LearnWhy you should fire your PR company


Ryan Carson
writes on March 13, 2008

Every company is desperate for good PR – we all want (and need) to get coverage in the blogosphere, television and printed press. So what’s the secret? How did 37signals get a 4-page feature in Wired? Why is Zuckerberg being interviewed on 60 Minutes?

37signals, Facebook and others aren’t spending money on advertising so how are they getting this coverage?

The answer is pretty simple, actually. They’re remarkable companies. They’re different and they’re not afraid to talk about it.

One of my favorite quotes is “Marketing is the price you pay for being unremarkable” (Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad) and we really believe that here at Carsonified.

We’ve been fortunate to get coverage on TechCrunch (Amigo launch, FOWA Miami Panel, FOWA digg announcement, FOWA Pownce announcement, FOWA Miami Panel (again), Web Apps 101, DropSend sale 1, DropSend sale 2), New York Times, Read Write Web, GigaOm and an upcoming TV show on a major UK network.

I recently got an email from a UK production company who came across my article on A List Apart about our 4-day workweek. They want to do a television show where I go in and ‘fix’ a company with whose culture sucks. Our 4-day workweek, Idea Week, nice gear, and relaxed environment make us special. The production company believes that our company culture is remarkable, therefore worth doing a television show about.

Ryan being interviewed by a camera crew

And we don’t even have a PR company.

I’m not trying to brag about our media coverage. I’m simply pointing out the power of being a small, yet remarkable company.

I love that – being different is more exciting and it helps you get coverage in the media. What more could you want?

Why not spend some time today brainstorming how you can make your product, service and company remarkable? Just doing a good job isn’t enough any more.


Learning with Treehouse for only 30 minutes a day can teach you the skills needed to land the job that you've been dreaming about.

Get Started

41 Responses to “Why you should fire your PR company”

  1. Great article, for the most part completely agree – if you’re good enough, you don’t need PR for marketing. But as Mike Stenhouse said, PR is useful for more than just marketing.

    As for the TV show – that’s awesome news! If you go ahead though, make absolutely sure you have rights over the direction of the final edit. Editors in this country are well known for ‘sexing up’ documentaries and you’d be surprised at how bad they can make you look if they want to.

  2. When companies have both a remarkable product and some great personalities in their team, I agree, there’s no need to hire a PR company. So many companies have staff who aren’t socially competent or comfortable in dealing with the media, and therefore fare better by hiring outsiders to deal with PR.

    Maybe what companies need, aside from a great product, is to hire people who are PR people at heart, as well as skilled in their own field!

    If you’ve got that, then stop wishing and appreciate what you’ve got, because you’ve found yourself a star team!

  3. Hey Ryan, when’s the interview/program going to air?

  4. Francis Shephard on March 19, 2008 at 5:06 am said:

    Creating Value is what makes companies, products &or services remarkable If you create the best value, in a way which enables good margins, then the business will succeed – management errors excluded.

    Its the same reality for business success as it was 100 years ago, create value. OR at worst create the perception of value and have mounds of one time customers.

    Today the noise level is so much higher, that there are hundreds of reasonably effective core marketing strategies, which take time and effort to implement. Put all of these irons into one’s marketing fire and results come. Its not mystical nor is it rocket science. Its a doggedness to keep talking longer and louder and through more channels than ever before.

    Facebook – created value for two reasons – ease of use & qualification of known acquaintances & friends required – took facebook one notch up from Myspace.

    MySpace – created value – because it allowed millions of dis-illusioned trailer parkers believe they had a big pool of friends, instead of a lonely life filled with despair (ok thats a stretch but you get the idea)

    Using standards based markup, XHTML which verifies with http://validator.w3.org/
    does not make ones company remarkable. It makes ones company – one of the pack, at the front of the pack of packs.

    Time is money yet millions tout internet marketing as a “free” alternative. How much are they paying you for the TV work? or is it a vehicle for future potential exposure – which drives you to do it.

