Outsourcing the Wrong Task

Have you outsourced the wrong task in your startup? I’d like to share a story with you to help you find out. But, before I do, I’d like to preface it with a quote I read a couple months ago in the FAQ section of Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday. At the time, I thought it was a harsh take on a profession. Holiday writes, “[i]f I were in PR, I’d quit because it sucks. It’s a bunch of relationships with people who don’t matter much anymore (i.e., legacy media reporters).” He further argues “[w]hy do you have to pay someone else to make/produce the content that you use to speak directly to your potential customers?” While I originally thought that Holiday’s synopsis was biased when I first read it, based on my recent experience, I admittedly agree with it. Now, for the story.

About 2 months ago, I reached out to a local food startup, Siete Foods, based here in Austin, Texas. (Note: I still love Siete Foods. This story is more about who they’ve outsourced important work to.). I was looking to interview Siete Foods for my blog and a local Austin publication as a follow up to an earlier post I’d written. The idea was I would write a story about why healthy foods are important to LatinX communities and what local companies are doing to support this concept. My interactions with the Siete Foods folks were great. In fact, I thought I’d discovered an amazing journalist hack: Siete Foods would send me healthy food in exchange for writing original content. But then the Siete Marketing team sent me to their PR firm, Sunshine Sachs, headquartered in New York City. After several weeks of asking me questions about the article, where I’d publish, who my contacts were, how I’d
even manage to publish, the PR firm finally wrote back: “[t]he Siete team isn’t available for an interview at this time.” What the PR firm didn’t understand was that I was offering to write content for their client free of charge. Siete could promote the content I wrote to their social networks and I would do the same on my social channels. It was really a win-win situation for all parties involved. The PR firm also didn’t understand that I was also offering to help Siete Foods craft a story about providing healthy food products to LatinX communities and shedding light on accessibility to products like these.

When I heard back from the PR firm, I was initially disappointed that I didn’t get to interview Siete Foods mostly because LatinX communities need to read original content about healthy food options and companies supporting these healthy decisions. These types of stories also help LatinX communities see successful entrepreneurs who are working to build smarter and more conscious societies. After the disappointment wore off, I realized that what Holiday said was true: PR agencies are no longer as powerful as they once were. They’re also out of touch with what local communities need to hear. The 21st century has ushered in a new age of decentralized media powers: blogging, social networks (Metcalfe’s law at its best), and local storytelling. Companies don’t need to hire PR firms in today’s world. So stop wasting your money.

Seth Godin wrote in his blog a few years ago that PR is not publicity but “the strategic crafting of your story…the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.” The task of PR has been muddied by the act of publicity (because almost anyone can get publicity) and, unfortunately many PR firms provide publicity instead of storytelling. Companies don’t need more publicity, they need better storytelling.

What can you do instead of hiring a PR firm? Do the PR yourself. Better yet, create amazing products that people talk about and share with each other. As a result, people will want to collaborate with you and write about you. You won’t need a PR firm to do that for you. Again, this is the secret sauce: make exceptional or remarkable products, as Seth Godin tell us in his blog posts and books. Companies could also use money to create a ‘brand mythology’ because this type of powerful and compelling story is more than simply products and data. As Godin writes in another post, “[m]yths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what’s important to us and live it out through the myth.” Brand mythology allows companies to “make a spiritual connection with the [customer/client].” All companies, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, need to craft better stories with their audience and potential clients as the heroes. That’s what will create an exceptional brand mythology and keep customers purchasing over and over again.

While I still love the Siete Foods products and will continue to recommend them, it’s disheartening to see that they’ve outsourced the wrong task. Don’t carelessly leave another company in charge of your storytelling. If you do, you could end up with a PR story like the one I’m writing about. Before you decide to outsource storytelling, consider the invaluable benefits of keeping this important work in-house and with local partners. The act of creating your brand mythology deserves your utmost attention and direction. No company can tell your story to your fans better than you. So why outsource it?