Did They Win Playing PR Blame Game?

by PR Coach on September 15, 2011

Did Cabulous win by blaming the media?

I love stories about entrepreneurs and startups. So do media, especially when there’s “real” news that’s well thought out, properly presented and easily available.

This is a longer post than usual but it’s an interesting story about putting the PR blame where it really belongs.

It started when I read a whining complaint from a struggling high tech entrepreneur. To paraphrase, it went something like ‘we never got covered by TechCrunch and now it’s hard for us to raise new investment funds, be competitive and be successful.’

Tal Flanchraych was a Founder but is no longer an employee of Cabulous. It’s a nifty smart phone and web application launched in fall 2009. It helps consumers find cabs on the run and taxi drivers get more fares.

In a recent article for Business InsiderHow My Startup Suffered Thanks To Arrington’s Conflicts Of Interest – Flanchraych says her company suffered because it couldn’t get coverage in tech blog TechCrunch while a competitor, Uber, got preferential media coverage because, she claims, it was supported by an investment fund of flamboyant editor Michael Arrington.

“However, the imbalance of TechCrunch press had led to the perception that Uber was dominating us, which may very well have hurt us in fundraising efforts, in addition to the obvious disadvantages relating to PR exposure, partnership opportunities, and acquisition of customers and employees,” writes Flanchraych.

Gee, would you like some brie with your whine?

I thought there’s got to be more to this story. I looked up the coverage on TechCrunch and found 97 “hits” for Uber which you can read here. The Uber profile on CrunchBase had many details and was actively updated. Cabulous had two small mentions in stories about Uber and Avego while its CrunchBase data was not up to date.

Obvious PR Problems

I decided to look at Cabulous’ past PR efforts and do a quick analysis to figure out why it never got its fair share of media coverage. It looks like such an interesting product and story.

Their PR problems were painfully obvious.

Note, this was not an in-depth analysis like I would do to prepare a full PR strategy for a client. But here were just some of the problems I found:

  • Website: grade C+ for basic consumer info; D for no technology information and lack of business savvy in presentation; B+ for easy navigation, clean and simple design; F for zero corporate, executive team, management, board of directors, office location or other information; F for total lack of media material.
  • Newsroom: No online newsroom.
  • Media material: No media contact info, no company or corporate info and no archive of news releases, fact sheets, backgrounders, visuals or other media coverage useful for reporters. I finally located its Oct 5, 2009 launch news release on the free news release service PR.com after much searching.
  • Blog: A review of its 35 blog posts from Oct 16, 2009 launch to Dec 2010 shows many of them to be taxi trivia content sourced from other news outlets or overt marketing. For Cabulous, these blog posts added no news value for reporters. There was obviously no blog strategy, nor content good enough or easy enough to find for a reporter to do a story. No blog posts ran from Jan 20, 2010 until Aug 4, 2011 and nothing since (as of Sept 14, 2011).
  • Media savvy: A news release and video clip were buried in the April 2010 blogs. The release was quite well done as was the video profile of the founder. Unfortunately, a reporter would never find this material because there’s no online newsroom.
  • Facebook: started in Oct 2009; 201 “Likes”; just one company post to a response more than a year ago; site is not too active and has no visible company interaction; visitor Wall comments generally positive; company information inadequate; photos useless; discussion page is ineffective – has one critical post five months ago with no company response; and one company response to a post more than a year ago; links are old from 2009-2010; no events scheduled. Facebook is underutilized and not attended.
  • Twitter: @CabulousApp has 403 followers in two years. It shows the same inattention as Facebook. Most tweets are six months to a year or more old. Several months of single taxi driver sign up tweets take away from the effectiveness. Another Twitter account  @fabcabulous is dormant. With a proper strategy, creativity and commitment, Twitter could be very useful for marketing this product.
  • RSS Feed: shows the lack of company blog posts and little information to attract media interest.
  • Subscription: not sure why a consumer would subscribe to a newsletter; no newsletter or archive content is indicated anywhere on the website.
  • Embed: the embed function didn’t work and I’m not sure why I would use it.
  • Web history: using the Wayback internet archive search tool, I looked at earlier versions of the Cabulous website and they are equally barren of news-friendly information. Indeed, it’s little changed in two years.