    I’ve worked a four day week for the last 7 years and having a free day to just create, write, produce saved my virtual soul. Its worked well and when I originally read about your new plan for a four day week I thought, – finally another web head sick of endless toil & the productivity issues which go with it.

  5. I think it also helps to have a Signature Hat (darn, I was about to go for the pork pie 😉

  6. @Steve – We’re not even sure if it’s going to happen. We’re waiting to hear back from the production company. It seems pretty likely though 🙂 Unfortunately though, I have no idea what kind of timescale we’re looking at.

  7. An interesting article Ryan.

    I have to say I’m really keen to watch the TV show. Can you give us any clues as to when it will be aired?

    Keep up the great work.

  8. Personally, I think hats are on the way back in. I’ve worn one from time to time. I wore one all week at Burning Man last year (let me guess Adam, only douches go to Burning Man, right?)

    I long for the time when all men wore hats – not because I’m gay btw, but because us gents accessories and variety in the wardrobe is few and far between compared to that of the good ladies. Anything that adds to my generally ability to look damn cool a sophisticated is a boon as far as I’m concerned.

    And why doesn’t my bank manager where a bowler hat? God damn it if you’re twisted enough to want to be a bank manager you should surely at least embrace the trappings of parochial power…!

  9. I would agree that there is more required than just being remarkable – you have to be able to tell people about the great work that you’re doing. As Gary Vaynerchuk said at FOWA – all great companies should have a communities person and I would agree…

    It will be interesting in the future to see whether companies adopt more communities peeps and fewer PR firms!

  10. PR is weird, I am starting a new web company after being in the industry as a developer for 8 years working for many companies some who have mastered PR and some who couldn’t sell brains to zombies. I would say that paying for promotion of my company will be my last port of call. There are so many easy, free and effective ways of promoting your products and services without paying. Paying for a PR company is very excessive for most companies but having a dedicated person in your team who has the confidence to work all the free avenues (speaking at events etc.) is a great thing to have if you cannot do it yourself. In my opinion a lot of remarkable web companies die because they are not of a simply not of a community mindset which can be a huge mistake.

    As for Ryans hat, honestly who gives a shit (I wish I had a hat that suited me). If you are coming here for fashion tips then comments are welcome but seriously do you need to post about it? Ryans company looks as if they are having a great time doing what they do, how many firms can say they do so much on their terms?

  11. @Adam and Ryan: Just in case you ever forgot the hat, you can have an icon http://macintoshgui.com/view.php?date=031508

  12. Completely agree with your content of your post, Ryan, though not necessarily the title.

    It seems that in this age of “anyone can contact anyone else about anything”, giving people something worthy of conversation is all the PR you really need. The key word there might be “giving”…you can’t count on people coming across your culture/story if you’re not willing to put it out there.

    Maybe you “promote” it your own, maybe you’ve got someone taking care of that for you (not everyone can do it themselves)…but the most important part is to BE remarkable in the first place.

  13. OK. I think the points in the comments are really spot on.

    I deal with an awful lot of PR people think I only agree with you partially Ryan, because it feels like you’re conflating a number of issues. For example:

    a) There’s a difference between having a remarkable product and being a remarkable marketer (Facebook would probably come in the first category, Carsonified maybe in the second)

    b) Some companies are lucky enough to have both, but you can’t buy it in and you can’t force it. You’ve either got it or you don’t.

    c) Being remarkable is not, in and of itself, necessarily a desirable quality. For example, being the greatest place on earth to work isn’t necessarily that great if your company’s built on sand. (ie Google’s culture may be remarkable, but it is not what makes the company remarkable. There is a difference)

    d) You can never make an unremarkable company be remarkable with PR. You can never make an unremarkable company be more remarkable with evangelism.

    e) Start off by working out why you’d need PR in the first place. The clue is in the name, and, in fact most businesses don’t deal with the public (in its widest sense) at all. They deal with a segment of people who are interested in their area, or they deal with other businesses. If you spend a few minutes working out who you are trying to sell to, chances are you can also work out how to sell to them yourself.

