Scott Baradell, CEO at Idea Grove takes us through his journey from being a newspaper reporter to becoming the CEO of a Dallas-based technology PR and marketing agency.
For more than 15 years, Scott has been a thought leader on the future of public relations. He created one of the original PR blogs, Media Orchard, which at one time had a larger audience than PRWeek.
In 2020, Scott began writing his book, Trust Signals: The New PR, to be published by LionCrest. He explains that “trust signals” are evidence points, from media coverage and online reviews to website “trust badges,” that make people believe in your brand.
His focus in recent years has been on growing his agency by helping his technology clients grow.
Let’s find out how he does it!
1. Tell us about how you started Idea Grove and your journey so far.
I had been a newspaper reporter and then a company public relations executive before I started Idea Grove in 2005.
I was an early blogger, I wrote my first blog post about PR in March 2005. I didn’t know much about SEO at the time, but suddenly I was getting phone calls and emails from folks who wanted to work with me.
It turns out my blog put me at the top of Google results for terms like “Dallas PR firms” – over much larger agencies with Dallas offices.
The business flowed in. I realized then the value of being a step or two ahead of the game.
It’s what built Idea Grove, and what fuels us still.
2. How has PR evolved in the last 15 years?
Look at the numbers. U.S. newsroom employment has declined by 25 percent in the past decade. There were 28,000 fewer reporters, editors, photographers, and videographers in newsroom jobs in 2018 than there were in 2008.
That’s across all news platforms – newspaper, TV, cable, radio, and digital.
The cycle we’re experiencing is this: Fewer journalists are around to cover stories, which means PR people have to work harder and spend more time than ever to get their attention.
This means you have to make every media placement count. You have to do your research upfront, set very specific goals, and then go after them. And you can’t have a PR program that’s solely tethered to media relations, it needs to reach your buyers wherever they are.
3. What should tech startups look out for when partnering with a PR firm?
Make sure they are staying ahead of the game.
For example, if they only talk to you about securing media coverage, they are missing out on some of the key elements of a comprehensive PR program today – such as securing customer endorsements on industry review sites and improving your branded search presence.
PR firms should be in the business of securing trust at scale, and there are many ways to do that. I list 77 of these “trust signals” in this piece.
4. For startups that do not have the resources to partner with a PR firm, what could they do to get media visibility?
Look at the media coverage you naturally come across that features your competitors – in your LinkedIn feed, in Google News, on Facebook, or wherever you see it.
Then look at who the writers are. Usually, it’s pretty easy to figure out their email addresses (some publications even include them in the reporter’s bio).
Reach out to those journalists and say, “I really enjoyed your story on topic X. My company does Y which is relevant to this topic, should you write about it in the future, our point of view is that Z is what really matters and we feel passionately about that”.
That sets you up to be featured in one of that reporter’s future stories if your POV on your industry is interesting.
The reporter may also be curious enough to Google you and learn more about your products and find out what customers say about you on review sites.
The key is to be helpful and interesting – but not salesy or aggressive. That would immediately end the conversation.
5. What are some of the things that clients get wrong about PR?
A lot of companies get obsessed with landing vanity coverage in high-profile publications.
One of our B2B tech clients told me that their previous PR firm had gotten them in Cosmopolitan. I was like, “How many of your buyers actually read Cosmo?”
They would be better off targeting the publications and other sources of authority that their buyers actually see and care about.
6. How critical is PR for a startup or tech company’s success?
There is a wide range of opinions on this question.
Mark Cuban has said tech startups should never hire a PR firm. Bill Gates once said that if he was down to his last dollar, he’d spend it on PR. The truth is that it depends on the company.
Some companies have a story that is naturally more appealing to the news media than other companies.
I know companies that have gotten great media coverage without doing any PR outreach – because their technology was so interesting, journalists discovered them on their own.
At the other extreme, some companies just aren’t inherently newsworthy, and it can be like pulling teeth for them to get media coverage – with or without a PR firm.
Most tech companies fall somewhere in the middle. They have a compelling story to tell, but they need help to tell it well and to amplify it so the right people see it and hear it.
That’s why for the vast majority of startups and tech companies, PR is a smart investment for getting the word out.
7. What are your future plans for Idea Grove?
We signed a long-term lease on new office space at the beginning of the year, which unfortunately wasn’t the best timing because of COVID, but we’ve adapted.
I believe the next 3-5 years will be Idea Grove’s most exciting chapter.
This is the time when all we’ve learned can be applied to make us a truly great agency – no longer a well-kept secret, but an agency with a national reputation for excellence.
We’re working toward that every day.