Thursday, May 05, 2005

Red Herring ... I mean Alarm:Clock says fire your PR firm
Cluelesstrain Edition

From the ruins of Red Herring came Alarm:Clock. And, damn, it didn't take them much time to climb onto the cluelesstrain.

From Alarm:Clock comes their reasons to why you should fire your PR firm.

Alarm:Clock Crashes the Cluelesstrain Posted by Hello

I like to think that I have a different perspective on why you should or should not have a PR firm as a start-up. I worked in-house. I worked at a large, mutinational agency. I worked at a boutique, and started my own PR boutique. And, here's the best reason to have an outside firm: you need the outside perspective, someone that is detached enough to bring up various points, be the devil's advocate. When you are in-house, you are submerged in the culture, and ultimately may become drunk on the Kool Aid. Plus, having a team of PR people to brainstorm on ideas works better than being an in-house PR team of likely one at a start-up.

In the spirit of blogs - here's a step-by-step fisking of their post, which begins with:
Most startups are better served by running PR in-house. That’s our opinion. There are sound reasons for larger publicly-traded companies to bring on an agency, but for most startups the primary motivator seems to be insecurity and a desire to do as the big boys do. Here are five reasons not to hire or to fire your PR firm:
1. If PR people talk about the relationships they have with journalists to the start-ups, it's because the start-ups - and the VC firms - want to know who they know and what they have done. It's showing what you have done in the past, and do have the ability to do the work. There's nothing wrong with having clips, which I am sure journalists have for their next interview.

Alarm:Clock people once worked with a journalist that broke up with his girlfriend because she worked at a PR firm. If the journalist really broke up with his girlfriend because she worked for a PR firm, he has bigger issues, and used the PR line as an excuse. I guess that was a good "It's not you, it's me" line for the dotcom era. Have to give points for creativity, though.

2. Alarm:Clock over-generalizes the work of PR firms, claiming that everything is scripted and we never get back to reporters. If all PR was scripted, and we never got back to reporters, PR firms should be let go. It's not about having "the time" but sometimes prioritizing. And, as reporters have told me - reporters who aren't ashamed of having a PR person as a friend - the strategic call is done at the end of the day for the "no comment" kicker.

As a PR person that was at an agency, at a start-up during the dot-com era, I can tell you the benefits of having a firm as an in-house PR person.

3. With more than 200+ PR blogs out there, it's a generalization to say that PR doesn't understand blogs. Look at the largest independent PR firm in the world, and you will see the president's weekly blog. "Don't get it" doesn't hold water.

4. I am looking at start-ups that do PR well, and I see PR firms. The one example brought up is Topix. One problem, though. Topix has a PR firm: CooperKatz.

Name a start-up, and invariably the in-house person(s) are from large firms, or they are using a firm, or they are working with consultants that came from firms.

5. On the claim that PR is a waste of money for junior people, with the resurgence of boutiques, that $10K/month is getting you senior counsel - even at the large firms, you have senior people working on the account.

The other argument for having an in-house PR person is that they can "carry out other functions during PR downtime." There's downtime in PR? I would love to know when.

Hat tip to David Parmet for the head's up.

UPDATE: Sarah Lacy - please don't call her Stacy or Lucy - from BusinessWeek's DealFlow has a great take on the Alarm:Clock's PR rant. She has some valid points that PR firms need to have balls (my words, not her), and that too few PR people can stand up to clients and push back. Thanks to Tom Murphy and Constantin Basturea for the link.

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