    PS I know Adam was a wee bit rude, but I often end up wondering whether you’re actually being controlled by a little bodysnatching alien who lives under the hat.

  14. RockyRoad on March 13, 2008 at 8:54 pm said:

    Probably the sickliest post I’ve read on this blog over the past 2 years… Ryan descends further into self-parody?

  15. @Ryan:
    That’s a really good point actually – that you’re going to be more passionate about your company than anyone else. The biggest takeaway point for me from the Microsoft event you chaired last year was Cary Marsh (?) saying that the best thing she ever did was free herself up to get out there and evangelise. Not everyone has the talent for that though. Speaking at events and networking are intimidating, requiring a certain type of personality. A PR friend of mine spends quite a lot of time cleaning up after over-enthusiastic clients who’ve let slip inappropriate details of upcoming products or financials to journalists!

    Oh, and ignore Adam. Anonymity’s a wonderful thing.

  16. Kristof Rutten on March 13, 2008 at 5:32 pm said:

    I completely agree with Jeffrey on this subject.

    But – if you don’t stand up to the ‘remarakbliness’ (is that a word .. ) you promise – you’ll need a big PR company to save you from drowning. What I want to say is – don’t only shine, deliver.

    I guess that will keep the good press attention flowing.

  17. The T.V show really sounds cool, can’t wait to see that one. Is it a one time documentary type?

    A series would be cool, and would most definitely boost the brand name around the country 😉

  18. Interesting read Ryan… not something I entirely agree with though.

    From what I have read of yours, you are very PR orientated yourself. You probably could work in PR yourself.

    For most companies I would say hire a good PR… concentrate on what you are good at and pay someone else to do their job. We started out trying to do our own PR and it turned out to be a massive false economy, it was taking up way too much of my time and it wasn’t any good!

    We now use a very good PR company… who are a fairly new business themselves which helps.

    Having said that, the founder and key personnel of a new business should be involved in the PR (But not running it by themselves).

  19. While I agree that a PR company may be unnecessary, being a remarkable company isn’t enough.

    Instead of following Robert Stephens’ quote, I like the “Content is King but marketing is the Queen, and we all know who runs the household.”

  20. Adam, what’s interesting about you saying that is that if we met in the pub, you’d never say that to my face. The Interwebs is funny, isn’t it? Why don’t you share your URL with us next time?

  21. I think one main point that was left out was the need for a PR company when your company is being bombarded with press requests from being seen as remarkable. Our experience (skinnyCorp / Threadless) has always been that the main use of a PR company for us is to handle all the press requests. Another HUGE, HUGE, HUGE reason for using a PR company is to have them handle facts and making sure media gets your story right. It’s so easy for details to get skewed, and then it’s a daisy-chain of misinformation when one source uses the last for their baseline info.

    I agree that having a PR company solely for the use of GETTING press is a waste if your product/project isn’t worth talking about anyway. If people like something, they’ll talk. If they’re not talking, maybe the idea needs some work.

  22. Do you really need the hat at all times? I haven’t seen a picture of you without it in ages. Just a heads up, it doesn’t make you look distinguished, it makes you look like a pompous douche. Although, I suppose that’s remarkable.

  23. @Mike I’m not saying there’s never a circumstance where you might need a PR firm. But if you aren’t a remarkable company to begin with, the best PR agency in the world isn’t going to help. Also, who is going to be more passionate about what you do then you?!

  24. After reading your email this morning it left me re-inspired as I’m pursuing a complete rejiggering of my business. I agree with some of the comments that, someone has to be promoting your company. Some people are just lousy at it, so it’s easier to pay someone else to do it for you, but I think that if you beleive it what your doing AND you have a remarkable story to tell then it might as well be you doing the talking.

    Either way it got me off my ass to do something about it, so thanks!

  25. Ryan, Sounds like fun! Are you going into companies in the same sector/industry? Or is it more of a case of highlighting the differences between your style/ethos and joe bloggs plumbing supplies?

    Heh, come to think of it i reckon they should do a company version of wife swap, 2 companies swop MD’s for a week! that would be a hoot!


