TechCrunch is not a marketing plan

Earlier this month Saul and I had the fortune of attending The Crunchies while we were in San Francisco. Love or hate TechCrunch, they have shown an awesome level of commitment to building up startup culture both in Silicon Valley and in the wider world as well.

Today, Michael Arrington announced he is stepping back from TechCrunch after a nasty incident in Germany. A random person walked up to Arrington and literally spat in his face. That was the last straw for Michael, after a year of hostile experiences including a period in the summer where he felt the need to hire personal security to protect his family.

I sympathize with him, and I believe him. Amongst the people I know in the industry, TechCrunch’s reputation has changed over the years. They are no longer seen as the great chronicler and supporter of startup culture, but as the ultimate arbiter of success.

I met a woman at Gnomedex this year who was recently hired to be the head of marketing for a service with 5 million customers. She was charged with expanding that to 6 million. I asked her what her strategy was, and she was adamant that all she needed was a single post on TechCrunch. She was willing to spend a million dollars to razzle and dazzle TechCrunch. I asked her why not spend that money with your existing customers, and she looked at me like I was stupid.

TechCrunch is not a marketing plan. You need to be out in the world, going after your own customers, treating them well, earning their admiration and recommendations, and continuing to build your business for the future.

A post on TechCrunch will not make or break your company. It’s important to remember the audience there are entrepreneurs like you, not your customers. A post on TechCrunch is more like a high five from your fellow entrepreneurs. Very, very nice, but not the same as a new customer.

Yes, TechCrunch is important, and it’s there to support you. Be thankful for what they are doing every day to build up the industry to make your life easier, rather than bitter that today you’ll just have to pick up the phone and win a customer on your own.

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  • April

    Great post. I think TechCrunch for B2C online companies has become what Gartner once was for B2B tech companies. Yes they were (and still are) one of the influencers in the market but not the market itself. Marketers that forget that are in for trouble.

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  • Chad Gardner

    Agreed. Great post. HubSpot just posted an interesting look into what happens when they got on TechCrunch, which was nothing exceptional.

  • Ben Lucier

    Damn this is a good post. I hope all of the publicity-hungry startup execs take your advice Sunir.

  • Mark MacLeod

    Totally agree. There is no silver bullet. You have to win over site visitors and customers one at a time. One post (no matter where it is) won’t do the trick.

  • cjagers

    Agreed. Providing great customer service is the best marketing tool.

    TechCrunch is a very entertaining site to read, but I don’t think it is even trying to be in tune with what is really happening in the startup world in general. They are focused on the very few “social media” companies in the VC world. That is a very small pool relative to all the small companies that are bootstrapping or cash flow positive (without VC).

    TC just posts the drama. I feel sorry for any business person that actually feels left out.

  • Jozef Sevcik

    Interesting post, vey well-written. Thanks

  • Dre

    At a time when consumers are looking to their friends, peers, and social networks to advise on what services they should use, I agree that spending a million dollars on service improvement and customer outreach is a much wiser investment.

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • James Yu

    Amen brother!

  • Karl Katzke

    It’s amazing how many people who are potential customers who never read (or pretty much ignore anything posted to) places like TechCrunch, Digg, Slashdot, and other “big” outlets. Those sites generally produce a lot of hits, but almost nothing in the way of actual customers.

    To me, part of the dissonance comes from executives who think of marketing as an ‘expense’ instead of an ‘investment’. Marketing money is there to blow on razzle and dazzle, not to invest wisely back in the company to make the product sell itself. If your product isn’t instantly useful (like Freshbooks!) to a majority of it’s clients, and you think marketing is going to make a big difference, it’s just a matter of time before you need to find a new job.

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  • Mukund Mohan

    Having been covered by techcrunch twice, I have to agree. I think the larger problem is one of ignorance among marketing folks and the willingness to adopt the marketing equivalent of “get rich quick”.

    A solid well defined marketing plan is more than just PR or advertising or any other discipline of marketing.

  • Hillel

    Could not agree more, in fact I wrote a very similar post yesterday, I guess great minds think alike. Check it out

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  • Joe from GigPay

    Great points. This really should be obvious to most people, but sadly it isn’t.

  • Martin Kelley

    I’m a Web 2.0 geek so yes, I read Tech Crunch and if they profile something of vague interest and there’s a free tryout, I usually sign up. My master password list has hundreds of services but honestly there’s only a dozen that I consider essential.

    Freshbooks is one, I love it to pieces and I recommend it to small business friends. But I love it because it works. I see you guys putting a lot of attention into it, adding features constantly and responding quickly and honestly to feature requests (oooooh, how I long for a better deposit system, though that’s gotten better w/the “pay this with credit” option you sneaked in at some point). I decided to look at when I signed up and when Tech Crunch profiled you and there’s no correlation. I love Backpack, too, and remember the word-of-mouth conversation where a consultant told me to check it out. It looks like Evernote is joining the pack this month and it cross from “heard about” to “trying out” because of a Merlin Mann video. Tech Crunch is part of the background noise that starts a product’s rise into my consciousness but if a company thinks it’s better to spend a million dollars on Michael Arrington than on development, it will sooner or later find itself enshirined in the most popular Tech Crunch post: the Dead Pool.

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  • Malcolm Bastien

    Good to hear that she’s probably in an industry with at least a million customers that aren’t being served and at least 5 more million that don’t have a strong relationship with [whatever her company is].

    There’s opportunity for you.

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  • Graham

    It seems that those people need to be more caring about their customers. I can see why this company has had problems and it’s because they let themselves get too big.

  • Hmmm

    I really have to agree with the German person who spit in this dudes face. It has been awhile since this article was published, and I know I’m a little late to the game. The problem is, since this article was published, Michael Arrington has turned into the Suge Knight of tech blogging. He started Crunchfund, and has been extorting start ups for money. This guy is the worst kind of douche bag. Honestly, I wish it were bullets instead of spit :-(