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Judging by incoming mail, press releases and social media, technology start-ups think we care about their money-raising.

They often spend precious resources telling us how much they have raised or expect to raise.

Start-ups also want to tell us they or were mentioned in an important publication or were invited to take part in an event. I’ve seen press releases boasting about some allegedly famous venture capitalist, who no-one in New Zealand has heard of, making a passing comment about a start-up.

So what?

None of this is news. Almost no-one cares. That’s not media rudeness or arrogance. That’s what access to web stats tells us. We know readers don’t click on those stories. They are not interested.

They don’t care much when the start-up is in their own town and involves people they may know. They care less if the boast comes from a start-up based halfway across the world.

And yet still the deluge of press release material and assorted marketing hype continues to flow.


The world of venture capital and start-up finance exist in a bubble. One that rarely connects to the real world.

Things that matter inside the bubble have little resonance outside.

No doubt the latest funding round is of utmost importance to everyone involved in the start-up.

But until there is something tangible to show, the press releases are just so much noise and wasted public relations effort.

They can even harm the business, because journalists will see them as attention-seeking time-wasters and ignore the start-up when there is something worthwhile to say.

For the rest of us, start-ups only become interesting when a product or service ships. The product has to useful or fun. It has to have a real market. It has to be better, cheaper or otherwise different from what has gone before.

Now tell me something interesting

Now here’s the curious thing. Most of the time the product or service being developed is interesting. The idea that kicked-off the start-up may also be interesting. Far more interesting than much of the banal waffle the public relations types push our way.

If you want to create a buzz about a new product, service or other business, tell us why it is better than what went before. Explain how improves lives, saves time, entertains us or boosts productivity.

Don’t bore us with dry financial details, save that stuff for your investors. Instead get us excited about the proposition.

There is a time and place to talk about money. Rod Drury has made some important points in the past about Xero’s war chest and spending strategy. That information is only interesting because we already care about Xero.

Drury and his team told us all the key who, why, what stories years ago. We’re hooked. So when he talks about the money raised and what he intends to do with it, it’s a message worth hearing.

Modern public relations people often don’t understand how the media works. Many don’t get journalism.

This wasn’t a problem in the past when most PR people were ex-journalists. Today many publicists have never seen the inside of an editorial office.

Or if they have, they haven’t seen how editors and journalist work. They know little about what makes journalists tick.

Harmful PR failures

Many end up harming their client’s chances of getting publicity. They get in the way of journalists and annoy editors.

Which is where Dan Kaufman’s Dealing with grumpy editors gets its name. To public relations people journalists often appear grumpy, rude and obstructive.

This should not surprise anyone. You wouldn’t believe some of the nonsense editors have to put up with from PR people. Some of that nonsense passes for wisdom or craft in the PR industry.

Rubbish public relations

After 17 years before the editorial masthead Kaufman has seen some rubbish PR. He has also seen some sharp operators. In this book he provides practical advice for communications workers wanting to get an editor’s attention.

If you work in PR, you may not agree with everything Kaufman says. He tells it like it is in straightforward language. It is a valuable work, worth every cent of the ridiculously low $4.99 he is charging for the PDF version.

I can come to your offices – or meet you in a fancy restaurant – and give you the same advice for $150 an hour. So on second thoughts, don’t buy the book. Hire me instead.

Grumpy editors

In the spirit of good journalism, I should disclose my connection with Kaufman. I hired him as a junior journalist some 17 years or so ago. Hopefully he wasn’t thinking of me when he gave his book its title.

Press releases usually trumpet a company as a leader in something. Often they are “global leaders”.

A search for the word “leading” among the press releases in my in-box threw up thousands. Some recent ones:

SYDNEY, Aust., December 10, 2010 —  Acronis, a leading provider of easy-to-use backup, recovery and security solutions for physical, virtual and cloud environments.

Auckland, December 9, 2010: PC Tools, a global leader in innovative performance and protection solutions

About Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. is a global leader in semiconductor, telecommunication, digital media and digital convergence technologies

Auckland – December 7, 2010 – Kaseya, the leading global provider of automated IT systems management software

SYDNEY, Aust., 1 December, 2010 – Akamai Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: AKAM), the leading provider of cloud optimisation services

You’ll notice some claim to be the leader, while others are only a leader. Most claims are highly specific.

They are also unverifiable. None of them tell you who decided they are a leader or what criteria they used.

That’s because the claims are pointless self-aggrandisement. Public relations consultants feel they have little choice but to make these claims – no doubt they feel the client expects or demands it.

But leaving this nonsense in a release doesn’t help anyone.

It doesn’t help the media. Every journalist worth their salt cuts it. Nobody bothers to take seriously any publications not editing these claims.

It doesn’t help the boastful companies. They might argue it would help them show up in Google as a world leader in their area – but does anyone search for “global leader in innovative performance and protection solutions”.

So why do they do it?

For journalists Trevor Young’s  8 Things I’d Do If I Was a Starting Out in PR Today (no longer online) is like the Poms getting hold of the German’s Enigma machine at the start of World War 2¹.

It means knowing what the enemy² is thinking and staying one step ahead – at least some of the time.

Young’s road-map is for junior public relations professionals. It should be cut out and pinned beside every agency or in-house desk. It shouldn’t. That’s old school thinking. It should be downloaded and stored on every PR person’s iPad or phone.

He writes:

SIX – I would read every newspaper I could get my hands on, hang out at the newsagent and flick through as many magazines as humanly possible (without getting sprung!); read newsletters, swap radio stations, check out the array of cable TV channels on offer.

Traditional media is not going away any time soon; if you can ‘join the dots’ between traditional and social media, you will become a lot more valuable to your employer!

The advice applies to everyone, but journalists and PR people not reading everything in this way are in the wrong job.

  1. Point nine is learn how to write headlines in newspaper style, grammatically correct and without sticking capital letters on everything.
  2. If all PR people were as smart as Young, who cleverly brands himself online as the PR Warrior, we could drop the idea of journalists and PR people being at each others’ throats all the time.

No-one cares when or where your company started.

If you’re writing a website about page, compiling a brochure or a business proposal, don’t fall into the trap of adding a lengthy company history.

It is best to avoid histories altogether. If you must have one, keep it short and either link to the information on another web page or place it at the bottom of the printed page.

Whatever you do, don’t start anything written for customers with a history lecture.

Too many about pages begin with something like: “In 1997, three clever guys had the idea of forming a widget business and set up shop at 101 Boring Street, Dullsville, Arizona”.


Not only does company history bore readers, it sends a message that you are self-obsessed, maybe vain, possibly even narcissistic. This doesn’t help your business.

Worse, Google and other search engines will pick up on this information — particularly if it is near the top of your company about page — and assume the history as more important than the valuable information potential customers search for.

This rule doesn’t apply if you are selling history, say you run a café in a historic building. In that case, history is central to your marketing.

Otherwise, focus on the here and now. Emphasis the things that will be important to customers.