I was reading an article for the Silicon Alley Insider by Jason Calacanis and was prompted to ask the question - are you measuring media by the pound?
Calacanis is talking about press impressions - always measure your press by the pound, he concludes quoting John Brockman. To say that Calacanis infers the behavior he thinks should be adopted by a whole category of companies from his own personal journey is putting it mildly.
There is a middle ground, and public relations is much broader than just journalists and bloggers. Life is a tuttotondo - it's 3D. He has good points, but he misses a big point - scalability.
Yes, when you are a start up you are bootstrapping and wearing many hats. However, if you ever hope to grow even a little, you will need to start letting go of playing gods in the Olympus.
You have a better chance of doing the "be amazing, be everywhere, be real" when you are sharing the work - and the glory. Should I mention that success is never the work of one person alone? Mentors, friends, the very connections you are making are to thank for where you are. And success will not shield anyone from the experience of us.
I said the points Calacanis makes are valid, and so they are, especially a couple of them. I tend to be expansive, so here are my thoughts on how to build an image for yourself or your company.
1. Own the Brand
Whether you are the founder, employee number 3, or employee number 2,500, the company has a better chance of making a brand impression when everyone stands behind it. That includes the PR agency, or any other agency that represents the company. In fact, if you are an agency and you do not do that, you have a one-way ticket to commodity rather quickly.
I have worked with product managers who could run circles around any definition of passion for your brand. These professionals live and breathe the belief that they've got a great product or service. It comes across clearly, even when there are intermediaries like a PR agency to take care of the details.
I have also been fortunate to meet professionals who are passionate about their work in PR, journalism, and communications. Why stop at loving your brand? Why not owning it? Truly.
2. Be Where it Counts
Where you can add value. There is no point in saturating the marketplace unless you are creating a presence that is valuable to customers, partners, and employees. I think it is important to establish credibility and integrity early on and deliver on those with regularity.
What is your strategy and focus? Use what you've got and build from your core. Consistency and persistence also matter. Being where it counts means that sometimes you make that extra effort on behalf of your customers by being with the product because it needs more work.
Let's not forget that entrepreneurs come in all flavors, not just technology. Barbara Corcoran is a good example of focus and using what you've got to get to the top of real estate business - in New York City. Her success was 25 years in the making, one relationship at the time.
3. Be a Gracious Host
I'm not sure that this means you are picking up the tab or the check, although I tend to never keep score myself. Creating deep relationships with others - industry insiders, journalists, even stars - requires some modicum of good manners. Some of the most liked people out there are amazingly skilled at listening. Frankly, you could be buying dinner, but if this is all about you, forget it.
It's a give and take, in this order. How about you organize a way for people who you think would make great connections for each other to be at the same table/place?
4. Be a Human Being
The answer to how is yes, to quote the title of a famous book by Peter Block. Whatever we create in the world is also recreated inside us. What do we want to be? For those of you who are students of community creation, Block's latest book is Community, the Structure of Belonging. Yes, community can and should exist beyond the online world.
The most experienced networkers are those who never pitch, they just tell stories and listen to the cues of when you are ready to know more. Many PR professionals fit that bill, too. And so are journalists and peers, and everyone else you come across. They are human and you will make an impression on them. What they experience depends on you - and on their circumstances.
5. Be Interested
And you will be interesting as well. This has been my mantra for years. When you are a writer and a content creator you tend to be curious, to want to understand how things work, what makes people tick, how it all fits together.
If you attend a lot of events, a little preparation ahead of time will yield big dividends. Read up on who is going, learn more about the people you'd like to meet. Research can take time, but it's well worth it. Use Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, any other digital channel to get a sense of the voice and ideas of the person(s) you'd like to meet.
6. Send Thank You Notes
Hand written, professionally typed, or by email - depending on the occasion and preference of the recipient. Believe it or not, a thank you note is a media impression. It has to be genuine. Do take the opportunity to refresh the points you discussed in person. In many cases you have the opportunity to follow up with a resource, an article, even a book (I have done that a lot) that might be of interest.
A thank you note is the best form of non solicited correspondence you will ever produce - and a genuine brand impression.
7. Connecting with a Blogger/Journalist/Potential Partner
I do like the suggestion of creating an ongoing dialogue about the subject matter of your expertise or knowledge. "Have opinions, will share" works. Let's not forget that today you have the chance to make a lot of direct media impressions with your blog and digital presence. Corcoran did it with her books and newsletter at first.
In an interview setting, the advice about pausing frequently, slowing down your normal rhythm of talk and allowing for silence is very useful especially on the phone. Reporters will be typing or taking notes. You also want to have lots of data and quantitative information on hand to share as a follow up from an interview. I prefer it when I can do the interview by email. All of the conversations with new media editors here were email threads.
The secret to be quoted is quite simple - be quotable. Use kitchen images, simple representations of how what you do helps customers. Make it tangible, translate the data into visuals.
8. Show While you Tell
For example, Nick Carr starts his book The Big Switch with the description of his visit to a data center. That is the kind of place that is hard to describe, but easy to see for yourself. Redundant cables, back up generators, cooling equipment, the sheer scale of space dedicated to hosting servers - all things best conveyed in a tour.
9. Attach Your Brand to a Movement
I interpret this one a bit differently. I'm thinking more along the lines of what you can offer the world that nobody else can. This would become a brand differentiator and a reason for media to come calling. It's got to be an authentic passion of yours, not just for showing. More akin to what Bill Strickland did with the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
Can you make a difference in people's lives?
10. Embrace Small Media Outlets
Yes, be generous and be attentive with those publications - and bloggers - that have more time for you. In a digital environment, your good content will show up on searches by other media outlets or potential customers.
I have a good example of this with my blog, which is a relatively small publication, especially compared to Silicon Alley Insider. Almost two years ago I wrote a post about a company that contained some information gathered at a live event about a product that was since discontinued.
I received a request from the CEO of that company to update that information as my post was coming up number two in searches on that company. My write up was creating a conflict for the company as customers and prospects expected to buy the product as indicated in my post. Imagine what would have happened if I had not updated that information. It could have damaged the company and potentially have attracted bad press in the process.
All of the above cannot - and in some cases, should not - be handled by one person alone. Many decisions need to be made early on at a company - including how a CEO should be spending her time. A PR professional or firm can help. Like any other profession or job title, including that of the CEO, it takes some looking to find one that is a good fit for your company.
Calacanis says in his summary (with slight edits), PR is, by definition, a reflection of what you've done. All the PR in the world will not make a bad business great, and some really bad press may kill a great company. Getting press is a great way to accelerate the adoption of your brand, but truth be told, your brand is going to rise and fall based on how valuable it is to your customers.
Getting a PR footprint is important - and by PR I mean all publics, not just the media. The more important piece is getting your ideas spread in a way that is personal to the individuals who choose to receive them. You know you have done good work when the ideas and the experience of you are both embraced enthusiastically. The article, while good, left me a bit wanting.
Does the CEO need to call on media directly for the company to be written up? How about the proof points? Who collects those and presents them in a format that is easy to digest for journalists on behalf of their readers? Do you really need and want to measure your press by the pound?