by Lisa Calhoun
CEOs are called on to lead the conversation for their companies, not only internally and culturally, but also externally through public relations and investor relations. Along with almost everything else about being a leader at a growing company, the work of a CEO has to change significantly as the company scales. That constant growth pressure can make it easy use old techniques for a game that’s changed while you turned your back to another situation, like hiring, sales or product development.
Mistakes tech CEOs make with their publicity hinges on not adapting fast enough to a changing circumstance—namely, how to lead the external conversation through the different growth phases of the scaling company. Write2Market’s niche is working with growth stage tech and energy companies, and I’ve noticed a few patterns.
Here are the four most common mistakes CEOs of growing tech and energy companies make, and how to fix them.
- Answering The Question Instead of the Intention.In the hot lights of a national interview on Bloomberg, Fox or MSNBC, it can be easy to rely on old skills—honesty, transparency, just plain old answering the question.But for the CEO of a fast growth tech or energy firm, this can be a bad habit—and hard to break. The fact is, in the couple of minutes you have on national television, the questions from that journalist—often a business generalist—are not the most important thing. They haven’t spent years learning the industry like you have. Your message is often far more impactful than the question a young journalist thought to ask you over a coffee break reviewing their notes. So respectfully, no matter what the question, make sure you work your message in. Often that means taking a breath, and rephrasing.To see a good job of this, watch Write2Market tech PR client Sanjay Bhatia of Izenda, an Atlanta former ATDC start-up. He’s not answering the question while getting his own message across with a lot of poise —http://youtu.be/03lCmmxNp9A.
2. Insisting on Editorial Accuracy. Some CEOs still believe that being a stickler for perfect accuracy is a safe path. It’s actually a MORE dangerous path for most tech companies who need public relations to scale and grow. You want to be quotable.
The more quotable you want to be, the less hard ass you need to act about accuracy.
As long as the journalist or tweeter casts your comments accurately around your intention and perspective, let it be. Show your own professionalism by respecting the journalist—they may rephrase you slightly to keep within a word limit. They won’t have time to send you a copy to fact check. You do not get to rewrite how you’re quoted. These are called “high class problems” and having them means your publicity is reaching some significant traction.
PR TIP: If you truly are worried about being misquoted on a sensitive topic, record yourself on Evernote or some other simple platform—and you’ll always have a plan B.
The most famous recent example of this is when Elon Musk called out a New York Times journalist on his scathing review of the Tesla Model S—the car had its own GPS tracker which helped Tesla set the story straight about battery life.
Plan A is to trust the journalist to be a professional telling a story in a professional manner, which includes fairness, multiple sources, and a deadline, the pressures of which mean that you don’t get an advance review option. You can get a lot more interviews done that way, and the more you see how well you are treated, the less you’ll fear this issue
3. Misinterpreting Your Lack of Time. The third mistake is more about the scaling role of the CEO, especially in tech companies. The reaction to a successful publicity opportunity can become, Oh, no! Not another! That happened recently to one of our clients at a mobile tech company, and the CEO found himself flying from Vegas to Orlando to speak at back to back national conferences. Not his choice of how to spend his time . . .
It’s easy to tell your PR team “no,” and that you can’t go, just when you’ve been asked to speak yet again at another national conference. Even better–delegate. It’s a signal you’ve seen before—there’s enough current and flow to create opportunities for more people on your team to speak at conferences, talk to the press, and byline feature articles. Talk to your publicists and PR gurus about creating a speakers bureau or content team that can help you out and continue to scale the business.
Don’t say no next time; just say, “not me.”
If you’d like more on this topic, see For CEOs Only: Four Media Relations Rules for National Interviews