So as a founder, I was fired by 3 PR firms.  In a row.  Two actual PR firms, and the third, a solo shop.

I was fired for one simple reason:  I demanded results.

First, I demanded we actually measure PR.  That we score the PR hits each month, graded both on quality of the hit, as well as the prominence of my company in the piece.

And second, I demanded we have a goal to Do Better.  To drive that score up.

The first PR firm fired me for asking for measuring results.  The second PR firm fired me for asking us to drive it up (the score), as it went down.  And the third fired me because they wanted credit for low-scoring PR that I got myself (not them).

Anyhow, I’ve learned a lot since then.   I’ve also worked closely with Ed Zitron of, who I highly recommend.  He didn’t fire me. 🙂 He’s worked with many of my portfolio companies and acts as our informal PR-Guru-in-Residence at SaaStr.

I thought I’d summarize a few learnings.

  • First, most PR firms (90%) cannot get you high quality PR.  The reason is simple:  they have no relationships with journalists.  Building these relationships is hard work.  You have to give more than you receive.  Do you really think TechCrunch or Business Insider or Bloomberg wants to write about your boring company?  Of course not.  And why does every single YC company get covered?  Relationships.  I cannot tell you how many PR firms ask >me< to introduce them to journalists.  Think about that.
  • Second, PR usually won’t get you enough leads to justify the cost, at least in the early days.  The Direct ROI will be negative, folks.  Yes, being in TechCrunch can get you leads if you are super tech-focused.  But most of them will be very low quality leads.   If you are expecting to spend $15k a month on a PR firm, and get $30k-$45k-$60k a month in deals out of it — you will be super frustrated.  98.5 times out of 100, it won’t happen.
  • Third, no one watches TV anymore.  Getting on TV is hard, but you can do it.  The problem is no one will really see it.  Not really.
  • Fourth, even the general impact of “news” is muted.  Everyone consumes even business news now on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Even top blogs like TechCrunch don’t have the impact they used to.

Ok, so then — Why PR?

Well …

  • Your team will love it.  The team loves to see you on TV.  TV is #1 here.  It’s worth it just for that.
  • It’s good for recruiting.  Your prospective hires will do a lot of research on Google.  If they see you on TechCrunch and BI and in the WSJ, and on Bloomberg TV, etc. (and yes, on SaaStr) … it >will< increase the odds they join you.  It will.  And really, PR is mostly about recruiting.  This is also why so many A+ CEOs agree to speak at the SaaStr Annual … it’s not for leads.  It’s for recruiting.

  • It’s good for fundraising.  VCs also want to see this stuff.  It makes them more comfortable you are on track to becoming an outlier.  Getting in TechCrunch doesn’t get you funded.  But it’s a nice piece of social proof during the diligence process.  See YC and TechCrunch, above.
  • It’s social proof.  There are so, so many start-ups.  Which one is breaking out?  The one with the most PR and media attention may not be the winner.  But people will think it is.
  • It helps with biz dev.  For similar reasons as recruiting, it also helps with partners.  Your partners only have so much bandwidth.  They want to partner with the perceived winner(s).
  • Your customers will see it.  They’ll gain more and more confidence in picking you, each time they see you shine.  Even if they just see it republished in your newsletter, on your blog, etc.
  • You can repurpose it for a long time.  You can take any good PR hit and reuse it on your social media, website, sales decks, marketing site, etc.  You can create a long tail from any strong PR that validates you for months and months to come.
  • It pays off in the long term.  We all want to work for a winner.  It’s part of what you have to do as CEO.  Make the company seem like a winner.  Especially before it’s clear that it is.

So PR is important.  Do it.

Just don’t do crappy PR:

  • Do any event, get on stage, where you can speak to 50+ high quality folks.  This always pays off, at least for me.  And yes, the top digital events also work, especially if they push the content out to YouTube, social streams, etc.
  • Do be present where your customers are.  Even if the absolute engagement and numbers aren’t huge, the ROI is always real here.
  • Don’t hire a crappy PR firm and do a lot of work with them getting into 4th tier media.  It’s not the end of the world, but as CEO, it’s not a good use of your time.
  • Do fire any PR firm that doesn’t deliver results in the first 60-90 days.  The best ones all have a ringer, a journalist that will do them a favor.  If 60 days in, you don’t see results, you never will.
  • Do what feels authentic and right to you.  Do you like to speak?  Focus on that.  Do you like to write?  Focus there.  Do what’s natural for you.  Later, do what’s unnatural.  After $5m ARR or so.
  • And whatever you do, measure it.  Have reasonable, achievable expectations.  Don’t let PR just be a cost center line item in your VPM’s budget.

And if it ain’t working … make a change.


Will Ferrell SNL Oracle Skit 2005 from Alford Media Services on Vimeo.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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