Start-up Fever – When should PR say ‘no’ to new biz?


The Valley seems to be on fire lately, and I know I’m not the first person to notice that the climate in tech right now feels like the boom. New start-ups are popping up everywhere, Web 2.0 has gone from buzzword to backlash, and yet the companies and innovation– sometimes pseudo-innovation–keep coming.

I’ve been in a few meetings lately with companies with technology offerings ranging from established to start-up and it really got me thinking. With so many companies trying to make their way in tech, whether they be 2.0 companies or non-Web-focused, when is it the right time or appropriate for PR to say no to new business?

Every agency wants to diversify their client roster and keep a consistent pipeline of new business, but when is it ok to evaluate a potential new client and say ‘you know, maybe we don’t want this business for reason x, y, or z.’

I think agencies in general sometimes fall into the habit of being so focused on picking up new clients that they forget that not every potential client they pitch, and win, has to be taken on. Sometimes restraint can be useful.

11 Responses to “Start-up Fever – When should PR say ‘no’ to new biz?”

  1. You should only take on clients that you understand their business. Too many times, PR people will tell me “we just got suchandsuch corp.” I ask them “what do they do.” And they cannot tell me, except in the broadest of strokes such as they “have some kind of enterprise product.” How can a PR company take on client that it doesn’t understand from the preliminary talks?

    Also, you should not take on a client that you do not believe has a viable business plan or chance of success, imho.

  2. 2 Ryan Lack

    Tom — I couldn’t agree more. The understanding of a client should take place prior to the decision of taking them on. As a PR person, the goal should be to achieve the status of being an extension of your client — literally part of them — but you definitely can’t do that if you can’t even wrap your head around what they do and spit out a quick description.

    Your last point is more of what was in the back of my mind when I was writing this. Just because a company is looking for PR and an agency a client doesn’t automatically qualify the two as a match. In todays market, too many companies are starting and not enough are lasting, or will last — we’ve seen this in the past. Sometimes an agency just needs to be honest with itself about the situation, but all too often seem more focused on the bottom line.

  3. I have been thinking of this question a lot lately as a independent PR practioner. I don’t think you need to be an “expert” to take on a client, but I do think you must be a good student. Much of what makes up a good PR campaign is valid across segments; however, you can’t bill the client for your education time. So that leads me to believe you shoudn’t take on a client in a new segment unless you are planning on entering into that segment going forward. This makes the unpaid, educational overhead time worth it.

  4. Kami – Thanks for stopping by. Agreed. You don’t have to be an expert when you first take on a client, but I believe it’s in you and your agency’s, and the client’s, best interest if that is the end goal. I (and I’m sure many others) view PR as an extension of the company — we “are” client X or Y — and, thus, should strive to become experts in a given market or product/service area. Does that mean we’ll ever know as much as an engineer or software developer, etc.? Probably not, but it makes us better at telling our client’s stories.

    But yes, the unbillable education time will always be a given. It’s up to the agency decision-makers to determine whether entering a certain segment is worth it, like yourself. Lucky for me, I’m not in a position where I have to worry about that – just question the rationale from the outside. 😉

  5. 5 Tina

    When I read a line like: “You should only take on clients when you understand their business”, I cringe (sorry Tom). If we o n l y follow this approach we could never ever branch out into new areas. Look at the tech world: it is rapidly changing and tech is everywhere (see the massive rise of consumer tech) as well as the issues related to it. Does this mean that a tech agency can only serve tech clients? NO! I agree with Kami and Ryan, we would only limit ourselves and lose our creativity along the way.

    The “new” client will actually benefit from our fresh look and persepctive and our desire to dig into something new. And don’t forget the excitement about learning something new. Your staff will thank you. I know of an agency who actually made it a point to work at least with one client who had nothing to do with his core business. I think that’s a great approach. It sure helps prevent tunnel vision!

  6. Tina – I think what Tom was getting at is a combination of what both Kami and I mentioned. There is that education process that takes place, and must, before you can speak intelligently about what the client does. I just think it goes without saying, you have to understand the business to represent it, and I think that’s just as important going into a pitch as it is when you’re working for the client.

    But I do agree that the tunnel vision can become a habitual thing, but diversifying the roster should always be a goal.

  7. 7 Tina

    Thanks, Ryan. Yes, how could I disagree? Of course, there’s the educational process. And getting to know the client’s business. And getting to know what the client wants, where she’s/he’s coming from, etc, etc.

    I was “a client” myself not too long ago before I moved back over to the agency side and of course I wouldn’t talk to agencies who were completely ignorant and didn’t understand at all what the company I worked for was doing but I always appreciated a creative mind and a not-so-common approach which often came from agencies who were able to look beyond their own horizon.

    However, with all the information out there, especially in the blogosphere, it’s easy to get lost so maybe I am converting back to being focused. I am not sure yet about that…

  8. I agree with parts of what each of you have mentioned. I think that there is a difference between selling yourself as an expert in all areas and pitching for new business in an area of expertise that might not be your core business. Of course the lines are always blurred but taking on clients in areas that are contiguous to your core area should be helpful both for your own edification, your clients and your books. Not n that order. Cross selling is the way most businesses move into new areas. I don’t see why PR praticioners should deprive themselves of this useful strategic model of business development.

  9. 9 shannon

    i dont know

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