Meet the Startup That's Making PR Firms Sweat
BY Ed Zitron
PressFriendly is offering a middle ground between DIY marketing and expensive PR agencies. Can this startup make an inefficient industry run more smoothly and logically?
It costs less than $2,000 to run a PR agency. You buy a media database, write a mediocre 400-word email about a company, and perform a mail merge. Boom, you've got an 'agency.'
Now, any PR professional worth their salt will tell you the real value of any agency is in its 'strategic thinking,' (planning), 'brand awareness' (how you sound/look), 'competitive analysis' (who are your competitors?) and 'social media' (you should talk to your customers on Twitter/tweet sometimes.) But the sad truth is that PR has devolved into getting journalists or bloggers to write about your client on the internet, which has only deepened the age-old mutual hatred between reporters and the people who pitch them. Yahoo! Tech Editorial Director Rafe Needleman's Pro PR Tips crystallizes this fatal desperation.
My perspective: Many PR people are bad at pitching, and they won't admit it.
PressFriendly could potentially kick those people in the teeth. It's a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform focused on helping startups craft more effective pitches. The PressFriendly Story Wizard walks users through the elements of a good pitch, then analyzes all user-generated content with a machine-learning platform that co-founder Paul Denya coded to compare keywords against the elements of the pitch. A human being then reviews the optimized pitch and spits it back with a customized list of contacts to approach.
At a higher price point, you also get advice on timely product opportunities (a holiday gift guide, for example) and the best times to pitch reporters. Andren has built a team of part-time PR reps who've become "burned out on agency life" and work 15-25 hours each week for PressFriendly.
The first marketing hire at five seed-funded startups, Andren saw the opportunity to create a middle ground between performing DIY-PR and hiring an agency. He approached Denya (the second employee at HelloSign/HelloFax), an engineer who had failed to get press for his iPhone games. He saw the value in automating and streamlining the list- and calendar-building functions of PR, and added in a layer of pitch-building.
"PR is mostly pitching and dealing with inbound requests," said Joel Andren, co-founder of PressFriendly. "That being said, I believe that PR professionals are important contributors in developing marketing communications plans at the strategic level, but that their function and value tends to be as much tactical as strategic."
Andren sees bad pitching as a symptom of unrefined skills and desperation for press attention. Combine this with the potential for greedy PR people to over-sell and, well, here we are.
Wake up, PR
Heres why PressFriendly is making PR people uncomfortable. It is managing in a significantly more effective way many up-sell tools for which agencies charge a premium. It is charging significantly less to access media databases. And it is generating content that outperforms the status quo.
The edification of PressFriendly on TechCrunch and VentureBeat, two major PR targets, will no doubt send waves of fear into the industry.
However, some reporters dislike anyone giving out their contact information, and there’s always the danger of bad targeting. Andren argues that the human combing of all lists (versus the outsourced updates on larger databases) should weed out problems. Furthermore, PressFriendly only hands out emails. “We really want to be press friendly, and calling on the phone or using Facebook private messaging isn't.
The lists themselves focus on 30-50 reporters, and PressFriendly's coaching tells potential pitchers to prepare 60 days in advance by following reporters on Twitter, reading their articles, and trying to build a rapport.
The final challenge is more fiscal: creating a tenable business. Andren estimates that PressFriendly will need 830 self-service clients or 83 full-service clients in order to hit $1 million in recurring revenue. While VentureBeat was a little off on claiming that agencies charge "$12,000 a month" (though some certainly do), it's safe to say that a month-to-month charge of $999 is significantly easier to swallow for startups searching for the spotlight.
ED ZITRON is the founder of EZ-PR, a PR and media relations company based in New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also of the author of This Is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass in Your First Years of PR. He has worked with Target and the Nature Publishing Group, as well as smaller startups and tech figureheads. He covered the technology and video games industry for seven years for Future Publishing and Eurogamer. @edzitron