Kellblog covers topics related to starting, managing, leading, and scaling enterprise software startups. My favorite topics include strategy, marketing, sales, SaaS metrics, and management. I also provide commentary on Silicon Valley, venture capital, and the business of software.
Back in the day we working on a press release and I was a CMO.
Me: “Somebody, get Randy (the PR director) in here.”
Me: “Randy, what is this press release calling our new offering the ultimate in business intelligence?”
Randy: “Yes and the problem is?”
Me: “The problem is it’s not the ultimate, it’s better than ultimate, it’s beyond ultimate … there must be a word for that … I don’t know, maybe penultimate.”
Randy: “Chief,” he said sheepishly after waiting a minute, “penultimate means one less than ultimate. Ultimate means ultimate. There is no word for one more than ultimate.”
Me: “Oh. Well, God damn it, go make one up.”
It was at that moment that I realized I’d been fully sucked into the Silicon Valley hype machine. Just as unique means unique and requires no modifier like “amazingly,” so does ultimate means ultimate.
Speaking of “amazing,” during my tenure at Salesforce, I used to count the number of amazing’s Marc Benioff would say during a speech. You’d run out of fingers in minutes. But somehow it worked. He was a great — no, amazing — speaker and I never got tired of listening to him.
This is Silicon Valley. The land where one of my competitors can still peddle a cock-and-bull story about how he, as an immigrant limo driver with $26 (and a master’s in computer science), sold a company (where he was neither founder nor CEO), worked as (a member in the office of the) CTO at SAP, and is growing stunningly — no, amazingly — fast (despite a rumored recent down-round and rough layoffs). Fact-checking, smact-checking. If it’s a Man Bites Dog story, people will eat it up. Blog it, hit publish, and move onto the next one.
Maybe I should pitch the equivalent story about me:
Lifeguard and Self-Taught Programmer Who Arrived in California with Only $30, a Red Bandana, and a Box of Bootlegged Grateful Dead Tapes Becomes CEO of Host Analytics
“Dude, I was guarding by the pool one day and this wicked thunderstorm hit and, flash, like totally suddenly I realized the world needed cloud-based, enterprise planning, budgeting, modeling, consolidation, and analytics.”
And we could discuss how I “hacked” on paper tape back in high school: “the greatest part about hacking on paper tape was you could roll bones with it when you were done and literally, like, smoke your program.”
It would be a roughly equivalent story. I’m sure they’d eat it up.
Silicon Valley is a place, after all, where we can create a metaphor for something that doesn’t exist — a unicorn — and then discover 133 of them.
Is our reaction “bad metaphor?” No, of course not. It’s “wow, we’re special, we’ve got 133 things that don’t exist.”
Unicorns (generally defined as startups with a $1B+ valuation) are mostly of a result of three things:
The cost and hassle of being a public company, post Sox. Why go public if you don’t have to?
The ability to raise formerly IPO-sized rounds (e.g., $100M) in the private markets.
A general bubble in late-stage financing where valuations are high enough to create the IPO-as-down-round phenomena
So, hopefully, as the financing fuel that’s stoking the fire starts to die down, the hype bubble will go with it. Until then, enjoy this tweet, which captures the spirit of Silicon Valley today just perfectly:
I think in today’s world that we need to ask PR people to be not just literate, but numerate. What does that mean?
They need to do basic math correctly. Most PR people think that going from size $100K to size $700K is 700% growth. It’s 600%. I cannot tell you the number of times I have caught this error. Growth % = ((year N+1 / year N) -1). 2.4x is 140% growth. 1.3x is 30% growth.
They need to understand the law of small numbers as well understanding the scale of large ones. It’s not hard to grow 1000% off a tiny base. And the typical reader response to mega-growth claims is not “wow, look how big you are this year,” it’s “oh, I didn’t know how small you were last year.” In addition, PR needs to understand the scale of large numbers — i.e., that 10% growth off $1B is $100M. Technically speaking whenever company A is growing faster than company B, company B is losing relative market share. However, remember that if you compare a $10M startup that doubled to a $1B that grew 10%, the latter company still had 10x the new sales of the former. So you need to be careful making claims in that light.
