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guy kawasaki’s

top 10 lessons of public relations

[On November 14, 2000, Guy Kawasaki spoke at a Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets event on the subject of the Top 10 Lies of Entrepreneurs. With time to spare, he then set the new standard for content at a Netpreneur event by covering, in his typically irreverent style, The Top 10 Rules in the War for Talent, The Top 10 Principles of Business Development, and, reproduced here, The Top 10 Lessons of PR. Kawasaki is the CEO of venture capital investment bank, an entrepreneur, former Chief Evangelist for Apple Computer, columnist for Forbes magazine and author of numerous books on business and technology. A summary, transcript, and video of the entire event is available.]


Guy Kawasaki: [Here's] speech number two.  Fran told me that there are a lot of PR and marketing professionals in this audience. I grant you the power to criticize what I'm going to say, but this is what I've learned about PR in my career.


Create buzz, not ink.

The first thing is that the world has completely changed in terms of buzz versus ink.  It used to be that if you got ink in places like Walt Mossberg's column in The Wall Street Journal, or in The Industry Standard or Fortune or Forbes or Business Week, the ink would create buzz.  I believe that the world has completely reversed.  Today, if you get buzz¾if people are talking about you, if you're getting 25 million people ripping off music with your software¾if you get buzz, you will get ink.  Journalists have no choice but to write about something that is a phenomenon.

          I will give you the secret to all of the evangelism and PR.  The answer is to create a great product because a great product creates buzz and great buzz creates ink.  That's how it works.  This is called “Guy's Golden Touch,” which is to say “whatever is gold, Guy touches.”  That's very different from “whatever Guy touches turns to gold,” okay?  Create a great product.


Be one thing to all people.

Too much of PR and marketing is about being many things to many people.  You should be so lucky that you are absolutely identified with one particular thing.  Instead of trying a shotgun approach, you should try the rifle approach.  What do you want to be?  What specific thing?

          I'll give you examples of specific things.  Macintosh.  No matter how much we tried to position Macintosh as powerful, Fortune 500, MIS compatible, IT compatible; Macintosh equals “ease of use.”  For years we spent tens of millions of dollars trying to prove how Macintosh was a Fortune 500 computer.  Macintosh equals ease of use. There's nothing we could do about it, nothing we could do to reposition it.

          Second, Amazon equals books.  In my brain, when I think books, I think Amazon.  When I think CDs, I think someplace else; when I think auctions, I think someplace else; when I think electronics, I think someplace else.  Amazon equals books.  Go for that one thing.

          Third, Volvo equals safety. When you're a parent who wants to drive a refrigerator, you buy a Volvo.  That's how it works.  Volvo is not sexy.  Volvo is not high performance.  Volvo is not German.  Volvo is safety.  The key thing to realize is that you want to be one thing to all people.


Position, don’t be positioned.

The third thing is that you should never accept the positioning that the market and the press give you, determine what you want the positioning to be and set it your way.  This is a lesson that I learned the hard way recently.  For the past two years, has been positioned as an incubator.  We were lumped together with ICG, CMGI, Divine InterVentures and IdeaLab!, but we are not an incubator. We don't house people, we don't provide receptionists to answer your phone, we don't provide photocopies, we don't provide anything like that. The difference between and an incubator is roughly 40% in equity¾we take 40% less.  However, because there's no category called “venture capital investment bank,” we're always lumped together with the incubators.

          Now, I will grant you that if Divine InterVentures' market cap today were $100 billion, I would be telling you that we're an incubator, but it's not, so we decided to go on an active positioning initiative.  Now we position ourselves as a “venture capital investment bank.”  An investment bank helps you raise money; we help you raise money just like Goldman Sachs helps you raise money.  Investment banks prepare you for a road show; we prepare you for a road show.  Investment banks beat you up on your business model; we beat you up on your business model.  Investment banks make you do your financials over and over, and we make you do your financials over and over.  We just specialize in raising venture capital.

          We actively positioned this.  When reporters call us and we give interviews, we talk about the company and we always specifically say, “When you do the comma something something something comma, you always have to say “venture capital investment bank” to that level of specificity.  You tell the reporter that's what you want in that clause between the commas.  When I speak, now, I require being introduced as “CEO of comma a venture capital investment bank.”  You heard Fran do it. If he didn't do it, I wouldn't have spoken.  Do not accept the positioning of the marketplace.  Take the position you want and evangelize it.



