In Praise of Independence

Ah, summertime… finally and fully here. Freed at last from the cold, rain, and mud, we head for the seashore, mountain streams and dreams of freedom. Could be one reason why the Declaration of Independence was declared July 4 and not in the middle of winter. Today being the day we celebrate that independence, let’s take that theme and play it in a very minor key: independent thinking about public relations.

Remember Mitchel Harad? He’s the CEO (of GetRelevant) in San Francisco who fired his PR agency a couple of columns back. He popped up in our mailbox today with his own declaration of independence, muskets blazing in the first volleys in defense of freedom of the press and the pursuit of happiness. Listen in and you’ll see why it’s worth paying those big bucks for your ClickZ subscription:

Just wanted to give you a quick follow-up on your June 20 column. Yes, we did receive quite a few responses from PR agencies, all of whom were pitching us for our business… I told one well-known agency that I would love to talk if they could base half of their fee on a pay-for-performance model, to which they asked, “Why would we ever do that?” Exactly. It was a short conversation.

We have decided to move our PR in-house for now, which has resulted in a few things. First, we’re saving a lot of money, which we are still applying, in part, to public relations. We’re hiring an internal PR manager (know anyone?) and spending some money on tools, like EdCals and Profnet [see “The Buzzies and the Tools to Get You There“]. We’ve also totally changed our approach to press releases, spending more time on them and distributing them to a much smaller group of people. Most no longer go out over the wire service. We used to spend an incredible amount of time and resources on releases, usually garnering minimal results.

Next I, as CEO, am devoting a lot more of my time to building press relationships. I now try to write or talk to four to six reporters per week, which is a dramatic increase from the one or two per month our agency had been putting me in touch with. What I’ve discovered is that if I form a relationship with a reporter, he or she may or may not devote some coverage to us. However, if I don’t talk to a reporter, we’ll never be covered at all. Simple stuff, but something the agencies seem to be coming up short on.

Finally, we’re readjusting our expectations. We’re compiling our own pared-down press list that focuses heavily on relevant marketing and Internet trade press, local outlets and a few national business publications that we think should be obtainable this year. All in all, our true targets haven’t changed that much, but we’re focusing a lot more on what really matters to us. We’ve cut a lot of names from our media list, but the names we cut were ones that will likely never be interested in our company and whose coverage won’t be that valuable for us.

All in all, we have a lot of new enthusiasm for our PR efforts. We’re spending less money and about the same amount of time and we are already seeing that we will show moderate improvements in our results. Best of all, PR is actually becoming fun again for us! Thanks very much for the column and your assistance.

Mitchel’s perilous undertaking could lead to such dangerous innovations as do-it-yourself dentistry and Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. But now that the Internet has turned PR people into publishers, there’s really no reason CEOs shouldn’t become flacks. Technology has extended the opportunities for free speech to all. If you went to eBay to bid on your fireworks this year, according to a story crossing PRNewswire, you could express any opinion you wanted to the owner of Dishonest Don’s Fireworks using online chat. Now that’s independence.

Drive safely! We can’t afford to lose any readers.

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