PR myth busting
Founder & CEO, PR Expert
Fact: The most successful companies definitely participate in PR in one form or another.
No matter how good your product is, you still need a story to reach your audience.
Strategies that work for Apple will not work for you yet. Replicate their values, not their PR.
Lesson: Early Stage PR with Julie Crabill
Step #10 PR Myths: PR myth busting
From a PR myths perspective, there are a lot of them. I think that one of the things that I hear all the time is, "Well, WhatsApp just sold for $19 billion and they didn't do any PR." Fundamentally, they did do PR. They told their story to the right people at the right time to get that acquisition. Now maybe it wasn't through a traditional PR person or a marketing function within the company, but somehow their executives were able to tell that story enough that the product got enough traction that the users were then telling the story on behalf of the company. All of that ultimately is a form of PR. That's one of the myths, that there is a way to succeed that greatly and not have any PR. There is PR behind that.
In terms of "If you build it they will come," I think that one does happen a lot as well, where people say, "If I just build a great product, people will find me." It's just not true. You have to find a way to tell that story, no matter what you build. It could be that you are a smart enough technologist or a good enough coder or a good enough programmer or whatever it might be, that people will find you, but they're not necessarily going to execute on your original idea unless you have the business acumen to figure out how to funnel that story and manage that business in the right way. So yes, maybe if you are smart enough they will come, but you're not just going to be able to build a product and have the world find it without doing any kind of marketing at all.
From a PR agency perspective, a big myth that I hear a lot is that after 12 or 18 months you should change your PR firm because you're not going to be getting that fresh, creative idea. Certainly there are times after six months that you should change your PR firm. There are times that you should wait five years. I think it's less about a prescriptive amount of time and more about the fundamentals of what is happening to your team. If they are burnt out by what you're doing because you're not providing them with what they need or you're not innovating in they way that they think makes sense, or you really feel that they're over it and they've moved onto the next thing, then sure, you should do that.
But I have an example of a company that we work with who after one year of really, really helping them get out into the early adopter press, we were able to break through into the mainstream media. With their type of product, we couldn't have done that early on. It wouldn't have made sense. Good Morning America wouldn't have been interested in talking to us. After that year mark, we talked to Good Morning America.
They look at your traction, they look at the excitement, they look at all the early adopter excitement you got over the last year, and they're ready to talk to you. If they done that "After 12 or 18 months, we have to change firms," they would have lost that because they wouldn't have had that team that had that history to know how to use that foundation to catapult them to the next level. I think that anything that's a black-and-white rule like that is almost always not right.
I think one thing that PR firms encounter that entrepreneurs should keep in mind is the idea that the person who is on your team, maybe you work for two years with the same person, in the mind of the entrepreneur and the CEO, oftentimes that person is perceived as whatever level they started at. You might have a junior person on your account who's great and who grows and gets promoted and learns a lot and becomes this amazing, more senior person over the course of your tenure with them. I found that oftentimes the CEOs of the external companies always perceive them in that initial role that they started in, for some reason. It's like when you meet somebody who is a baby and you watch them grow up, you're always going to think of them as a baby.
Breaking that mold and really trying to understand the evolution of these people who are part of your team, as you would with your internal team, is important. You can maximize what they can bring to the table for you a lot more and get better work out of them if you allow them to grow and evolve.
"Any PR is good PR." I think that people should be cautious when they think that way. Absolutely, getting your name out there is valuable. But getting your name out there in the wrong context, especially if it's a well-read publication, with people thinking, "Oh great, we were in the New York Times," well, everybody read that article and it was all of these people that you wanted to read it, and it was totally off-message. It was off-brand, it didn't position you in the right way, it put you up as a competitor against people who are teeny-tiny and you would never want to be compared to.
That can be really damaging. Then you're trying to back out of something that will have high search-juice. Every time somebody looks for your company, that's what they're going to see. You're trying to reinvent the wheel and get people to think about you differently when there's this article of record that is always pushing them in the wrong direction.
Another reason to be really mindful of how you message, and how you talk about the company, and what people will see when they come to your website or they download your app or they hear about you or they buy your physical product, whatever it might be. Media make mistakes. They're people too. If you go and ask for a correction to an article, they're going to change it and they're going to post it, but most people don't get to see that. Nobody goes back and reads that, so you need to be mindful that as much as possible, you've got to get it right the first time.
Another one that I hope I never, ever have to hear again, that I hear a lot from young entrepreneurs, is "I plan to launch our product, or this feature or this offering in this way. That's what Apple does." Just remember that you're not Apple yet. "I'm going to go to the press six months before the product is actually ready for anyone to use. It works for Apple." Yes, it works for Apple because if Apple turns around and says, "Boo," everybody stops and there's a bunch of beat reporters who are assigned to just work the Apple beat. There is no beat reporter for your company yet. There might not ever be, so don't take that attitude that you should replicate this large company in terms of their execution.
Try to replicate them in terms of building an amazing product and offering a higher return on investment to your investors and anybody who comes around and making a ton of money and having a beautiful design and beautiful execution in terms of the user interface and interaction. But don't try to replicate their PR plans right now. You're not even in the same field.
I think there's this misconception, and maybe it's not among founders, but there's this hubris happening broadly, among people seeing these major acquisitions, the Instagrams and WhatsApps of the world, the Oculus Rift, and they're having this moment of, "That could be me." Just remember, yes, explore your dreams, go after your passions, do everything that you can to make your company a huge success, but don't get so cocky because you think that that happens all the time. That is a one-in-a-million thing. That is a getting-struck-by-lightning thing. Don't walk into a meeting with a VC or a journalist with the attitude that this is owed to you. In the same way that you want people to prove that they're great to work on your team or to be a part of what you're building, you need to make sure that you stay humble, but be aggressive.
You don't want to walk in and have people immediately be turned off because you think you should be the next Steve Jobs. You don't need to go around being an asshole because you think that is what made Steve Jobs what he was. He happened to be some somebody that a lot of people thought was not very likable, but that's not what made him and Apple great. That just happened to be his personality. Don't think that you can be that personality to build that same kind of empire he built. The two don't go hand-in-hand.