How many tech PR people does it take to change a light bulb moment?

I read and liked Semil Shah’s TechCrunch blog post yesterday on the role of PR in the world of Tech Start-ups. It gave a balanced view of the world and sought to find the source of why demand for PR in the sector is so high. Shah starts by quoting the Economist’s recent obituary to Daniel Edelman: “For every reporter employed in America, around six people work in public relations…” I’d suggest that in the b2b tech PR sector the ratio is much higher! I’ve picked up on some of the points he raised in my blog here – these are just my observations triggered by the blog.

The 6:1 ratio of PR people to reporters – why is this so high? It would be interesting to see how this compares with the ratio between sales people and deals to be had in the market. The simple principle of competition is very important in PR. It’s the reason a good number of the PR community provide the media with access to high quality and credible stories from their clients. I would hate to see a world where the ratio was 2:1. Good people in B2B PR understand and respect the fact we’re operating in a very competitive environment and have to put some effort into getting the right story out of the client and to the right reporter, blogger or other influencer.

Semil’s main point is why the “dark art” of PR is still so important in the sector, despite its perceived lack of measurement increasingly goes against the grain of quantified marketing impact. PR is simple, not a dark art. In fact the best PR is very simple. I don’t believe in the power of stunts and big budgets to sugar coat stories – it just means we haven’t dug hard or deep enough to find the good stories. Stunts can generate coverage in the short term, but they are often seductive distractions, especially for start-ups that have something new and different to talk about and just need help to position it in the right way with the right media.

I also have another thought on why PR remains so important for these companies. Media coverage shouts INFLUENCE at the start-up CEO. As pointed out it supports communication into the VC and finance community but even at a more basic level it drives entrepreneur, puts fire in their bellies and helps to influence them. And in a world where we all get wrapped up in measurement let’s not underestimate this point… You can’t take a web leads spreadsheet home and impress your mum, wife or husband and kids. A personal profile in the FT or similar on the other hand – that’s a different matter! Coverage that achieves the “oh – I saw you in…” factor amongst their peers and even customers is really measurable. We’ve seen clients take a shortcut into big deals directly through this kind of PR.

We are talking PR and content and social media in a range of different ways and Semil references these links in his blog. What I think is often missed is the relationships between these different channels. The market tends to think in a single layered approach – “we need PR, we also need some social media, oh and also some web content to improve SEO…” Looking at this from my PR career perspective, the industry often seems to be running scared, trying to make the ‘dark art’ darker so that it doesn’t get usurped by the new digital marketing kid on the block. But PR is not an add-on to that world. It is the cream on the cake. Top notch media coverage for start-ups (with our ever shrinking quality media) is highly marketable content in its own right – generally more engaging and influential than anything you could just say yourself. Big stories should be blogged about, analysed, added to, serialised, re-used (with the right permissions) in your other marketing channels.

I am not sure there will ever be another name like Edelman in the PR industry but in relation to the tech start-ups sector the skills of a good PR person can go far and with some evolution will stand the test of time. Thanks for your views and take on the industry, Semil.

Rob Skinner

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