You get some very mixed results when it comes to journalists attempting to explain how to do PR. On the one hand, their experience naturally gives them the perspective on how journalists really do their jobs, unique insights into what they might look for and how to really pitch a story.
On the other, they can have a bit of a narrowed view on what the job of the PR is. So much of the time I read or hear the views of journalists who appear to be under the assertion that PRs work for them, and not for their clients.
So it was with an intrepid mix of wariness and willingness to stay open-minded that I downloaded Jason Kincaid’s The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR onto my generic eBook reading device. Would this be another pointless reporter-rant blog post stretched out over an entire book, or could it contain some nuggets of wisdom hitherto unknown to me?
Not the audience
I should say up front that the very fact I have to frame this post as I have done indicates that I am not really the audience for this book. It’s a beginner’s guide really, and I’d like to think I’m more than a beginner in the tech PR game.
This is a book aimed squarely at startup founders, looking for a good introduction to PR. Kincaid even warns against getting yourself a PR agency, unless you think you’ll have complications to handle in the media or expect to grow really fast and can’t handle the burden.
Which isn’t to say that I, as a PR professional, didn’t find it entertaining. I’ve been party to many of the same situations Kincaid has, on the other side of the fence, and if nothing else it was interesting to read the reporter’s perspective on those.
It also isn’t to say there’s nothing I didn’t learn. To give an example, I’ve always parroted the accepted wisdom that Friday is a terrible day to pitch a journalist. Kincaid says it was his favourite day to be pitched too, because he might actually have some time to give a story proper consideration. What with everyone else thinking it’s not the day to pitch.
A guide to pitching TechCrunch
Kincaid’s experience as a reporter was at TechCrunch, so it can be forgiven that that is the prism the book is written through. What this means though, is that when he explains what reporters look for in a story (which he helpfully does at length), my reaction is ‘that’s what TechCrunch looks for in a story’.
Seriously, all the pointers about pitching as an exclusive, stories about a technology that is truly unique, a milestone user number, a significant partnership or funding round, they are all pointers I have previously given clients on what TechCrunch specifically wants. Some of them cross over with what other publications want, naturally, but TechCrunch has quite a clear remit for what it covers and the pointers Kincaid gives do not necessarily apply for all media. Not even all startup tech media.
So really, it’s not a guide to pitching, it’s a guide to pitching TechCrunch. Which is by no means of no value, given TechCrunch’s readership and influence, but it’s the pinch of salt this book should be taken with.
Don’t get a PR agency? WHAT?!
Yeah, you heard me right. Earlier on I said Kincaid suggests startup founders don’t get a PR agency on board except in particular circumstances. I said that on a PR agency blog! And guess what! I’m not even going to disagree.
If you are an early stage startup founder, looking for your first PR hit, maybe one nice piece on TechCrunch, you are probably better off reading this book than hiring a PR agency.
For one, we agencies are not a small expense for a business only just getting off its feet. If this is the level of activity you want, it’s just not economical. That one piece on TechCrunch might make you feel like you’ve won the lottery the day it publishes, but unfortunately that injection of traffic and attention will wain extremely quickly. So if user acquisition is your prime goal, at this early stage your money may be better spent elsewhere (though bear in mind user acquisition is just one of many benefits to PR).
Another point Kincaid makes is about the personal approach. With the exception of a few PR agency names he trusts, he prefers to hear from founders direct. Which makes sense; I think I would too. And in certain cases where I’ve not had an established relationship with a journalist I’ve suggested that a pitch email may have more weight when coming direct from a client. There’s no need to be precious about relationships when it doesn’t serve the primary goal.
So in summary, if you are a tech startup founder who’d love some coverage on TechCrunch, and nothing more, read this book. If you’re a tech startup founder who is past that stage, needs a campaign that encompasses more than just the odd bit on TechCrunch, needs help defining a proposition or handling a complex media message, expects to grow quickly or maybe is already established in one market and needs to enter another, well, this is where I plug our services.