Blogs  / February 14, 2013

MDV’s Pamela Mahoney on how to avoid PR sabotage

by Rebekah Iliff

This week we kick off a series of guest posts from some of the PR industry’s top pros. Some have corporate communications backgrounds and are now working in-house for VCs, major brands or Fortune 500 companies, while others have built and grown their own firms.

First up: Pamela Mahoney, who currently spearheads PR and communications for Silicon Valley-based Mohr Davidow Ventures (MDV).

Her professional experience spans from high-growth startups to leading technology, auto and industrial companies including Sun Microsystems, Novell, Chrysler Corporation, and the Dow Chemical Company. She’s a co-founder of BlueChair Group, Inc., and has spent the past 12 years applying her marketing, corporate communications and media relations experience to her work with MDV and its early stage companies.


Universally speaking, quality begets quantity

Pamela Mahoney headshotBy: Pamela Mahoney

Last week I had a chance to meet with the PR Director of a Moscow-based venture firm after mutual colleagues made the introduction. She was stateside to help promote a few of her firm’s companies with headquarters in the U.S.  Over coffee on Sand Hill Road, we compared notes, culturally and otherwise, about the nature of communication strategy and public relations in today’s media environment.

We agreed that regardless of the country from which entrepreneurs and their investors hail, they share a love affair with the buzz factor made possible by the latest communications platforms (blogs, Twitter, social sites, etc.) as well as media outlets, and usually want to engage all of them simultaneously.

The upside, when startups are staffed by or engage savvy PR counsel, is the ability to create and maintain a meaningful dialogue with industry influencers, customers, and partners. The downside, when left to their own devices, is that startups often focus more on the medium than the message. They mistakenly see quantity of output (whether social media press releases, Tweets, blogs and the like) over quality of message. This is usually coupled with a lack of clear business communications objectives and strategy and a differentiated, thoughtful point of view.

Should startups opt for DIY PR?

My new Russian colleague told the story of a five-person technical startup that decided a blog was a must have on their website. When it became clear the team was spending a disproportionate amount of time trying to pump out blog posts, and Tweet to an audience of their immediate friends and colleagues rather than apply their talents to developing their product, she stepped in to counsel them about how to prioritize and refocus their communications efforts.

Seems this is a universal startup bug, I told her. We agreed that while we live in an era of do-it-yourself PR, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone excels at it. Think of it this way, there are lots of do-it-yourself home projects, too. With inexpensive materials and videos on YouTube, we think we’ll be able to save time and money and plunge in, but after multiple trips to the store to find the one tool we’re missing or to patch up a new problem we inadvertently created  it dawns on us we lack the necessary skill to bring it all together.  That’s usually when we see the wisdom of hiring a dedicated expert.

Focus on the narrative

We also agreed that in addition to a great product, there is still nothing more important than a good story, a narrative relevant to a particular audience and smart timing and execution. Successful communications strategies start with a well-conceived plan and comprehensive story development bolstered by substantive ideas that can be rolled out and reinforced with proof points and industry data – all with the audience in mind. That’s when it’s possible to develop a compelling pitch.

The world over startups fall in love with their own story – and fail to realize that when it comes to pitching industry influencers, media for example, the emphasis should be on what’s behind the idea that led to the company or product and why it matters to anyone else. What makes the startup source a credible one? Media have no interest in repurposing a me-too story line or carving out space to write about an iterative application or product feature. They want to hear about a significant new insight, uncover a compelling trend and talk to experts who have an interest in forming a long-term source relationship, not a drive-by pitch. The narrative becomes the basis for building a strong market presence.

News in a vacuum isn’t newsworthy

Would you want to be bombarded with a bunch of emails, texts or Tweets filled with empty “news” releases?  I think not. “Buzz” doesn’t happen overnight. The example I used to give to CEOs and VCs eager to build company name recognition, along with sales and revenue, is to imagine walking through an airport and scanning a magazine rack on the way to your flight. (I’ve since updated that to imagine staring at your tablet as your plane is delayed looking for something interesting to read.) What’s the type of headline or reporting you gravitate to most? What makes it a compelling read, or a link you’d want to click through to learn more? What made it believable?  To use a “tech favorite” term, reverse engineer the process. Start with the end story, tweet, or blog post, and work back to how the story came to be.

Outside traditional media influencers, there’s great value in going where your audience lives. Before launching your own blog or online community, add a team member or engage a PR pro who can advise you and help identify and prioritize news outlets, events, websites, forums, and existing communities where everyone is already congregating. Engage in the conversation. Give them a reason to follow you.

The future of PR looks a lot like the past, my new Russian friend and I agreed. While the communication platforms and tools continue to evolve, the basic principles remain the same the world over.


Follow Pamela on Twitter: @PamelaJMahoney

Learn more about MDV: http://www.mdv.com/