Many journalists become PR pros, and many PR pros like to write. But can you be both a journalist and a PR consultant at the same time?
Former TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid definitely thinks so, and believes that his current occupation as a tech writer gives him a unique PR vantage point, as well as the expertise to give startups product advice.
Making use of Google’s recently launched “Helpouts” where people can provide real-time tutorials and advice online, Kincaid is launching his own PR consultancy for startups. For $300, Kincaid says he will provide 45 minutes of the following:
- General PR advice. Run your pitch by me and I’ll tell you its weak points and whether it makes my eyes gloss over. I’ll help come up with a way to frame it that makes it more interesting than just a series of bullets and features. I’m also well-versed in the PR dance of embargoes, exclusives, press releases (yech) and so on.
- Mock interviews (I’ve done a lot of interviews). I will be tough, and will help identify the potential pitfalls you should worry about, both in terms of what a reporter may hone in on and what they may have a hard time understanding.
- Product advice. I’m not a product manager, but I’ve seen enough that I’ve acquired a decent sense for what works and what doesn’t. That said, if you’d rather focus on press stuff, that’s totally fine.
- If your startup is headed in a not-so-great direction or you seem like you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, I’ll try to talk you out of it. This isn’t a bad thing; the startup lifestyle encouraged by Silicon Valley culture is miserable. But hey, you already knew that — right?
While there’s no doubt that Kincaid has interviewed a lot of startups during his time at TechCrunch and would be a good resource in telling them how to get into the publication, the rest of his pitch frankly reeks of hubris. Four years as a tech blogger doesn’t quite qualify someone to give product advice, and there’s no shortage of peers in the startup world that entrepreneurs can go to, if that’s what they’re looking for. The other troubling aspect is Kincaid’s apparent disdain – “press releases, (yech)” – for the very PR he’s looking to give advice on.
Kincaid also makes a point of preserving the confidentiality of these conversations, despite the fact that he claims he’s still a tech writer. That’s definitely a requirement as a consultant. But it doesn’t make him a great journalist. Sitting on information willingly due to conflict with your other business raises all sorts of questions about the articles that Kincaid will write, not to mention he would probably have to declare each company he consults for, in order to clear any concerns about conflict of interest.
UPDATE: Kincaid responded to this concern by clarifying that he does not foresee a conflict of interest since he doesn’t currently work for a news organization and will stop consulting if he starts writing about startups again. (See comment below)
Then finally, there’s his unwillingness to be a full-time consultant. “I’ve done consulting to pay the bills — but it’s a logistical pain and also introduces long-term mental overhead,” writes Kincaid. “With these Google Helpouts chats, I can give plenty of advice quickly while eliminating most of my own pain points (Google handles scheduling, payment, and so on).” Looks like Kincaid doesn’t quite want to jump into this field with both feet just yet, and it’s a sign of the tremendous confidence in his own brand name to to think startups will pay for this sort of adhoc consultancy.
Journalists as PR consultants isn’t anything new, and many would gladly offer advice to startups on how they can hone their pitch to publications. But advertising yourself as a startup business consultant on the basis of your writing is shaky ground, and it would be interesting to see how successful Kincaid’s “experiment” is.