Aarti Shah

AirPR, the data-driven matchmaking service to connect startups to PR consultants, instigated a flurry of tweets last week after Jeremiah Owyang tweeted:

This elicited two responses. The first, are there PR firms that differentiate based on having “bad PR pros”? Of course not, so simply arguing that only “good PR pros” will be hired via AirPR isn’t a compelling enough reason to go that route.

The second was issue with the 1% positioning. We spoke to one PR professional who said this is misleading because “it left the reader to conclude that AirPR had only the top 1% of consultants listed (the best of the best).  What I think that really means is that — among the consultants available on AirPR’s system — the top booked consultants are listed.  Quite a difference.”

So, AirPR’s founder Sharam Fouladger-Mercer(not a PR person by trade) clarified how the 1% is identified:

Assuming startups do their homework and learn how the system works, will it succeed? There are several “ifs” in this scenario, especially considering that AirPR targets a pretty specific niche. Most of its clients are looking for project support with budgets that fall into that $3k to $10k range. Ideally, AirPR will be able to connect those on the lower end of the scale with savvy one-person operations and the higher-end with whip smart boutiques.

But the premise might also foster some confusion within the industry. Having a look at how AirPR categories agencies isn’t entirely accurate — and marginalizes what PR firms do. Let’s start with how large firms are categorized – “typically charge clients between $30k to $50k/per month” — in Silicon Valley, that’s a rather aspirational figure. By most accounts, $20k is considered the gateway to the large firms, and in some cases, $18k. It also argues that entrepreneurs can do their own PR if they have enough time and willingness to learn. Haven’t we seen enough PR mess-ups in Silicon Valley that it seems reckless for a PR company to even advocate this anymore?

And considering that AirPR advertises its sweet spot as being those budgets between $3k to $10k per month, it is unlikely — at this point — to have much of an impact on the largest Silicon Valley agencies that tend to go after business in the $15k range or higher. Where this will ultimately have an impact is on the consultant market (and could certainly be useful for those who don’t have a network to tap into for referrals) and the PR firms that bring in revenues under $3m per year. And considering the plethora of these that exist, having a vetting system, again, has its place especially for individuals without a trusted referral network.

This brings us back to Owyang’s original tweet “every industry is disrupted by the internet, including PR.” He’s right about that,  the internet has disrupted the PR industry over the past decade. AirPR is clearly part of that process, but it remains to be seen whether it will substantially accelerate the disruption that the PR world has already seen.