Why Hire a PR Firm?

IStock_000005464638XSmallThe perennial “bash on PR” meme started up again this week.

First Scoble knocked us.  Then Arrington took aim.  Even Steve Rubel, “one of our own,” took a potshot.  Thankfully, both Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb and Mark Hopkins at Mashable stood up for PR pros (thanks guys! – much appreciated, believe me) …

Scoble, Rubel and Arrington basically made the point that PR firms are unnecessary if you have a great product and are willing to spend a lot of time engaging in the blogosphere.

I started drafting a lengthy rebuttal … but was gladly interrupted by a client meeting.  It was a get-together with Mike Volpe, the marketing chief at Hubspot – and arguably one of the most Social Media-savvy marketers I’ve ever met, period.  And, in fact, Mike is the first to wonder aloud about the themes espoused by Scoble, et al.: he definitely understands the merits of their arguments.  After all, Mike is one of many Hubspot bloggers; he is active on Twitter; he’s a prolific content creator; he’s a guy with strong media relationships in his own right.

Yet in the course of our chat, without prompting, Mike started promoting the value of PR agencies!  I was verklempt, as my Gramma used to say. 

Mike was kind enough to sit down for a few minutes after our meeting, in front of a video camera, to capture his Pro-Agency feelings for posterity. 

Mike Volpe, VP Marketing HubSpot – Value of PR Firms.

What better rebuttal to The Media’s PR gripes than to hear from an Actual Customer?


Posted on: August 13, 2008 at 3:17 pm By Todd Defren
12 Responses to “Why Hire a PR Firm?”


  • TravisV says:

    I think the best argument against PR firms is that you are usually paying for about 25% of one mid level and one junior staffer’s time on your account – and then the occasional cameo by one of the PR firm’s founders. That’s the experience of the overwhelming number of vendors that work with PR firms, despite *every* PR firm’s solemn promise in the pitch process that they do not do this.

    So hiring a single smart person to do your PR in house and having 100% of their time seems to make a heck of a lot more sense in most cases. Not only do you get the full immersion of that person and their intimate knowledge with your product set, but they sit on every single call and experience every facet of that company’s PR (and can tweak and grow accordingly), as opposed to these inconsistent levels of participation by third parties.

    I think the counter argument is that PR firms bring the advantage of existing relationships to the table, and can often get the superior results by virtue of having gone through it time and again. Definitely something to be said for working with someone who’s launched many similar companies in the past.

    But I think that “relationships” are severely overstated notions in PR – and that it’s almost always the quality of the story (versus the person telling it).

    Of course, there are infinite variables that change the equation. I think that smaller IT vendors should hire an in-house person. I think larger, more established IT vendors get a lot more utility out of PR firms because they have a lot more to lose (in crisis communications) and a lot more sophisticated requirements.

    Just my two bits …

  • Kerry Dye says:

    As a professional SEO, I work in concert with companies’ PR firms to get their content to work harder for them, whether the PR firm ‘does’ digital or not. Together we get better results and more sales/visibility for the customer.

  • Justin Levy says:

    I think this is a great response to the past few days activities in the blogosphere.

    PR firms will always be a valuable entity and will be needed. PR firms will need to re-tool the ways which they distribute their clients’ messages (i.e. social media PR). Inevitably there will be some agencies that won’t make this change but those that do will continue to be successful and serve their clients well.

    Like Mike said in the video, while a lot of it can be done by an individual or company, it’s great to have a PR team that helps to share those ideas with, develop content, develop networks or break into networks that you otherwise couldn’t get into, etc.

    Keep up the great work!

    -Justin Levy

  • Romain says:

    What I’m expecting from PR?
    1. To help me grow my network, providing me with interesting people to meet within my business area (and others if relevant)
    2. To help me manage my public relationships, advising me on where and who I should meet
    3. To be a connection facilitator
    4. Monitoring my brand reputation and keep teasing people to make them want to know more about my company

    If it’s about sending press release, I do not need them. That’s just not what I need (I’m working in a Web 2.0 company). I don’t care about sending press releases, I want to meet journalists/ bloggers or have a call with them to connect with them.

  • Erin Smith says:

    I agree with Mike that a good PR firm will be creative in finding the “story within the story”. They will also have a more keen awareness of topics that are old news to potential media targets – let’s face it, we sometimes need people to tell us that our ideas are stale! There is talent and diligence behind both capabilities.

  • Jeff says:

    Bravo, Todd. Smart response to the anti-PR sentiment out there. I think Jen’s point of an “outside perspective” is very valid. Clients are too close to their business and need outside counsel to help them see things from different angles.

  • HubSpot.tv Scripts

    Episode #3 (August 22nd 2008) \\ \\ \\ Episode #2 (August 14th 2008) # Introductions Karen Rubin and MIke Volpe from HubSpot # Stephanie Meyer Twilight Series ##  Using the internet for marketing a book series # Role of PR in a Social Media…

  • Todd,
    Great post & smart response to the Arrington post… saw your comment there too.

  • Cool video! (If I do say so myself.)

    As you know, this has been a big debate at HubSpot. When I think about it, there are five ways a PR firm can provide value in today’s world in general (not all companies are social media savvy).

    1) Research – find good blogs, awards, conferences, dig up info
    2) Training – teach people about PR in a social media world
    3) Create Content – story ideas, writing, video, audio
    4) Pitching / Relationship – maybe more relevant to old media, but it does still work
    5) Monitoring – make sure you comment on the right blogs and don’t miss any news

    If people want to know more about my thoughts, read this article -the Value of a PR Firm in a Social Media World.

  • Todd, thanks for posting this…these anti-PR memes are depressing when they pop up. I think one of the factors that I would add to this–and Mike I think kind of touched around the edges of it–is that an outside PR firm can also offer a different perspective. It’s always good to have at least one other party there to listen to a plan or idea, especially one that is independent of the company.

    I compare it to people who own nothing but company stock in their retirement plans–employees are too close to the product/firm to see, perhaps, some of its warts and issues. Diversify!


  • Brian Block says:

    I take it this refers to PR firms working with 2.0+ clients. Because not everyone gets their news online. How about media training? How about civic engagement? How about investor relations? Are all your customers online?

    However, even companies with PR directors hire PR firms to get some extra manpower. The only issue is whether or not the extra manpower (and womanpower)knows what they’re doing.

  • MattC says:

    Thanks for voicing your opinion, Todd. I was wondering when we would hear from you. There are a lot of bad PR pros out there. Most of them just don’t know any better. Large firms don’t seem to be training their young guns well enough yet.

    The bigger problem may be that there’s are a lot of bad journalists too. Many can be brought and paid for (I know it sounds harsh, but I see it happen). Some are just looking to write controversy to get page views and will slam a company for no reason. Others write in only 8 word sound bites.

    That’s why we have PR, not to be media hounds, but strategic communicators to protect their investment.

Show some social media love would ya?

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