Essays on marketing and a meaningful life

Ada Chen Rekhi

Category: Marketing

Why Startups Should Care About PR

One of the common questions that startups ask is whether or not they should bother with hiring a PR agency. PR agencies are fairly expensive for small businesses to work with, often thousands per month on a retainer basis. The most common complaint I hear is that they’re pricey, and difficult to measure the return on investment. So when does it make sense to hire a PR firm?

How PR Can Help Startups

  • SEO: Getting links from news outlets can significantly help generate inbound links from top-tier publications and help your company move up the search engine rankings.
  • Credibility: Many startups get initial coverage from news outlets and having articles in search results helps establish credibility to potential consumers. Many small companies also use the logos linking to the articles on their website for the “As seen on” sell.
  • Business Development: If you can get coverage from a targeted outlet, this can be a great source for business development from readers that see a good fit with your business.
  • User Acquisition: If your business requires network effects or is solving a relevant and compelling consumer need, PR can in some cases be a great avenue for user acquisition through targeted media outlets. or BillShrink trying to get news coverage during an economic recession are great examples of relevant news for journalists to write about. The key is to ensure that the media outlets that you seek out target your actual user base. Unfortunately many startups end up targeting the tech press, which in many cases is not your target customer or doesn’t expand your reach beyond the audience which you already likely have strong penetration.
  • Investment: If you’re an early-stage startup seeking funding, getting coverage in one of the mainstream tech blog can be a great starting point for meeting investors and regular news posts can be a proof point to establish credibility.

Four Questions To Ask Yourself Before Hiring a PR Firm

How do you decide whether or not you can go down that path? Here are some considerations to think through.

Do you have the resources?

PR firms cannot be effective without significant level of executive sponsorship within the company. I’ve met PR firms that are unwilling to work with startups unless they have an executive as a day-to-day contact. Without visibility into product roadmap, deal pipeline, shifts in company priority and goals, your PR firm is operating blind and cannot be effective as a strategic partner. If you treat them like an outsourced vendor, they’ll perform that way. Also, PR teams often require significant rampup to understand your product, your customers and your space especially in many of the fuzzy developing markets that startups operate in. If you don’t have someone at your company who is committed and capable of managing this relationship, it can be very hard to make it effective.

Do you have a story to tell?

PR is a way to establish your brand and credibility to the external community and centered around outbound communication with the rest of the world. Make sure you have a story worth telling to the rest of the world, and do not expect magic. If you don’t have relevant, interesting news or a willingness to share data that people want to hear about, no one will write about you no matter how hard your PR firm pitches.

Do your goals match with the channel?

You can basically consider PR as another channel for your marketing team to use, focused on outbound brand building activities. It’s a long lead cycle, and pays off by market awareness, business development inquiries and your general “perception” in the space. If the primary focus and expectation is on transactions, generating revenue and other channels, it may not necessarily be the right fit (although there are exceptions to this). Consider carefully what you’re hoping to get and make sure that matches to the channel.

Do you have the right agency?

Agencies typically specialize in certain company sizes and industries. Many agencies have specialized rolodexes where they focus on a specific industry and have close relationships with journalists in those trades. It may be a difficult fit if you’re outside of their standard range, since they’ll be establishing relationships for the first time as opposed to existing relationships. It may also increase the cost of ramping them up to your product. The easiest way to assess this is whether they have related (but not competitive) companies within their portfolio, and then looking at what press they’ve secured for them. Size can also be a consideration — the larger agencies might be focused on their large accounts, so your small business might not be the most important to them.

Facebook and RockYou on Performance Marketing for Social Media

I attended 80/20 Conference, an interesting performance marketing event earlier this week put on by Jay Weintraub. Lots of interesting content there besides this, but posting my quick notes below on a session called “Sustainable Monetization of Social Media Inventory” from Facebook and RockYou.

Sarah Smith, Online Sales Operations, Facebook
Mihir Shah, VP Ad Network, RockYou


  • 15 billions ads & 200 million uniques served each month. 60% of social media traffic.
  • A third of their revenus is based on performance marketing
  • The challenges of monetizing the Facebook platform is that there’s a high number of impressions per user
  • RockYou differentaites by compliance with Facebook ad guidelines, which protects publishers and delivers better ROI
  • They consider campaigns to be structured in three parts: 1) start the campaign; 2) server-based optimization based on pub & geo targeting and creative testing; and 3) targeting based on creative, age/gender and impression testing.
  • They find that advanced targeting works well for small campaigns but can be difficult to work at scale.
  • Despite the common impression, some direct response advertisers are actually finding performance marketing on social networks to be good at paying out. Netflix is one of these, and many game installs are similar.