  26. absolutely spot on Ryan. Well said.

  27. I think that companies that get great press without a PR company are very often (most often) remarkable.

    But there are a lot of remarkable companies out there who for some reason or another just haven’t got the coverage. Bad timing, busy press day, people focussed on something else. And also someone needs to have heard of you in the first place. If a tree based dot com is remarkable in the forest but no one is around to see it, is it still going to get heard?

    As a side point I think every company should strive to be as remarkable as they can. But not every company can be remarkable. Just the same way not every team can win the premiership. Some companies are more remarkable than others (which is good, as it gives us points to learn from and lifts the base)

    (Also depending on how you’re funded sometimes you have to do unremarkable stuff on the way to being remarkable, to pay the bills)

  28. I don’t agree, I’m afraid. There are certain markets that will benefit from consumer or tech coverage but not every one. How about a company looking to switch sectors, move into a new vertical or go international? If you’ve got time to wait on serendipity then great but PR can be a fantastic way to get the word out and support a concerted marketing push. It’s not always useful or necessary but it’s horses for courses.

    I don’t think that Carsonified is representative of the industry as a whole on this. You’re incredibly well connected and can basically network for a living, through your events. Besides, if every company was exceptional then _you’d_ need to hire a PR agency. 😉

  29. I can’t help noticing you have a coffee machine blocking a fire door ? (the blue disc on the door says “fire door keep shut” right? – doesn’t mean keep it blocked up ;))

    you do have a very good culture that I take inspiration from… thou i’m yet to persuade my boss on the 4-day thing!

  30. @Suw – Great points. I definitely agree, which is why I said “They’re different and they’re not afraid to talk about it.” (emphasis added).

  31. @Alex – That’d be fricken great 🙂

    @Tim – I don’t think you can afford *not* to be remarkable. I know that sounds cheesy, but I believe it’s really true

  32. That TV show sounds very interesting, if it is big enough success maybe you could be given the task of sorting out the culture in the NHS or the Civil Service?

  33. I don’t think being remarkable is enough. You have to talk a lot about what you’re doing as well as doing it, otherwise no one will know. There are plenty of remarkable people and companies out there who are too quiet to ever get noticed by anyone.

    If one was being a little harsh, one could say that you have to be a bit gobby, you have to be good at self-promotion, to get yourself out there, on front of the people who can potentially write/talk about you. (And I’ve seen that happen a lot – people who are just mouths on sticks who get more credit than they deserve just because they’ve thrust themselves into the limelight and no one’s bothered to check up whether they are actually as good as they say they are.)

    And then there’s luck. Being in the right place at the right time, being read by the right person at the right time. Of course, you can increase your chances of making your own luck by being in as many place as much of the time as you can (and having a blog really helps there), but there’s still the Zeitgeist to take into account. Timing is everything, especially in the media. Geek stories are in at the moment – look at the amount of TV drama that revolves around cool geeks right now. Never would have happened 5 years ago.

    There’s having a story, something that they can easily tell and which will grab attention. “Company works four day week” is a simple and interesting story that is really going to grab people’s attention: “How do they do that? How can they afford that? Oh, I wish I could work a four day week!”

    So yeah, remarkable helps, but there’s more to it than that!

  34. Why not spend some time today brainstorming how you can make your product, service and company remarkable? Just doing a good job isn’t enough any more.

    We have a culture here, driven partially by Agile development, of “just enough is good enough”. To some extent, we can’t afford to try to be remarkable. It’s hard enough just meeting basic requirements.

  35. … a television show where I go in and ‘fix’ a company with whose culture sucks…

    So you’re going to be the Gordon Ramsay of our industry, Ryan? “Web Agency Nightmares”, perhaps? I can imagine it now:

    “You’re serving up table layouts that only work in IE6? You f***ing donkey!”

    Best of luck!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

man working on his laptop

Are you ready to start learning?

Learning with Treehouse for only 30 minutes a day can teach you the skills needed to land the job that you've been dreaming about.

Start a Free Trial
woman working on her laptop