Mark Cuban’s “12 Rules for Start-Ups
” had many in the PR industry in a lather this week.
In addition to offering advice such as “never buy branded polo shirts” (No. 10), and “know how your business will make money” (No. 4), Cuban offered his strong opinion about PR. Rule No. 11 on his list states, “Never hire a PR firm.” He goes on to describe PR professionals in unflattering terms.
Cuban has since clarified
his position on using PR consultants after much online commentary. But basically, his premise seems to be that journalists and bloggers would much rather hear from a company founder directly, rather than through an intermediary.
But calling Cuban a spokesman for start-ups is a bit like describing Kim Kardashian as Damon Thomas’s ex-wife. (Yes, she was married before the Kris Humphries spectacle.) I mean, it may be beside the point at this stage in his life and career.
But Cuban is right about at least one thing—a PR program for a start-up is often quite different from one on behalf of a legacy business. There are different rules. Here’s my take on the most effective way to approach PR strategy and media relations for an emerging business:
Prioritize your needs.
If fundraising is the overriding goal, your start-up may be better off dedicating the first year to networking in venture circles, with more highly specialized help.
Bulletproof your business.
Sure, many early-stage companies will grow and evolve, but your business offering needs to be as complete as possible, and the messaging must be fully coherent before you approach media.
Focus your resources. Similarly, spend your time on the media and influencers who can support business goals. Many startups hire a PR firm or consultant to expand product distribution, for example, which may necessitate a laser-like concentration of trade or niche media and blogs.
Assess the founder’s strengths.
Be ruthless. Mark Cuban may be a magnificent communicator, but that’s not true of all founders. Media training can only go so far. Some of the most passionate entrepreneurs I’ve known have been mediocre, or worse, when it comes to evangelizing with journalists. And, remember, the founder is not the brand.
Look at the ROI for time spent.
One of the most brilliant CEOs I ever worked with told me that he could do a better job on industry PR than anyone on his staff or at my firm. And he may have been right; he had grown up in the business, knew all the key players and was a true visionary. But, apart from a few carefully cultivated media and analyst relationships, he never did wade very deeply into the PR program. Why? Because he had another job, of course. And a little of a charismatic CEO can go a long way.
PR is best looked at as a long-term tool for a business or a brand. For every “snowball effect” publicity hit, there are a hundred slow-and-steady programs that build visibility and reputation over time.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story first appeared on her blog.