Should startups use PR agencies to do AR? [Startup Saturday]

rocket-for-startups.jpgThis is a post that will no doubt irritate my PR friends, but the answer to the question about whether startups should use PR agencies for AR is “only for the boring stuff.” By boring, I mean interaction logistics and basic information dissemination. However, when it comes to building the relationship and developing credibility with the IT analysts, then the startup’s smartest people need to roll up their sleeves and own these aspects.

If you look at what the analysts and SageCircle said in

Feedback from analysts on what a tech startup knows that would be really interesting [Startup Saturday]

Startups have unique market insights that they can use as currency with IT industry analysts [Startup Saturday]

the best “currencies” that a startup has to spend with the IT industry analysts are their unique insights into an emerging market and passion. For all their smarts, PR agency staff will never have the depth of information and insights that someone who is living and breathing the technology, go-to-market battles and customer conversations like an executive at a startup. Nor will a PR agency account manager have the passion of someone who wakes up at 2 am with an “ah ha!” like the folks at startups. Until the Vulcan Mind Meld is perfected by Terrans, which is unlikely, then startups should avoid using PR agencies as their prime spokesperson with analysts and owners of the relationships.

That is not to say that PR agencies should not be used by startups for AR. In fact, an agency with true AR expertise – which is the exception and not the rule – can provide valuable work for their startup client. There is a lot of labor intensive work associated with AR that agencies can handle, such as setting up briefings and Deep Dives.

Bottom Line: Startups should carefully use PR agencies for a select set of activities when it comes to analyst relations. Executives need to own relationships and be the primary spokespeople, while allocating logistics to agencies.

Questions:

Analysts – What do you think is the proper role for PR agencies in terms of handling a startup’s AR activities?

Startups – Have you been satisfied with the quality of the AR activity that your PR agency has provided?

PR agencies – Do you think this analysis is fair?

Startups, are you wondering if your AR strategy and tactics are really being effective? SageCircle can help. Our strategists can:

  • Review your influencer strategy
  • Critique you AR plan
  • Evaluate your analyst list
  • Recommend how you build an AR program that leverages PR agencies effectively

If you need advice about how to build your AR program and other issues, check out SageCircle’s two-hour and five-hour advisory paks or Annual Advisory Service. The advisory paks are easy to setup and pay for via credit card. To learn more contact us at info [at] sagecircle dot com or 650-274-8309.

SageCircle Annual Advisory Service        Sagecircle Insight-Build a Dialogue Habit
Advisory Service                                Insight: Build a dialogue habit 

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8 Responses

  1. Hi Carter,

    I’m writing in response to the question – do I think this analysis is fair? Nope, it’s not fair.

    It goes without saying, yes, of course, the start up IT executive must “own” the direct conversation with the analyst.

    But remember, as a technology PR rep, I don’t pretend to be expert on the bits and bytes and speed and feeds of the software. Nor does my start up client. And nor does the analyst.

    The reason the start up hires my team is because we’re expert on understanding the analyst firm’s needs and requirements, how to handle a successful briefing, providing counsel concerning ongoing interactions, etc. Heck, some of us PR folk even represent analyst firms themselves, thus providing the start up client an even stronger credible perspective.

    You write: “For all their smarts, PR agency staff will never have the depth of information and insights that someone who is living and breathing the technology, go-to-market battles and customer conversations like an executive at a startup.”

    Let me turn that around and say that the start up technology executive will never have the insight nor the inside knowledge of the analyst community or media landscape like we do.

    And that is exactly why they hire us. Not to act as the spokesperson to discuss the latest point product release. But to help the start up navigate the confusing and diverse analyst (and media) waters. “Boring stuff” on steroids, if you will.

    -Rich

  2. I have to agree with Rich here — as someone who has worked on the agency side doing AR for start-ups — there is a lot of value that informed agency folks with AR expertise can bring to start-ups that they do not have in and of themselves.

    Things such as: established relationships with analysts in particular/relevant fields; knowledge of the key influential analysts (who is worth and not worth talking to, depending on the start-up’s goals); bandwidth for setting up briefings and helping maintain relationships; making recommendations and consulting on content for briefings (the more value-added agency people will provide critique on slides – or advise not to use them at all); and performing follow-up from briefings and such.

    Unfortunately the number of PR people with this level of AR knowledge and expertise, and knowledge of how and why AR is different from PR, is very small.

    PR people SHOULD NOT “own” the relationship of the start-up and analysts. The relationship should be the domain of the start-up exec and the analyst(s). That doesn’t mean that the PR/AR people cannot have their own relationships with analysts — good AR-analyst relationships are HUGE value-add they can bring to the table, but this shouldn’t replace or supplant an exec-analyst relationship.

