Nobody knows if Charlemagne could read because an advisor always read aloud for him. It was considered humbling for the king to do anything himself. The same fears drive the most captivating, articulate entrepreneurs to hire publicists. Who wants to risk looking like a fool? As a result, hardly anyone in technology ever tries to talk to a journalist by herself—except Guy, of course.
That’s too bad. Just the other day a newspaper’s technology editor told me, “It’s just so hard to meet entrepreneurs these days. You always get their PR people.” A dozen entrepreneurs sprang to mind who would kill to tell their stories. All have agencies. So what I am recommending is not howto manage an agency, but something more radical: not hiring an agency at all.
Kelman goes on to offer 10 reasons why and does a lot to take the mystery out of startup PR. There’s no question in my mind that agencies and sole practitioners offer real value. The question for the startup entrepreneur really becomes when is it appropriate to spend precious dollars on PR versus the DIY approach?
It’s a constant battle for entrepreneurs to make these types of decisions — when do you hire a bookkeeper or someone to do payroll? What functions should you outsource and which ones should you keep in-house? When does the dollar spent on a vendor provide more value than the time spent internally? Like Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity (paraphrasing), “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Ultimately, many decisions for the startup entrepreneur are gut calls based on the best information, advice, and experience available.
Certainly, however, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to do PR on their own, especially in the early stages. If the choice is between investing in the product or investing in PR, it’s a no-brainer.
I’d be interested to hear what the “wizard” (Dick Costolo of FeedBurner) thinks since he does Q&A for founders on his blog. For that matter, Ask the VC might take this on as well to see what Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson think from the VC perspective. And, of course, thoughts from Shel Holtz, Shel Israel, or others who have helped provide PR to entrepreneurs in the past would be interesting as well.
UPDATE: Shel Israel weighs in on this topic. Speaking of Kelman’s post, he writes: “In my opinion, it’s the best piece yet written on the subject.”