Last week I wrote a blog about Atomic PR and their illegal spamming of folks trying to generate buzz for their clients. [Note: they’ve since apologized and have agreed to stop doing this and let folks opt out – see the comments area for the CEO’s reaction post].
One of the most interesting things to come out of the post, however, was an article by Mike Melanson on Read Write Web entitled “Does your PR Firm Need a PR Firm?” It’s a really thoughtful piece and had one piece of advice that is critical:
“Remember that allowing a PR firm to run free with your brand is essentially allowing it to have control over how your startup comes off to the rest of the world.”
In other words: Control your brand. Always. It’s your most important asset. Your brand is made up of your goodwill, reputation and public perception. It’s hard to have a good brand and it’s very easy to have a lousy one. It’s also easy to have a good one ruined and very hard to go back the other direction.
One can come up with many examples of companies with good brand equity who have made missteps with products and have lived to fight another day (although you can’t have too many mistakes). But companies with bad brand equity seem to always be behind the eight ball. For instance, Microsoft, which allowed Apple to rebrand themselves with the “I’m a Mac” commercial series, can’t buy a break despite Windows 7 being a really good product. And my bet is that Toyota, which had tremendous brand equity figures a way out of its quagmire as well.
And startups, which have even more fragile brands, hire PR firms at prices that are equivalent to executive salaries and basically hand over the keys to their brand. And some do the same with their lawyers who interact with their VCs. This also holds true for all service providers that companies hire that deal with the outside world. All of this can build or damage a startup’s brand.
Even in AtomicPR’s case, they outsourced their brand to a email database called Cision. They claimed that they don’t spam because they subscribe to a database that gives them contact information of journalist and bloggers in the technology space. From the word’s of Andy Getsy, CEO of Atomic PR:
“Jason has an active blogger profile on Cision, which lists him as a VC covering venture capital topics. He blogs on tech products and companies from time to time. I suspect that this is partly how his info popped up again”
AtomicPR decided to blindly trust a database that claims it contacts bloggers for inclusion on their lists. Well, for at least two of them – myself and my partner Brad, we’ve never heard of them or been contacted. And I’m not a blogger or reporter who “covers” technology, as Cision claims. I’m just a dude with bad grammar that occasionally writes things that people read.
And while their intent might not have been to spam, that’s what they did. They outsourced their contact list and then furthered outsourced their brand to junior associates who did not respond to my polite pleas to be taken off the list. So in the end, AtomicPR’s brand was tarnished by their outsourcing and eventually one person who took issue (me).
Morale of the story: Be hyper careful about your brand and reputation. It’s your most important asset. And it’s a bitch to fix. If you don’t believe me, Google “AtomicPR” and see what comes up on the first page.