While watching the film The Social Network over the weekend one scene in particular caught my attention. Mark Zuckerberg and key members of the early Facebook team are meeting to discuss roles and ownership stakes in the company.
To quote the Mark Zuckerberg character in the film (emphasis is mine):
“Now here’s the arrangement. Eduardo is CFO and owns 30% of the company. Dustin is vice president and head of programming and his 5% of the company will come from my end. Chris is director of publicity and his compensation will depend on the amount of work he ends up doing. Any questions?”
I had to laugh at the implication that the PR guy might not end up doing much work or contributing substantially to the success of the company.
Certainly team members that were providing capital or creating the actual product had greater value at that point, and Facebook was doing well through word-of-mouth so a comprehensive PR plan was probably not a primary concern.
But based on public reports the real life Chris Hughes did apparently make a valuable contribution to Facebook and he went on to do good work for the Barack Obama campaign and then found Jumo. [See FastCompany and The New York Times for more on Hughes.]
And few would argue against the importance of PR and marketing in launching and growing any new business regardless of how formalized those efforts are. Rand Fishkin covered this well on SEOmoz earlier this year.
So the question is: how much is a PR professional worth to a startup?
The short answer is it really does depend on the situation; how much of a role PR will play in the early phases of the company, what the specific PR person brings to the table, etc.
It also depends on who you ask! Those more focused on technology or finance may have a different perspective on the value of public relations in getting a company off the ground. There may also be a tendency to not assign as much value to things that are not necessarily as tangible early on.
But that doesn’t mean that PR and marketing do not play a vital role in the development of a company. So what do you think a PR person is worth to a startup?