Aaron Zamost, head of communications at Square, recently came out with an awesome piece on how today’s tech press builds startup narratives around ‘Silicon Valley Time’ (SVT), a predictable lifespan that follows a 24-hour model. It starts with a lackluster “Birth” at 12:00 SVT, where at this point, there’s little to no interest in your baby. This is followed by a steady build of momentum throughout the “day”, hitting the buzzworthy “Shiny New Toy” phase at 1:00 SVT, then continuing on through to the 5 o’clock “Rapid Expansion and Growth” phase before reaching the coveted 6 o’clock “Greatest Company in the World!” hour.
Unfortunately, things take a precipitous turn after that, plummeting until 11:59 SVT, at which point people start calling your company the “Worst Company in the World.” But fear not, because as all of us who have worked with startups and the press in some capacity know, the media loves to build up what they’ve torn down. So at midnight, the “Rebirth” takes place and the cycle commences yet again.
This was a brilliant metaphor by Zamost. And with past posts at Google and Youtube, and his current position at Square, he certainly has a firsthand perspective on the relationship between Silicon Valley and today’s media. Square had a rocky past year, with negative press around a possible sale and assertions from some that the company was losing its edge. Amidst all the distraction, the company worked hard to prove the naysayers wrong, and eventually, they did. Zamost shares the following tips he’s learned from roaming through Silicon Valley time “after dark”:
“A startup will have many ups and downs, and sometimes you can feel stuck in one time. Whether you’re still at 12:00 SVT, waiting for a big break, or cruising through 4-6:00 SVT and enjoying growth and success, there will come a time when the press seems like they have all the control. Granted, they do hold a lot of the power in terms of what is presented to the public, but in the end it’s all just talk. Don’t let their talk control you and your company.”
As Hall of Fame coach, Lou Holtz, famously said, “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.”
In his piece, Zamost offers some advice to help companies tune out the often deafening noise the media can cause. Here’s our own take:
Keep Your Cool
There will always be press that you will disagree with. Don’t freak out! The last thing you want to do is look defensive by lashing out with a salvo of your own. Interjecting yourself into the conversation at the wrong time will only make things worse — even if you have had a solid position or counterpoint. There are appropriate times to offer your POV, and a talented communications/media consultant can advise you on the right approach.
If the press is criticizing your company for something that actually has some substance, own up to it. Communicate your mistakes to your customers, and where appropriate, to the media. As Jason Vines, the PR guy behind some of the automobile industries most volatile crises puts it in his book, What Did Jesus Drive: Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity, “…lying is suicide.” Owning up to a miscue is hard to do, and in many cases, it results in an immediate hit to your bottom line. However, in the end you will have saved your credibility and earned customer’s trust. Credibility and trust are two pillars your company needs to be built on. At all costs, do not jeopardize them.
Keep the Blinders Ready
The press has made many false claims or predictions that companies were headed towards certain demise. In 2010, this was the case with Google. I think it’s safe to say that Google is doing OK five years later. When the buzz turns negative, there’s nothing more to do than to move forward. Work harder to build and improve, and show your customers that they’re still the priority despite all the media chitchat. Encourage your employees, your team who also worked hard with you to keep your company going.
One of the worst things you can do as an entrepreneur is to let the media dictate the direction and success of your company. While a good public relations team can help you control the conversation and take the pressure of your team, allowing them to focus on what matters, at the end of the day, your company’s success is dictated by the products and services you bring to market. So let the PR Pros handle the media and stick to what it is that you do best.