“Smart” vs. “Stupid” – The Austin version

Posted on March 10, 2012 by Comments Off

Greetings from the land of Longhorns, bats and barbecue!  I’ve just concluded participation in the Council of Public Relations Firms – More Smart, Less Stupid: PR for Better Business panel at SXSWi and if the energy and wisdom from attendees is any indicator – then I have every confidence that no matter whether you’re a large or small startup, the role of communications as a transformative tool is more solidly in place than ever. 

My esteemed colleagues that joined me (Mark Stouse, Bob Pearson and moderator Gary Stockman) all made incredibly smart points and were integral to the vibrant discussion. 

With the words of Mark Cuban ringing fresh in my ears about how startups should not hire a PR firm, it is important to say that despite his core position, we actually agree on more things than less.  I couldn’t agree more with the need for a CEO to communicate, and the pure value of communications overall. I do however fundamentally disagree with Mark on his headline point: My opinion is that start-ups must have PR execs in place – agency, internal and probably both over time. Good PR professionals start with the business opportunity or problem, they don’t just tack on communications programs at the end of the decision-making.   

Speaking in the startup village at SXSWi, as an entrepreneur myself I felt kinship with attendees who have to wear so many hats at the same time. 

Having started WE, I know what it’s like when you’re just getting going, and I’ve had the honor of working with many start-ups going from inception, to launch, to public offerings to becoming a household name with many different brands over the years. It is critical to share your vision in a compelling way, engage your stakeholders from the very outset, and take feedback while learning from it continually. Most importantly, it is imperative that you set the goal of ‘being the story you want to tell’.  In other words, your actions will speak louder than anything as you set about telling your story. 

I wanted to share some of my other observations and key points for each from the panel here on what makes for ‘smart’ vs. ‘stupid’ PR and how brands, whether startups or big established multi-nationals, can maximize the former and minimize the latter. 

Business decisions must weigh brand impact: You no more own your brand, than you own the air your customers breathe.

You must earn the benefit of the doubt: You can recover from a stumble, if you’ve thoughtfully earned the respect and trust of your customers in the months and years prior. It is human nature to forgive.

An ounce of prevention is worth two tons of cure: Spend your time on the front end in communications planning, rather than reacting on the back end in a crisis. I guarantee it’s a better use of your time.

Doing the right thing is a lot of work – but the value is immeasurable: Kids don’t like to hear ‘eat your peas’ and sometimes brands don’t like to hear ‘prepare’ when it comes to a crisis but both are great advice.  As well as engage your people – they are  your best allies and ambassadors in a crisis.

It’s not enough to just innovate: Innovators must continually show their value and impact – innovation is meaningless unless there is adoption. So the value your customers continue to receive is the most important metric of all.

In addition, the CPRF and my fellow panelists will have other perspectives to share, which I’ll post on this blog next week when it becomes available.  

Communicating in times of crisis and challenging decisions today is more complex than ever.  The advent of social media gives all your customers their unique voice…but that should be considered a huge opportunity vs. a risk.  Starting with that grounding helps you ensure that you’ll always be leading with the smart approach.

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