Having achieved this positioning, you need to cascade it.  Lots of times the marketing department has achieved it, gotten it all clarified, worked with their consultants, etc., etc., and they say, “Boom.  Done.  Venture capital investment bank.  Everybody knows it.”  That's not true.

          You need to cascade this position.  You need to tell all the other execs, “When somebody asks you what you are, you say ‘venture capital investment bank.’”  When you speak anywhere, you send them your bio and it says “Amy Vernetti, Director of Human Capital,, a venture capital investment bank.”  No matter where you speak, everything is like that.  All your directors and advisors should also say it.  Your board of directors shouldn't be saying, “Well, they're kind of an incubator.”  It’s not a good idea for your board of directors to be saying something like that.  They should say “venture capital investment bank.”  And, of course, all your rank and file employees, right down to the shipping clerk, should be saying “venture capital investment bank.”  It would be nice if your Web site also echoed this and your press releases and your collateral.  The point is that once you decide on positioning, make sure it cascades through all your company.


Cut the crap.

There's a lot of crap in PR today, and let me save you roughly $200,000 with this point.  First of all, you don't need to do press conferences anymore.  If you're Oracle or Microsoft, if you're AOL, okay, do a press conference.  Rent a ballroom and spend $200,000 on wine and shrimp.  God bless you.  The press will come not because of the wine, not because of the shrimp and not because Huey Lewis is going to play at halftime.  They're going to come because they have to come, because you're a gorilla.  Unless you work for a gorilla, cut the press conferences because people don't care about press conferences.  All they want, more than anything else, is a one-on-one interview with the CEO.  Give them that and it equals a press conference.  Save the money.  It also means you don't have to do launch parties.  These $250,000 things at Comdex where you feed 1,000 of your competitors, they don't make sense.  If you're going to spend $250,000 on a launch party, buy a Porsche 911 Turbo for $125,000 because the next day the Turbo will still be there. Buy a great car and let the employees share it.

          You also don't need to do paper press releases or paper press kits anymore.  I think those are passé.  What the editors and journalists really want is a one-page email press release.  That's what they want, and they want it via email.  They don't care about the press kit.  They don't care about the 85-pound bond paper.  They don't care about the CD-ROM.  They don't care about the slides. They don't care about the little robot that you send with the press kit that says, “If you want the control for this robot, call me.”  They don't care about the basket of fruit because, quite frankly, most journalists are afraid to eat the fruit; they don't know what's in it.  Cut out the press releases and save trees, if nothing else.


Make friends before you need them.

This seems like a no-brainer, but I can tell you that very few people do it.  It is the key to the successful PR of  About 15 years ago, I started working at Apple and not because I was smart; I was just lucky. Back when Apple was hot¾and there was a time when Apple was hot, I don't know if any of you are old enough to remember that¾we could pick who we worked with in the journalism world.  Sometimes we granted interviews to Fortune, sometimes we granted interviews to Forbes and The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, but there were other, lesser publications that we didn't grant interviews to because they were beneath our radar or the executives didn't have time.  During that period of heightened arrogance at Apple Computer, I started working with all the journalists who were not at the very well-known publications.  I was working with the people who were reporters at The Milpitas Times and The Fremont Gazette.  You’ve never heard of those two publications, and you shouldn't have.  Neither had I, quite frankly.   The interesting thing is that, in the past 15 years the reporters I worked with at places like The Fremont Gazette and The Milpitas Times, first they became business writers at The San Francisco Chronicle, then the West Coast correspondent for Business Week, then The Wall Street Journal’s West Coast Editor.  Now, I have all these friends who remember me as the person who helped them when they were nothing, and now they are something.  That's why gets so much good press.  I made all these relationships long before I needed them.  I wish I could tell you I was so sly and so smart and so insightful to have planned this, but I didn't.  Make friends before you need them. 


Block and tackle.

I believe that PR is all about blocking and tackling.  It is not, as I said, about highfalutin’ press conferences; it is not about cute toys and gifts; it is not about anything that you're trying to impress people with.  It is about blocking and tackling.  Let me give you examples of blocking and tackling.