  • The conversation for marketers begins with authenticity. People’s activities are tied with their unique identity.

FB has 300 million users:

  • 13–17–41 million
  • 18–24–93 million
  • 25–34–87.3 million
  • 35+ — 84.6 million and fastest growing segment

FB tips for advertisers:

  • promo codes perform quite well, and asking questions within ads
  • Rotating ad creatives is important, even if it’s just color. Ad creative decays quickly from user fatigue and saturation.

Google Stops the Dance Music


The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has discontinued Google Dance, their annual search geek party at Search Engine Strategies. I attended Google Dance back in 2007 and was blown away by the scale of the free food, beer and events that Google organized for the search community.

While Google cites “cost-cutting efforts” as a reason for ending the dance, I interpret this as a sign that search marketing has grown up. The dance was started back in 2002 when search marketing as a discipline was in its infancy. In its emergence, Google Dance was a brilliant marketing tactic to incubate the industry as a whole and firmly entrench their brand at the top. They took a small search conference and made a blow-out event of it. At Google Dance, they plied search geeks with beer and dance parties, shuttling them from SES to the Googleplex to a chorus of hi5’ing Google search account managers for years.

Today, search marketing is well and truly established and the dance isn’t necessary anymore. According to MarketingSherpa, hiring skilled search marketers is not so hard these days:

Good help will always be hard to find, but locating someone with knowledge of SEM is getting easier as the industry matures. With nearly two-thirds of all respondents in 2009 reporting that it is “not difficult” to hire good help, it’s a blessing and a curse for search marketers, depending on which side of the equation they fall.

If you’re trying to grow a community, this is a great way to do it. Ending the dance is the equivalent of peeling the ‘Beta’ sticker off the search marketing industry.

Free Ringtones(*) With a Catch

It was heartening to spot the news today that Google has agreed to force search marketers to disclose the subscription fees associated with a lot of the supposedly “free” ringtone ads out there.

Free Ringtones SERP

In a deal with the Florida Attorney General’s office, Google agreed to require search marketers to use copy such as “ad-supported” or “$9.99/month” when they are marketing their free ringtone ads. Basically, free ringtone ads trick unwary consumers into signing up for subscriptions and additional fees in the fine print. Glad to finally see that some regulation emerging for the deceptive ad practices in this space.

Paralysis By Too Many Choices

I really hate the decision-making process. Lately I feel like I’m in a state of paralysis due to inability to pick anything, because there’s too many choices to deal with and I’m afraid that somehow I will make the wrong one.

In a Consumer Behavior class I took last year with Professor Small, one of our course readings was a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. It had many interesting insights, but the primary takeaway of the book is that we as consumers are overburdened with too many choices. The ensuing result is that we find ourselves unable to process the decisions and arrive at a choice without a lot of mental anguish.

True! Oh so ridiculously true. Schwartz at one point talks about two different processes on which to make decisions: maximizing and satisficing. Maximizers try to make best and most optimal decision among all possible choices, which leads to a long and exhausting search through the many options which exist. Satisficers operate differently. Instead, they define their requirements and choose the first option which meets those requirements. Suppose you have three choices, A-B-C, evaluated in this order. A satisficer would have minimum criteria of acceptability, and proceed evaluatively through each option and pick the first one that she finds that meets these baseline requirements.

In contrast, the maximizer would go through and evaluate all three A, B and C and choose the best out of the three. So, if C were better than B but both were acceptable, the satisficer would choose B because it was the first one he evaluated. The maximizer would choose C because after considering all possible choices she would pick the optimal.

OK, great if you have only three choices, but imagine if you had one hundred! Imagine trying to choose the “best” women’s shampoo out of the whole rack! Instead, we consumers tend to come up with easy decision heuristics which determine which brand we buy in the end (e.g., expert reviews, past experience, brand awareness, et al.) Sometimes this is a highly efficient mechanism for us to make smart decisions, but there are also lots of ways that marketers can manipulate this. That’s a whole different discussion though.

From this model, I have found that I have huge maximizing tendencies. I am one of those people that takes months to buy anything that feels remotely high-involvement. If there existed a Latin word (and here I go coining one), I would be Emptor Maximissima — the most maximizing buyer. And this is why I am currently delaying all my big purchase decisions for my apartment and feeling quite miserable about buying a car, bathroom rugs, various pieces of furniture, real estate, etc., etc.

Ada Chen

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