Relationship Reality: Stop Asking Who I Know at USA Today

In many parts of life and business, relationships you have (and your ability to start to build new ones genuinely and quickly) will get you through the door but never seal the deal. Without a good story, a good product or a strong answer, no one if going to throw you a bone just because you are a friend.

Questions commonly come up about media relationships during the process of hiring PR help (agency, freelance, in-house)– “who do you know that can help us?” What they usually mean, when you get right down to it, is who do you know so well that they would write about the ribbon clipping ceremony of your freshly cleaned toilet just because you called them. The answer should be no one. Any good storyteller wouldn’t tell a crap story, no matter how many glasses of wine you’ve shared with them.

New media, old media, social media, word of mouth, etc. etc. – the basics remain the same. People don’t like things that suck, they quickly lose attention if things are boring. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve “partied with that TechCrunchreporter” or how well you know the guy at the New York Times’ best friend – if your product or story is no good, no amount of flawlessly executed PR will change that. Even if you somehow have a “Christmas miracle” and sneak past a media gatekeeper who’s having an off day – consumers are smart, and even the not-so-smart ones still know when something is crap. If you’re in a world where you’re trying to market to make up for product deficiencies, save the money you are considering spending on PR and focus on creating an awesome product. A bad launch is far worse than no launch at all – it’s just throwing good money after bad.

When looking for someone to help you when your product is ready for primetime, it’s fair to hope for someone with strong relationships with influencers. But don’t hinge your decisions on that. Instead of asking about reporters that a PR professional knows, ask about referrals from other companies: has someone I trust told me YOU are the right choice for this job. Also, think about your working relationship: in the time we spend together, can I see myself having a strong working relationship with you, can we brainstorm new business ideas, can we be creative.  In short, can we make things happen.

Find someone with true passion for your product, and if you feel like they might not be in the position to be honest with you about their passion or lack thereof, test them on it. Interview them like you are making a hire – figure out how they think on the fly, get to know them, talk to people you trust that really know their work, engage deeply in conversations about your space and your real business drivers. It’s not about making them do a bunch of free, busy work during the courting process – it’s about finding out if the PR professional/team has the passion for what you do, the ability to allow their understanding of your product/business to evolve as you do and the confidence to tell your story well.

If your product is really great and you work with people who have enough passion and knowledge to never say “die” and do it with panache, you’re more than halfway there. The next step is to respect each individual working part, each soloist in the room, and what it brings to the table and build a perfect symphony of product, passion, initiative, creativity and innovation.


Alternate titles:

A. Relationships are like assholes, everybody has one

B. I do know someone you should talk to, but you’re still going to be a douchebag

Update: Mark Johnson has posted a faboo response to this post on his blog that covers five questions you should ask a potential PR partner before you decide. You can read it here – this is part of our ongoing blog-based discussion.

Update 2: A great take on why relationships don’t matter most in PR from David Mullen.



~ by Julie Crabill on September 16, 2009.

8 Responses to “Relationship Reality: Stop Asking Who I Know at USA Today”

  1. Amen to this. Also, I suggest alternate title #1 to say “Relationships are like assholes, everybody has one… and the all stink.”

  2. Another great post, Julie! Sometimes companies drink their own kool-aid too much and can’t see their products for what they are. I think instead of a PR person who knows every Tom, Dick and Sue, they need a partner, as you said, who will support them through every step of the way, honestly and constructively (Dr. Phil style, hehe).

  3. Bravo Julie! Right on all fronts!

  4. Great stuff, Julie– I have been knocking what I call “Rolodex PR” for years now. Who you know is great, but if it’s the first thing you ask a PR agency, you don;t know what you are doing– or more importantly, what they do.

  5. Couldn’t be more accurate. Nice Post! Every time I get the question, “Don’t you know him at the WSJ?” OR “Why wouldn’t he write that story for you if you have a relationship?” Well, umm, because what you’re pitching me isn’t a story his readers are interested in and to maintain that relationship I need to give him something he cares about.

  6. I always knew you’d be a star in this biz, because you simply tell it like it is! Now, how you get the crazy folks at Sequoia to stop telling their portfolio companies that they don’t need a PR firm anymore because “social media is free”?

  7. […] In Julie’s blog post, Relationship Reality: Stop Asking who I Know at USA Today, she reminds companies on the hunt for a PR firm that press relationships are table stakes: any […]

  8. ^5 – this post rocks. It should be printed out and handed to every CEO of every consumer tech company on the planet. (Or, maybe sent to their iPhones to save the trees.) Reposting…

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