          First, return people's phone calls.  I can't tell you how many CEOs do not return phone calls, even to The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes and The New York times.  Return their phone calls.  Return their phone call even if you know it's going to be a negative thing.  That's especially when you return the phone call.  If you have to, return the phone call at 9:00 at night when you know they're not there¾at least you can leave a voice mail.  Play tricks, but return the voice mail, okay?

          Second, answer email.  You have to answer email.  If you want to have a good relationship with the press, you answer your email and you return their phone calls.

          Third, you never lie.  I have a policy of never lying, and the reason is not because of my high state of ethics, there's a very practical reason for never lying.  Lying takes too much energy because, when you lie, you have to remember how you lied so you can lie consistently.  If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember because the truth is the truth.  If for no other reason than that, don't lie because you don't have enough energy to maintain all the separate stories.  The bigger reason is, if you want credibility with the press, you cannot lie.  If you want to say, “Trust me on this one, it's not as bad as it seems” when you're losing money this quarter, you need to have established that credibility by ‘fessing up when it really was bad.  PR is a process; it is not an event.  Most people think that PR is an event where you meet with a person, you're going to get a lot of ink and, boom, you're done.  It's not.  It's a process that lasts for years and years.  If you lie, you will stop that process.


Read, then pitch; don’t pitch then read.

The way it really works in targeting is that you read a person's prior work and then you pitch them a story.  Lots of PR is done the opposite way, however, which is you pitch a story then you read what they've done.  The reason why you read then pitch is that you need to find out who the real reporter is.  If you do PR for a semiconductor company, pitching Walt Mossberg at The Wall Street Journal to do a story about your new chip is probably not a good idea because he covers consumer gadgets.  He does not cover semiconductors, so you will look like a total bozo by pitching him on a semiconductor story.  You need to read what he does, then pitch a story to him.


Shoot bullets, not pellets.

PR is about shooting bullets from rifles, not pellets from shotguns.  It means that you read Walt Mossberg’s background and his prior work and you find out that he's about consumer gadgets.  If I have a consumer gadget thing, I send it to him.  If I have a semiconductor story, there's somebody else at The Wall Street Journal I send it to.  If I have a venture capital story, it's Lisa Branston at The Wall Street Journal.  You shouldn't try to blanket a news room, but lots of people do it anyway.  I was at The Washington Post yesterday and you can see this pit with about eight people in cubes all sort of facing each other.  If you send all eight people the same press release, what happens is that one of them stands up says, “Hey, did you get that press release about this thing?”  One will say yes, another will say yes and so on.  What happens is that they all assume that somebody else is writing the story because everybody in the newsroom got the press release.  You need to specifically identify and shoot a very specific bullet at the journalist you want.  Do not try to spray a newsroom.  It never, ever works and can mostly hurt you.


Be a “source.”

This has paid off for me over and over again.  You need to be a source for a journalist to help them write their stories.  The best attitude to have with a journalist is “I want to help you write your story.”  Your story may not be about me or our company.  It may not generate any ink for us, but I will help you be a better journalist.

          I have been a background source in countless stories.  You don't want to know how many stories I've been in.  There used to be a magazine called MacWeek and they used to give a mug for every inside tip and leak.  I hold the record for the most mugs, and I help many, many reporters write stories, mostly on background.  Very recently, a reporter for The San Jose Mercury was writing a story about Silicon Valley pets.  I don't have a pet, but I sent an email to my circle of friends asking if any of them had great pet stories.  One of them told me that in San Francisco there's a daycare service where executives bring their dogs and cats in the morning, leave them for daycare all day and come back and get them.  That's kind of a unique story, so I told it to the reporter and it appeared in her story about pets in Silicon Valley.  There was nothing about in that story, but you know what?  Some day, when I need something from her, she will remember that I helped her with the Silicon Valley pet story.  You need to be a source.

          If you do these things, I swear, you will get lots of buzz and lots of press.  That's speech number two.


Statements made at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views of the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for accuracy or truthfulness. These statements in no way reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Morino Institute, or any of their affiliates, agents, officers or directors. The archive pages are provided "as is" and your use is at your own risk.

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