Hell hath no fury like a PR agency scorned….

alarm:clock for the unitiated is an online magazine/blog that covers technology start-ups.  Last week they posted a story advising start-ups to fire their PR firm because they’d be better off doing the PR themselves – and they’d save a lot of money in the process.

Among the criticisms they make are:

  1. PR agencies are full of hot air
  2. Journalists prefer to talk directly with the start-up
  3. PR agencies don’t get the new model (i.e. blogs)
  4. The best start-ups don’t use agencies
  5. It’s a waste of money

As you can imagine, the post started a fire storm. I recommend you read the original post and its comments then read David Parmet‘s postJeremy Pepper‘s take (and the subsequent comments) and Mason Cole‘s comment.

The problem with this discussion is that it is completely theoretical.

I would strongly disagree with alarm:clock’s assertion that start-ups don’t need PR agencies, as I would disagree with anyone who believes that all start-ups need PR agencies.  It depends on their business, their requirements, their assets and most importantly their objectives.

Life just isn’t that simple.

I think I have a fairly good perspective on this issue, I’ve worked on the agency side, I’ve worked in start-ups, I’ve consulted with start-ups, I’ve worked in large public firms and I’ve consulted with large public firms.  So I have a good view of the strengths and weaknesses of each combination.  What that experience has taught me is that there’s no one simple solution.

My advice to everyone is to think long and hard about what you are trying to achieve with Public Relations. What resources do you have available, both in terms of human resources and budget. What are your business objectives? What do you need to do to help you achieve those objectives? Do you have the necessary infrastructure to support an internal staff member or an agency?

The first step in this process is to build a clear picture of your requirements and your objectives.  When you have done that you are ready to move to the next stage.

Unfortunately there isn’t any fast and simple solution.  However, I recommend you get out and talk to people.  Talk to your friends, colleagues, business contacts, journalists and analysts and find out their views on the PR people and PR firms they know. Build a clear brief that outlines your requirements.  Then at least you can begin to make an informed decision.

Finally, always ensure that your expectations are aligned with those of your PR staff member or PR agency.  I’ve always found that the biggest source of problems in a PR relationships is misaligned expectations on both sides.

Remember just like most business functions there is no silver bullet…