Rules for Startups—they’re more like “Guidelines”

by Kerry Martin

The PR world has been all abuzz about the recently published stance from serial-entrepreneur Mark Cuban that advises startups to “Never hire a PR firm.”  The commentary appeared on as the “12 Rules for Startups” taken from his book, How to Win at the Sport of Business:  If I Can Do It, You Can Do It.

While my husband does take the time to educate me on all things NBA, I must admit that everything I know about Cuban comes from his five-episode stint on “Entourage.”  With a brazen personality and an aggressive take on business, he seemed like a guy who probably doesn’t owe his success to sheer dumb luck.  It’s easy to see why he would be considered an entrepreneurial guru, but I think anyone looking to him for advice should consider how Cuban’s experience and management style are different from their own.

There are only so many hours in a day, and for many startups, there are a number of decisions and projects that are put ahead of public relations activities.  Mark Cuban’s hands-on approach puts the onus of outreach/media relations on the small business owner, yet another aspect of the business they have to oversee.  Bringing in a public relations firm allows the owner to effectively delegate those responsibilities to a team of skilled professionals who have experience in the field to get results—while taking a load off the owner’s shoulders.

Another consideration is the marketing know-how of the entrepreneur.  For some innovators-turned-owners that don’t have a background in communications or public relations, Cuban’s advice won’t be as helpful.  They know how to make a top-of-the-line widget, but they don’t have the same self-promoter gene that has helped Cuban achieve such success.

In the end, I can see some truth to what he says.  There are some small business owners who are great at seeing opportunities for publicizing their business with many public relations strategies.  Maybe Cuban could have taken a less definite and brash approach to stating his No. 11 rule of “Never hire a PR firm” by phrasing it as “Don’t feel pressured to hire a PR firm.”

I would say that Cuban needs a little PR help himself with softening his rhetoric, but he’s actually doing a pretty good job of keeping up the cutthroat persona.  Maybe it worked to draw a big audience of PR professionals to ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Friday night.

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