“It is a special pleasure for me to introduce our two home run kings … Mike McGwire and Sammy Sooser.”
–Sen. Ted Kennedy
We all say things we would love to take back as the foot-in-mouth syndrome neither tastes great or is fulfilling. Unfortunately for public figures like the Senator from Massachusetts, the media waited like vultures in the desert for his next faux pas of the English language. So it goes for entrepreneurs as well!
Recently, one of our more successful entrepreneurs got caught up in the sensationalism of a Silicon Valley blogpost. If that blog set out to prove that Silicon Valley has a ton of great resources for entrepreneurs, then the blogger must be hard up for news. Everyone knows the valley has been very entrepreneurial since Hewlett met Packard. Silicon Valley loves to manufacture entrepreneurs, but so does Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Louisville and Lexington and Detroit.
There will be times when successful companies spread their wings and move to other cities. ShareThis, one of Cincinnati’s more recent high-tech successes, established operations in the Valley to move closer to larger quantities of talent and money. They invested a lot of time, talent and treasure here in the region developing their overnight success over the years (rule of thumb: overnight successes take 8-10 years – Zappos for example.) The golden rule always rules – which in high-tech means those with the gold make the rules.
So what can we learn from this startup vs. media interaction?
First, you only get small time slices with the media, so make every second count. Talk in sound bytes, very positive sound bytes. Make it easy for them to retell your story (this helps when raising money as well.) Don’t use the time for negative vibes. Steer them back to the positive.
Secondly, know your interviewer’s agenda and your story. Don’t let the press get you off track to their story. This requires practice, rehearsal and more practice. Engage the help of a wicked smart public relations firm – so you don’t have to learn the hard way. Take advantage of their experience, knowledge and connections.
And no matter how well you rehearse, how great you are with public speaking and how many successful interviews you have under your belt, you may still end up “getting thrown under the bus.” If this happens to you, just apologize. Just say, “I was wrong. It was taken out of context. I apologize to everyone I have offended.” End of story. Done. Situation diffused. Let’s move on.
And the sensational story becomes a non-story. Did you notice a dramatic drop in iPhone sales since the great iPhone antenna debacle of 2010? Of course not. Paraphrasing the Apple press conference, Steve Jobs said, “Smart phones are complex devices. Sometimes we just can’t get everything perfect. Our solution: a case fixes the problem. Apple will give you a free case. If you are still not happy, we will give you your money back, no questions asked. We love our users and we work really hard to surprise and delight them with these products. We want every single one of our users to be happy.” How can you argue with that? That’s why Apple is Apple. Be like Steve.