    Cheers,
    Gerry

  3. Every start up can use the kind of contacts a good intermediary like a PR firm can bring, as Rich notes. This is two different kinds of value: seeing the right analysts at the right time, and avoiding those analysts who will not be helpful to this firm at this time. (By helpful I do not mean “instant research note” or “instant addition to the stack-ranking of the suppliers”, which is often what is hoped for, but the kind of solid feedback on the shape of the market, competition, buyer interests [from enquiry], etc. that an analyst “knows”, plus, of course, comments on the pitch being given by the start up.)

    The relationship, however, does need to be direct. Think of this as very productive matchmaking (including having booked the table, ordered the wine, arranged for the limo, etc.) as opposed to just an introduction. There can even be help in the form Gerry describes – run-throughs, critique, help with message presentation. But the ideal outcome is that the analyst will take the start up’s calls (and that means a call from a person!) and return them promptly, and that the analyst will think it worth her or his time to make a call periodically to test what they’re seeing against what the start up is seeing.

    One question that we might ask is “who is the ideal contact” on the start up’s side. For PR’s other roles with the firm, it might well be either the CEO or (if they’ve come that far) the Marketing/Sales head. For the analyst, however, there might also be a relationship with the CTO — and that may outweigh some of the others at particular points in time. I envision analysts wanting the ability to execute picture of financing rounds and current financials, market assessment and longer-term strategy from the CEO, and the early going information (most of these firms will be pre-chasm in G.A. Moore’s sense and thus the CTO will be deeply involved with early clients) and product road map from the CTO. The rest of “getting our name out there” is probably the CMO and PR working together, and using the CEO/CTO in specific situations.

    So far I think we’re all in reasonable agreement.

    Bruce

  4. Carter,

    I concur with much of Bruce’s input here – you need the direct contact between client and analyst. When a PR intermediary gets involved, it makes the relationship very articificial, and the PR rep rarely has an understanding of the area the analyst covers and is appropriate for the specific interaction. Analysts need to feel close the the client and the AR rep can facilitate that, and add value to the overall relationship. When a PR 3rd party comes in from left-field, it can disrupt the relationship, particular when there may be issues such as a client renewal, or an analyst requiring specific data to be collected.

    Some PR reps also get into the habit of bombarding analysts to brief with all their clients, to the point where the analyst can be left feeling a bit like a “warm body”. Analysts much prefer a briefing approach to come directly from the vendor, especially when it demonstrates a good understand of that analyst’s coverage, and shows some respect for that analyst’s experience.

    I also worry where the role of marketing is heading, when it feels the need to use PR firms to manage analyst relationships. My fear is that the marketing function is becoming far too administrative and losing much of its strategic value in many organizations. Managing analyst relationships well is adding “strategic value” for marketing, and marketing must stay close to this function,

    PF.

  5. I think you’re asking the wrong question. You’ve already asked earlier about what the startup has that would interest analysts. That’s step two, maybe. Step one, though, is “why should they talk to analysts and how best do they get through to the analysts?” The answer to the first part of that question will influence what you have the agency do for you, if anything, and the second part of that question will determine part of the value proposition of the agency. If the agency can help you understand the analysts and define your interest to them, great. If the agency can help you cut through the analyst clutter, great. And there are those who can help with both of those. If, on the other hand, the agency can’t help with those, the likelihood is that they’re going to harm your relationship with the analyst and they should be kept far, far away from us.

  6. Speaking from the analyst side, I’ve had good and bad experiences with PR firms representing startups. (And, frankly, the reality is that few startups I’ve dealt with have dedicated AR resources.)

    Typical problems?

    - SPAM. “Hi, we’d like to speak with you about this product that has nothing to do with what you cover”
    - A “story pitch” (sorry but that’s not what I do)
    - More broadly, not really grokking the difference between journalists and analysts
    - Can we book you for an hour of getting your views about the market. (Mutually-beneficial interactive discussions are great but flat-out requests for charity consulting, not so much. Please don’t come expecting such.)

  7. what gordon said. i am not sure why you make a specific point to startups. isn’t it a more general question- should tech companies use PR companies to do AR.

  8. Gents:

    I have to correct my earlier comment here. I thought we were discussing the use of PR as AR in general, not in a startup-specific context. As startups tend to be resource-strapped, PR can be helpful in putting them in touch with the analyst community. However, they do need to work on their approach and understand the analyst’s sweetspots.

    PF

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