PR Can Be Hacked

Traditional PR is no longer as effective as it used to be only a few years ago. Nowadays, it is growth hacking that is now winning the hearts of start-ups. Although at the same time many experts ironically announce the forthcoming of such related professions as “profit hacking” or “cashflow hacking”, one thing is certain – you have to test new tools al the time and be able to choose the best way to do PR.

While researching the opinions of Polish marketing specialists and influencers on GH, I have come across an interesting discussion on FB, brought up by Greg Pietruszyński. “It is not the matter of any ideology, it is about efficiency. It is not about reinventing the wheel, but rather about deciding that from now on, »we will only deal with matters that directly translate into higher revenue.« It is about an old profession being already redefined. Of course, the real question is, to what extent such keyword creativity will be effective?” he wrote, inviting to the discussion: Paweł Lipiec, Artur Kurasiński, Michał Brański, Kuba Filipowski and Wiktor Schmidt.

The answers were mixed; some argued that, along with “profit hacking” or “cashflow hacking”, it was merely a way of creating more jobs. For Artur Kurasiński, growth hacking was “a CFO dedicated to dough flow,” or “an admin making sure that Millennials keep clicking on the website.” According to him, one person could develop a strategy only to whine that no one was implementing it. “So far, in my opinion, the whole buzz about GH is aimed at selling courses presenting the obvious truths – if someone truly believes, and has any supporting evidence, that they can »upgrade« businesses, why don’t they go to their colleagues from e-commerce and tell them they would improve their conversion rate by 1% (e.g. at Amazon, or even at Allegro)? E-commerce people would buy such person the latest Porsche the following day if they succeeded. As of now, GH is used as a sales sheet for those seeking »a fast and easy way to…«,” wrote Kurasiński. He also emphasised that a successful campaign depends on the whole team, not just on “the one smartass who can make all the difference on his own.” Today he argues that the main problem with growth hacking is “developing a theoretical background to what has already been in place,” as everyone needs an extra tool to improve their sales. Moreover, according to him, it is a “very imprecise conceptual range.” Well, I can hardly argue against it. Nevertheless, Kurasiński admits that he has tested certain GH methods himself and that it is “a good basis for creating interesting projects.” And it is this very concept, given the popularity of the PESO model, that I am going to focus on.

How does it work? Case study

Growth hacking was mentioned by Sotrender’s Jan Zając during one of our webinars. He pointed out that although for a PR specialist it is more important how specific goals are achieved rather than how soon they are achieved, there are certain tricks that support the implementation of PR objectives. Are they worth applying?

Ryan Holiday, the author of Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising, has no doubt about it: ” Growth hackers were the secret weapons behind the launches of some of the biggest or hottest companies on the planet. Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Square, Airbnb, Dropbox. These brands came out of nowhere and acquired, collectively, billions of users. Growth hacking was the scientific and scalable marketing approach behind it,” he said in one of his interviews with Forbes. And even highlighted that growth hacking appeals to the right brain-leaning engineer set.

More examples?

Let’s take a closer look at the brands most often mentioned online by growth hackers themselves:

Instagram started as a social network called Burbn, which allowed its users to check in at particular locations, make plans for future check-ins, earn points for hanging out with friends, and post pictures of the meet-ups. Such form failed to be a success. The app was too complicated, and had a jumble of features that made it confusing. That’s why Kevin Systrom (creative director) and Mike Krieger (developer) decided to determine how, exactly, their customers were using Burbn. Result? People weren’t using Burbn’s check-in features at all. What they were using instead, were the app’s photo-sharing features. “They were posting and sharing photos like crazy,” first Burbns’ creativity researcher Keith Sawyer points out. After some time he puts it in his book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Creativity, “They began by studying all of the popular photography apps, and they quickly homed in on two main competitors. Hipstamatic was cool and had great filters, but it was hard to share your photos. Facebook was the king of social networking, but its iPhone app didn’t have a great photo-sharing feature. Mike and Kevin saw an opportunity to slip in between Hipstamatic and Facebook, by developing an easy-to-use app that made social photo-sharing simple. They chopped everything out of burbn except the photo, comment, and like features.” In their final version, Burbn become a simple-photo-sharing app, named Instagram. Posting a photo (just in three clicks) never before was that easy. At a conference in 2012, Systrom admitted: “Burbn was a false start. The best companies in the world have all had predecessors. YouTube was a dating site. You always have to evolve into something else.”

Then we have Airbnb, where 40 per cent of users were attracted by the Get Free Stuff/ Referral Program. Or Hotmail replacing the signature at the bottom of each message with “PS I Love You,” or Mailbox and a wait list for application activation – which could take as long as a month – “due to originating too much interest” and the need to synchronise the app with Gmail. By doing this, Mailbox attracted a total of one million new users within one week. Tim Ferris’ book became a bestseller in a similar way, through partnership with BitTorrent, where a large part of the book was available for download for free.


Polish examples? Ceneo, which successfully used the potential of indexation of search results for the main keywords relating to e-commerce on the first page.

