the effort yourself, or whether you need an agency.

Here’s a quick self test of whether you should consider getting a PR agency:

  1. Can your technology/solution be understood in a 3 second sound bite?
  2. Do you know who should be covering your story, like which specific blogs and reporters?
  3. Does your story lend itself to being told?  Does it have a “hook” such as controversy, a great solution to well understood widely felt pain, or famous founders?
  4. Does one of your founders communicate well?  Do you have someone who can communicate with the press, comment on blogs, and whose email messages don’t consistently elicit cringing?  And does this founder have time to handle communicating?
  5. You don’t have ready access to a cheap, skilled PR agent with many contacts in your industry?
  6. Is your company’s current bank balance below $1M?

If you answer “no” to more than two of these questions, you may want to consider using a well-connected, hopefully reasonably-priced, PR agent in your industry.  Obviously for bootstrappers this may still be a non-starter, so the job (like taking out the trash and watering the plants) falls to one of the founders.  But this little test gives you an idea about whether doing your own PR presents so many obstacles that your time would be better invested in other things.

For tech-related founders, beware of your natural instinct to over-invest your time in your product and technology.  Getting the word out about your company is one of your most important jobs, so don’t neglect it regardless of whether an agency is the right path.

Lastly, Scoble argues that you shouldn’t do any outbound PR at all— you should build something so awesome that your beta testers become your evangelists and are inspired to contact their trusted press contacts on your behalf.  Steve Rubel agrees. I’m not wild about this kind of hit-or-miss approach.  Most Type-A entrepreneurs won’t be either.

What are you supposed to do when your beta is almost over and you have no coverage?  Invest more in the product?  Pray? No, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.  Fire up the outbound engine… post to your blog, Twitter, comment on relevant blogs (without plugging or pushing your company), and, ahem, send friendly, relevant email to bloggers and reporters who should be writing about you because you’ve been following them AND built some kind of relationship over time.  Techcrunch also has some great suggestions about how this actually works.  It can even be fun!  I don’t mind trying the Scoble-Rubel build-pray-discover strategy, but it might not work for you, and you can’t just sit there doing nothing or build your product forever.