Little Media Coverage

Not surprisingly, a Factiva search for media coverage showed only one brief mention in a story on the company on Sept 13, 2010 in the Chicago Tribune. There was a small mention in the UK daily The Guardian in a September 5, 2011 smartphone apps round-up article and a one line mention in a feature on competitor Uber in USA Today on Mar 8, 2011.

Google News returned only one story, the recent complaint article that started my whole look at the company. The upshot is, a reporter researching Cabulous to do a feature story would get very frustrated trying to find useful background and simply move on to the next good story.

By contrast, a Google News search showed dozens of hits for Uber, many coming from its news releases. Uber’s blog has frequent posts with useful consumer info and media coverage of the limo service. Its website features archived media coverage, product updates, busy events folder and a folder with company stats called #uberdata. Uber’s Twitter account has 4,828 followers though I was unable to view its Facebook page.

I can see why Cabulous is frustrated at a lack of media coverage but I can also see the obvious solutions. If you’re not doing the basics to provide media with “real” news and making it easy for them to get useful information, you’ll get no coverage. It’s that simple!

Business people and entrepreneurs often complain they don’t get any business media coverage. In my experience, they often didn’t do the basics or they confuse marketing and PR.

Obvious PR Solutions

While Cabulous clearly failed to do an adequate PR job, the solutions are equally clear.

Again, this is not an in-depth analysis, but here are ten simple things Cabulous, or any start up for that matter, could do to start getting PR results:

  1. Develop a legitimate PR strategy.
  2. Determine what measures of success are important for your business.
  3. Budget for PR activity and media materials.
  4. Create a simple online newsroom.
  5. Populate the Cabulous newsroom with fresh, media-friendly material including: management profiles, company fact sheet, product info and technology data, historical news releases, media sign up and links to video and research. Make them available in both Microsoft Word and PDF formats.
  6. Archive past media and social media coverage and put it in a folder in the online newsroom for easy reference.
  7. Prepare some simple talking points for your spokesperson and do a little bit of practice interviewing with your colleagues to be media-ready.
  8. Work your PR plan for results. Stay on message and on plan. Be nimble. Cultivate media relationships. Be media savvy AND media-friendly including your future website additions. Issue genuine news releases. Keep your online newsroom current. Be available, responsive and prepared when the media call.
  9. Restart your social media activity and commit to doing things right on at least Twitter and Facebook.
  10. Be proactive and start contacting media again now that you’re ready. Remember, don’t confuse marketing with public relations. In short, quit whining, start doing!

I don’t know if Cabulous has a legitimate complaint about a “conflict of interest” at TechCrunch. What is obvious is that Cabulous didn’t do the PR basics to gain widespread media coverage. They were  out-hustled, out-marketed and bested in PR by their competitor who did many things better when it came to public relations.

At the end of the day, I suspect the problem was not just a lack of PR and marketing savvy at Cabulous. Most startups fail to invest the money and resources to do a proper PR job. Even if you do it yourself, with a good story and good PR fundamentals, there’s no reason not to get your fair share of media coverage.

One final tip? You never win in PR by playing the blame game!

I hope Cabulous raises its new round of funding because it looks like a good product and it most certainly is a great story waiting to be told. If they follow just a few of these suggestions they should be able to turn their PR taxi around in the right direction.

Resources for This Story

Original post: How My Startup Suffered Thanks To Arrington’s Conflicts Of Interest

Cabulous website

White House website: Startup Stories: Connecting Cabs and Customers

Wayback Archive: Cabulous

Upstart is the company that funded Cabulous

Uber is the limo service competitor

Looking for more PR resources? Our PR library has more than 7,200 articles tips and insights including news releases, marketing/PR and do-it-yourself PR. Don’t forget to sign up for the PR Coach blog or get regular posts through your favorite RSS feed.

Visual: from the Cabulous website

Author: Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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