They need to understand how people will react to the numbers. There is tendency in PR to throw out any numbers you can because, sadly, much of the Silicon Valley trade press will consume them wholesale. But PR needs to be careful. Some analysts (e.g., the 451 group) are famous for detailed note-taking and cross-checking and will challenge you if your own figures are inconsistent over time. In addition, there are fairly normal ratios for, e.g., sales/salesperson or revenue/employee so saying one thing definitely implies another. Savvy readers will try to triangulate things like revenue, bookings, or cashflow based on the tidbits you hand out. And if the triangulation produces inconsistent results, it’s going to be a headache for your company and drive credibility questions about the figures and your claims.
They need to understand what metrics mean. One favorite PR trick is talk about undefined metrics like sales (e.g., “company reported that sales grew 57% last year”). It sounds good. But wait a minute — what’s “sales”? Do you mean revenue (and if so, why not say it) or bookings (and if so, how you define it). Another is to discuss poorly defined product-line growth rates, where companies try to classify anything they can as related to the BNI (big new initiative — e.g., cloud at most mega-vendors). What do those numbers actually mean? If a purchase order has products 1, 2, and 3 on it and has $100K at the bottom, how does the company allocate the sales across product lines and does it do so consistently over time. Product line sales figures might sound meaningful but they are often not. Another favorite is three-division company growing 10% where each division says they’re growing 30%. Hey, wait a minute — that’s not possible.
If you net all this out, the best advice is that PR needs to become more like IR (investor relations). IR people know their numbers. They’re consistent about what they release over time. They understand how people will triangulate and the implications of so doing. And they ensure consistency of the message as told by both the English and the math.
[Rewritten and decomposed from a prior interim version, focusing the content to better align with the title. I removed the “beware of SaaS Companies talking bookings” meme as, while it remains a great topic that raises interesting yellow/red flags, it’s not one you can reasonably expect a PR person to understand or control.]
“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.” — Marshall McLuhan, philosopher of communications theory and coiner of the phrase “the medium is the message.”
“Modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion.” — Edward Bernays, widely known as the Father of Public Relations and author of Propoganda .
“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” — H.L. Mencken
“Don’t hate the media, become the media.” — Jello Biafra, spoken word artist, producer, and formerly lead singer of the Dead Kennedys.
I’m doing this mostly because I’m tired of seeing stories like this one, where it’s my perception that a publication takes a story wholesale, spin and all, from a skilled PR firm and sends it down the line, unchallenged, to us readers. I’m going to challenge the story, piece by piece, and try not to throw too many competitive jabs in the process.
Let’s start by analyzing the headline.
While this may be true, it strikes me as exactly the kind of specifics that PR people know journalists love and a number that actually sounds better than say $30 or $25. Perhaps CG (see footnote ) actually had $26 exactly in his pocket on arrival, but did he really have no other resources whatsoever on which to to rely? Let us beware that it is not only the specificity of the $26 that makes the claim interesting, but also — and more importantly — the implication that he had nothing or no one else on which to rely. Arriving with $26, not knowing the language, and having no friends/relatives is certainly much tougher than showing up with $26, a brother in Brooklyn, and $2,000 in the bank. Which was the case? I don’t know. Given the overall quality of the story, and the author’s general susceptibility to spin (which we will show), I’d certainly wonder.
“Sold a startup for Half a Billion.”
To me, this clearly implies that CG was either:
Founder/CEO of a startup that sold for half a billion dollars, or
CEO of a startup that sold for half a billion dollars (while he was CEO)
He was neither.
CG was not a founder of OutlookSoft, nor was he ever CEO. He was CTO. CTO’s don’t sell startups; CEO’s do. Phil Wilmington was OutlookSoft’s CEO.