Such companies broke the rules of marketing and built huge brands as a result and they did it very very quickly. What they didn’t do is a great illustration of what growth hacking is. They did not spend a ton on paid advertising, they did not wait for approval and endorsement from celebrities, they did not employ PR agencies, choosing to monitor the effects of their actions themselves instead. “All of that makes me question the wisdom of most marketing books and blogs out there,” Holiday said in one of his Forbes interviews. According to him, GH is less creative but it makes up for it by being flexible and scalable and efficient.

Who is a growth hacker?

In the opinion of Tomasz Górski (Saasgenius), a growth hacker should have an unorthodox approach to the role of marketing in the company. A good example of how a growth hacker thinks in order to find a way to support dynamic growth is predicting the upward trend which might revolutionise the methods of searching for information in the future.

Those who fail to adopt this way of thinking will lag behind. Take the press release – a pretty basic marketing tactic, relic of the early 20th century. Our media environment has changed, the way consumers think about and try new things has changed too. Zając admits that PR specialists might be initially reluctant to apply growth hacking, mainly due to the “extended time horizon” required for achieving long-term goals, such as increasing brand awareness or image building. However, according to him, there is no reason to condemn this solution altogether. “Perhaps it is merely the matter of extending the testing period,” he says and points out that rival start-ups are already offering the tools that allow for fast conclusions and potential adjustment of the operating style. Clients, on the other hand, are becoming more willing to take that risk, as it implies faster effects. Hence the importance of constant development of one’s competences, of remaining flexible and up-to-date with regard to cutting-edge technologies, since new things tend to be cheap until the market is saturated. He admits to be testing this technique himself:

“3 weeks ago I attended Social Media Week in London. After the event I wrote my account of it, complete with links, pictures etc. We published it on our blog and in the social media, where we had a total of several hundred viewings. I shared the link to my account with the organisers of the event, who invited me to publish it officially on Medium. My post on Medium was viewed almost 500 times and remained for a while on the first page of, which generated another several hundred viewings. Consequently, apart from image improvement, we got a few good links to the blog (positive impact on SEO) and above all several good leads from the UK.”

Górski also presents the hard data: during 3 years, he increased his client’s (gross) profit from $24,000 per month to $1,000,000 per month. In order to achieve such results, a growth hacker should preferably operate from the level of the company they represent so as to have impact on multiple areas of the company’s operations. “In the US, where content marketing is a very popular form of marketing, people are generally aware of the fact that creating interesting content alone is not enough. It is actually only the beginning in terms of content-based marketing. We should keep in mind that it must also include the methods and the budget for its promotion,” claims Górski. In this respect, he perceives growth hacking as a search for unorthodox methods of content promotion: “One such method is using appropriate e-mail and social media outreach tools. Growth hacking is based on analytical thinking assuming constant improvement of promotion methods and permanent testing of new tools that support content promotion.”

Darran Blatch, who has recently joined our team and who is in charge of sales of Prowly on the British market, adds 4 more essential features of a good growth hacker: nimbleness: (key condition for successful GH: live, think and act fast), pragmatism: (indispensable for understanding new technologies), creativity (virtually another name for growth hacking), ambition (it will let you become a leader and leave your competitors behind). He proves that growth hacking is not for pessimists and advices, quoting Susan Jeffers, to” feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Strategy to be implemented now

Once you have learnt the theory and the key notions relating to growth hacking, the first natural step is to be ready for lifelong learning. And for vigilance. While Snapchat, applauded by many, is introducing fees, Facebook offers its users free 360 degree videos and announces tests of the comment reaction button. Nowadays you need to react fast and to seize the right moment.

Górski advises to improve your competences by joining the growth hacking community whose members would be willing to share their knowledge. On FB you may want to check Growthhackers group or join Growth Hackers TV community. What marketing tools Górski uses at daily work? Brand24, Moz, Colibri, Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Impactana, Ahrefs, Buzzsumo, Buffer, SalesManago, Unbounce, Clicktale, Typeform, Outbrain, Sniply, GetResponse UXPin, and Majestic. Personally, I would also add KissMetrics (if your website generates decent reach but you want to improve conversion), Bounce Exchange and Crazy Egg (in order to better understand the public), (when you need support for your content, from e-mail marketing to user engagement measurement), as well as Once you have the tools, ask yourself a couple of questions: Who are your ideal early adopters? How can you make your platform particularly enticing to them right now? Why is this service indispensable? Or do you make it indispensable to them? How willing and prepared are you to improve based on the feedback and behavior of these users? What kind of outstanding thing can you do to get attention – something that, ideally, no one has ever done before? And most of all: how are we going to track this? Than define your goals, do your homework regarding keywords, create your client’s profile and improve your product based on early feedback and response. And remember – do not think that marketing is an activity you will have time for after e.g. the launch of a new service. Make something you think people truly, undeniably want.

Don’t try to have some blockbuster. Start small. Teach your early adopters how to use your product properly. Build out features and marketing efforts that will retain users and encourage them to spread and share your product. Take advantage of viral lift. Let your customers to be public about their usage.

Repeat and improve.

Why growth hacking is the disruptive tool in the marketing? Check this out