Late this week, Alexia Tsotsis wrote this post on TechCrunch about a company called PRServe. She writes:
“We discovered that a PR firm called PRServe had been charging startups $750 to get a post on an “A-level blog “like TechCrunch and around $400 to get on lesser blogs, or, as the industry refers to it, “placement.” We’ve since proved that this is in fact true, and that a couple of our writers were on the receiving ends of these “pay for play” sorts of pitches, though none of them were offered or took money for their work. This practice (“PR by the pound”) isn’t illegal.”
At the end of the post, she vows that TechCrunch will never publish a story pitched from PRServe or the company’s founder Chris Barrett again.
The Next Web published a response to the TechCrunch post that has a more balanced take on the matter.
“PR-fed product announcements are a reality of the sector we work in. While it’s better to break a story using leaks and trusted contacts inside the companies we cover, and we always prefer to hear news directly from startups and investors (get in touch!), we also have a duty to tell you about the most interesting new services launching on any given day, and PR firms are often the people who tell us about them. And they need to get paid by the companies they’re working for.”
The PRServe website was updated to reflect this news. Here is an excerpt from the new page:
“Alexia went on to inform me that any PR firm with a performance-based business model would be banned from placing clients on TechCrunch.
I was confounded. PRserve is devoted to ethical, transparent PR. We were the first PR firm to cater to the needs of promising new startups with an honest, upfront policy: clients only pay when their stories are successfully placed. The only difference between how we share stories and the way a traditional PR firm works is that we do not charge a $5,000 monthly retainer, irrespective of results. We only collect an extremely modest amount for successful stories (a flat rate of $425 – $750 per story), depending on the media outlet.”
As a writer for Techli, I was introduced to Barrett when I joined the team, and I love getting emails from him because he sends us interesting stories that we are excited to share with you. Some people in the TechCrunch comments were confused as to whether or not the writers get a kickback to post stories about the companies that Barrett represents. Here at Techli, this is not the case. We pass on many stories Barrett pitches to us if they are not a good fit.
When we do find that a story would be interesting for you, our readers, we contact Barrett back and he schedules a phone call with the founder of the startup he represents within 24 hours. I’ve always found Barrett to be transparent, genuine, and he is fast to respond to additional questions when I have them. Even during Hurricane Sandy, he emailed me back frequently to help me with a deadline as the storm passed through his city.
PRServe’s business model is different from traditional PR business models, and this seems to be where people are getting confused. Instead of charging a retainer of thousands of dollars and collecting a payment whether or not the firm scores a media placement, PRServe only gets paid when a story about a client is posted. This is a more noble way to charge startups. I’ve personally been on the other end of this arrangement, and worked at a startup who paid thousands of dollars to a PR firm that delivered abysmal results. Also, they know nothing about the technology industry. It was hilariously sad to be on conference calls and get updates from a PR associate at one of the largest agencies in the world. Sometimes when I thought about how much we were paying them, I wanted to throw up. Even when we did get a placement in “old media”, we could never calculate our return on investment, and of course the PR firm would tell us that it was a great result.
As a writer, sometimes it is nice to get a pitch from a PR associate that includes screenshots, thorough information about the founders and funders, and basic relevant information. This stands as the background to the story. Then, we call the entrepreneurs themselves for information. We formulate the stories, not the firms who pitch us. The best thing about being contacted by a PR associate is that they have already thought “the package” through. They know we need to have basic information to move forward with a post. When entrepreneurs pitch us themselves, sometimes the information is more difficult to extract, or worse, it’s easy to see that the startup did the “spray and pray” method of emailing generic messages to every news outlet that they could think of. I hate getting those emails.
I don’t care what TechCrunch does, but here at Techli we welcome any pitches from PRServe. We will only publish the stories that we think fit within our editorial mission. We never allow PR firms to spin the article, and we write exactly what we want about the startup that is pitched to us.