Renee Blodgett sizes up potential clients the same way a venture capitalist would. As president and founder of Blodgett Communications, she gravitates toward startups that have a focused plan beyond just being bought by the highest bidder.
"I ask them, 'Are you in this for the long haul?'" says Blodgett, who specializes in representing Web 2.0 companies. "I'd rather build a company."
Her small collection of clients has been carefully selected to build a dynamic portfolio - much like a VC, she adds. And while some startups' best strategy is to position themselves to be sold, Blodgett prefers clients who are committed to their venture's future.
"When I represented larger companies with established patterns and rules, I began to realize there was less opportunity to create anything new," she says. "Or just create. Often, they were too used to doing marketing and PR in the same way they've always done it."
But garnering buzz for a startup is no easy task, says Blodgett. And when a startup does generate attention, its typically small staff can become overwhelmed at first.
This was the case for Spock.com, a client of Blodgett's who launched its public beta site on August 8. The people search engine landed press mentions in several influential blogs and high-profile titles. The site was so immediately popular, in fact, it could not manage its traffic and was often not working.
Some blog posts surfaced that criticized the glitch, but Blodgett knew how to respond to Silicon Valley's tendency to overreact - with a dose of common sense.
"For people to expect it to operate like Google on day one is not really fair," she says.
She proactively alerted users to the snag. Within days the site was functioning properly and initial woes became buried blog posts.
Silicon Valley isn't always so fast to forgive, however, which is why it's vital to select clients with a compelling product that can deliver results, she says.
If many in the blogosphere like a product, it can develop a strong network of online supporters. This is a resource many PR pros have yet to tap into. For instance, when a Time article reported that Spock mines its data without users' permission, Blodgett - and many in the blogging communities - came to its defense, she recalls.
Most startups know to use blogs to clarify information about their brand and to correct inaccuracies. The PR industry should not be intimidated by this medium that is really just an extension of basic PR strategy, Blodgett suggests.
"It's about building a relationship," she says. "I think that's what good PR has always been about."
Jay Bhatti, Spock cofounder, says he was drawn to the personal attention Blodgett could offer. Her zest for the site led her to go out on a limb for a product that was still a work in progress. She let journalists and bloggers use the product when it was still a private beta site - working out its technical kinks.
"You have to respect that [Blodgett] took a lot of personal risk in getting Spock in front of her network... before Spock was even publicly launched," he says. "I don't think a lot of other PR firms would have done that."
She also engaged directly with those interested in the site.
"[She] taught us that it's important to be out there, honest, and communicative about what's happening in the company," he adds.
But there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to representing startups, she warns. Some - like Spock - benefited from teasers like an invite-only beta and demos, but others demand a different approach. Nailing down the right strategy is vital because tides turn quickly in the current online environment.
"In Web 2.0, people don't have a lot of patience," she says. "If something doesn't work right away, they lose interest and they move on."
Founder and president, Blodgett Communications
Director of global corporate comms, Dragon Systems
Account manager, Porter Novelli