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Does tech PR really work for start-ups?

Posted by Louise Moran on 31st January 2012

As discussed in an earlier blog, supporting start-ups through tech PR is a big part of what our agency does. Over the years, EML Wildfire has worked with many early stage businesses to refine objectives, develop messaging and raise awareness amongst key audiences.

It seems, though, that not everyone is quite so keen on tech PR. US serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban recently had a guest article published on in which he outlined his 12 rules for start-ups and, as you can imagine, number 11 – Never hire a PR firm – caused quite a stir in the PR community.

Mark expanded on why he’s so dismissive about PR on his blog, but we still feel he’s missing the point on the value of tech PR as there are more than a few holes in his argument. So, we thought we’d take a closer look at his objections.

“The first problem with hiring a PR firm is cost.”

Ever heard of the expression you’ve got to spend money to make money? By linking clearly defined PR objectives to real business goals and measurable outcomes you can ensure tech PR delivers real return on investment.

Media relations

Mark argues “A public relations firm will call or email people in the publications you already read”.

That’s not strictly true. Of course any company will keep a close eye on their horizontal trade media and they will be included in a press list for targeting, but any PR professional worth their salt will go beyond that by identifying key influencers, vertical media and other outlets that will contribute to the success of a tech PR campaign. To suggest that a start-up should only focus on ‘must read’ media is a narrow view.

A waste of time?

Mark mentions that nobody – not even the entrepreneur – really understands key messages and that these evolve over time, arguing that meetings with tech PR people are a huge waste of time. In fact, PR messaging involves more than just taking notes.

With any new client, we take the time to meet key people in the organisation, identify priorities for the campaign and translate those into messages that the media can use so that the reputation of the agency comes across in the right way. Rather than it being a waste of time, the tried and tested messaging workshop is often cited as one of the most enjoyable and informative workshops our clients participate in, challenging them with ideas they haven’t considered and giving an ‘external’ viewpoint.


Mark suggests that it’s better for a start-up to have direct media relationships. We couldn’t agree more, and often encourage our PR clients to partner with key media and speak to them directly. However, that only works with trustworthy, honest journalists and clients who are confident on their messaging, their approach and delivery.

More often than not, we’ll need to give our clients guidance on how to approach a media interview, what a journalist’s particular bug bears are and whether they’re likely to put a different spin on the story.

Specialisation – a proven approach

Outsourcing media relationships to a PR agency means that you buy in expertise: one less thing for you to worry about as you get your fledging start-up off the ground. Many start-ups are a small operation and benefit from the support, guidance, expertise and sometimes just the sounding board offered by their PR agency.

Mark Cuban might doubt the value of PR for start-ups but the fact is, he’s in a minority. The PR industry will continue to play a fundamental role in helping interesting new start-ups get off the ground.

picture credit

Louise Moran