Brainstorm: The Great PR Firewall

When I stumbled into this blogging thing about 2.5 years ago I was stunned to find that I could just email startups and they’d bare their souls to me. I lived by the personal rule that I’d never take what they shared and use it against them, so that same openness continued for quite some time.

But lately things have changed. It’s been a long, gradual shift, though I can definitely see it more clearly in the past year. Startups are hiding (or being hidden) behind a great firewall, intended to protect them until they’re ready but instead sheltering them like an awkward child.

This isn’t just a Valley thing, where people are unreasonably afraid of their ideas being stolen. This extends across the country, and in some cases across the world. It’s more common in startups that are part of accelerators, but with so many who aren’t inside of one taking cues from those who are, the problem is snowballing.

I have some more, deeper thoughts and investigative work that are both going into a refined piece that I’m planning to post to TNW at some point in the near future. But for now I wanted to get some thoughts into black and white and Svbtle seemed like just the right place to do that.

So think of this post as a sort of scratchpad for what I’m working on for TNW. Hopefully it won’t all go by the wayside, but here are the points with which I’m working:

  • The PR wall can be damaging to companies who need a dose of reality.
  • Firewalling a company is akin to placing an embargo on information without due reason. It’s annoying at best. At worst it’s going to screw up their chances of coverage.
  • Accelerators are falling into 3 classes when it comes to working with the media: Open, Coached and Closed.
  • Should we stop focusing on the Airbnb and Dropbox-style successes as being the goal?
  • Hiding a company from the public can lead to a prima donna mentality.
  • What proof of positive outcomes do we have from firewalling companies?
  • To what point do relationships built between an accelerator and a journalist/blogger matter?
  • Is this trend cyclic? Can we see examples of it in the past, to this same level?
  • If so, what broke the cycle? Also, why did it start again?

I promise you, this isn’t a whining diatribe of not being able to get stories. Take a look at TNW, TechCrunch, GigaOm or elsewhere. We’re having no problem finding stories. The question at hand is whether we could be getting more and better stories, and helping companies in the process.

Maybe I’m an idealist (yes, I am) but I like to think that bloggers and journalists are largely good folks who just want to tell great stories. For the most part, they’re not going to screw companies over. Many of us even dedicate time to helping startups perfect their messages.

Anyway, more to come at a later date. For now I don’t want this to turn into an MG Siegler post. If you’re a startup, and want to offer your voice, please email me.