The Story of PR, not PR and Something Developing in Between

by Susanna Gebauer (@dreckbaerfrau)

When we started out as entrepreneurs with a vision and an idea, to say the least, we were naive. We believed that PR would be a good idea to help with making our new startup know to a larger audience. It could have worked…

Like so many other founders we loved our idea, and we firmly believed others would, too. Some did, but we obviously failed to convince the press.

There are rules (unwritten, but not really secret) of how to approach journalists. We had no clue. Looking back we did everything wrong – at least from the tech journalist’s point of view (sending press releases seems to be so old-fashioned or rather out of fashion).


Learning our lesson and admitting idealism and commitment is not everything, we decided experience should do the trick: We thought we should employ people who knew how it should be done and hired a PR agency. Big mistake…

I am not sure what the (expensive) PR people actually did for us, results were even less than what we had achieved without them – apart from leaving a big hole in our purse – money we could better have spent on some new features for exploreB2B, an employee to help with our developing social media strategy … or even some great food and wine.

Thus frustrated, we decided that PR was not for us – and turned to building a reputation and a following in social media. We connected to influencers; we guest posted on their blogs. After the off balance relationship with tech journalists where we were advised to buy them drinks and to try to be their friends (don’t tech journalists have real friends? We believed that PR would be a good idea to help with making our new startup known to a larger audience. It could have worked…Do they need all founder’s worshiping to make them feel good?), it felt like being part of a community. We shared, we connected, we talked … and we built a loyal audience for exploreB2B.

The key lesson we learned was that we should rather trust our own strengths, than some false “friendships” and the fickle success of press coverage.

And then PR came back to us… on a small scale. Building a reputation and a name in marketing led to being asked for interviews, opinions and expertise. Not by the big names in the tech press, but by the smaller ones.

As exploreB2B is picking up speed and our social audience growing by the day, we decided that maybe it was time to give PR another try! But not with paying heaps of money for work some PR guys might or might not do.

  • Anna Franklin

    Great points in this post. Ours is a B2B business and we’re working on getting our experts to speak at events, after having a blog going for 4 years now. We’re starting to be invited to speak at events as a result. So building a profile for our experts has paid off. We’ve not done much in terms of straight PR and I think we have more control over our message than in, for example, a PR piece we did get into a newspaper.
    Enjoying your blog. Thanks.

  • Ted Birkhahn

    Interesting post but if you’re objective is to give good advice to other treps about strategic communications, the blog is missing one key ingredient. Unlike the pre-digital media era, any effort to tell your story through any channel (e.g. paid, earned or owned) must be told through an audience-centric lens. It’s no longer just about what you do and how you do it, it’s more about the value you can bring to an existing dialogue or an audience that is struggling with real-world business problems.

    I’ve worked with dozens of start-ups from the dot-com era to present day and the biggest mistake most of them make on the PR front is that they think their audiences (and I include media in this) care about their products and services. They don’t unless you’re in the 1 percent that is operating in groundbreaking territory. For the rest, it’s about your expertise, your POV, your passion for topics, challenges and trends that are of the utmost importance to your customers/clients and the influencer community. This is what builds brands and drives affinity.

    I’ve always told my clients that relevance and differentiation beats hype any day of the week and it’s never been more true than it is today.

  • Lukumanu Iddrisu

    This article was published a year ago but i just read it. Good experience worth sharing Susanna. We can connect via twitter @Lukumanugh

  • Frank Gainaford

    Problem is bad definitions, as PR or as it should be called Public Relations is yruly not understood. All the stuff that you said you did once you thought that PR had failed, was the real PR stuff that you should have done anyway.

    Building a social media following that has an interedt in your product, service or informstion is in reality just plain old school public relationship building. People get confukumalated (read confused )by BS from BIG PR VOMPANIES who use your ignorance to fleecevyou of cash which as a small business you could have employed in housebstaff to do the same work in a more productive manner

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Hi Frank,

      That is so true. We totally lacked understanding what good PR should include. But for the money we paid, it would have been the job of the PR agencies to explain it to us – but to be honest I have not seen one PR agency in my life that really got social media and would have been able to tell us how to build our audience.

      There would have been multiple ways of doing PR for us, even without getting us into any “news.” Guest posting, interviews, expert roundups are just to name a few.

      As it was, we just wasted a ton of money on getting nothing…