CG had founded a company called Tian Software which, per CG’s own LinkedIn profile, was acquired (not “merged” as the story later says) by OutlookSoft in 2005.
Now let’s challenge the half-a-billion.
My sources say SAP acquired OutlookSoft for $350M plus a $50M earn-out, making the deal worth $400M — not $500M. This is sort of confirmed in another Tidemark PR marvel, here, which says “short of $500M,” a very nicely PR-packaged way of saying $400M. A few phone calls to SAP alums and deal-makers in the valley might well have confirmed the lower price.
Net/net: we have blown the headline to bits. The $26 claim is suspect (if quite possibly true) while the very impressive “sold a startup for half a billion” is simply false. It wasn’t half a billion. It wasn’t his startup. He didn’t sell it. QED.
I know that neither CG nor Tidemark wrote this headline. Someone at Business Insider did — and quite possibly not the journalist who wrote the article.
So perhaps we’re just caught up in headline sensationalism. The Horatio Alger message still sells well in America and the SEO people at Business Insider know it — the URL for the story is: www.businessinsider.com/christian-gheoghre-rags-to-riches-story.
Before digging into the story itself, we should observe that this is basically the same story as this one that ran on CNET over a year ago: Escaping the Iron Curtain for Silicon Valley. This raises a question that is difficult for me to answer. It’s a cool story, no doubt, but the tech blogs are news blogs and old stories aren’t news. So why even write the same story that CNET did 15 months earlier? Is it possible they didn’t even fact check enough to know?
Let’s dig into some of the lines from the story.
“Today’s he working on his fourth successful startup, having sold all of his previous ones, including his third one, OutlookSoft, to SAP for $500M.”
I count two: Tian Software and Tidemark.
The story itself contradicts the idea that Saxe Marketing “was CG’s” in saying, “[Andrew] Saxe hired CG” — i.e., if CG was “hired” he was not a founder and ergo the company was not “his.” The name of company itself — Saxe Marketing, as opposed to Saxe & CG Marketing — additionally reinforces that.
As discussed above, you can’t call OutlookSoft “his,” nor can you say he sold it.
If we said, “CG spent 10 years toiling on two startups, one that got sold to Experian for $32M and one that was acquired by a private company at an undisclosed valuation” — would it have the same impact? Methinks not.
“Taught himself English by listening to Pink Floyd.”
I have no doubt that CG listened to Pink Floyd in his home country and that he learned (probably quite strange) words from so doing. From my experience with second-language songs, it’s actually quite difficult to learn words and much easier to learn pronunciation. Many of my French friends can sing English songs, but only in a phonetic way.
So, to me, this rings partially true but it also rings as something a PR person would grab onto faster than swimming across the border. “Wait, you learned English listening to Pink Floyd. Oh! We’ve got to use that.”
So, to have some fun with this one, let me imagine the conversation he had with the immigration officer on arriving at JFK:
CG: “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.”
INS: “So you’re coming to to get married, then?”
CG: “You raise the blade, you make the change, you re-arrange me ’till I’m sane.”
INS: “Ah, a medical visa, excellent.”
This spin-taking was harmless.
“He taught himself to code by hacking into video games on [a Commodore 64] machine.”
Frankly, I’m not sure you could “hack into” video games on a Commodore 64, but I guess that sounds better than saying “wrote BASIC programs on a Commodore 64” like the rest of us. If I had to guess, you probably got the source code since BASIC wasn’t a compiled language so there was no “hacking” to get in. You were in if you wanted to be.
The CNET story somewhat contradicts this account saying CG “played games on the C64” but he later bought a “Sinclair ZX and taught himself some programming.”
Details, yes, somehow programming a C64 or ZX isn’t good enough for the narrative: he had to “hack into” them. All part of the journalist embellishing the (probably already embellished) details in order to make CG larger than life and get a lot of hits on the story.
“[He got] a masters [sic] degree in Romania in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science. But the degree wasn’t recognized and accepted once he got here.”
If there were ever a field in which people care about what you can do as opposed to your degree, it’s programming.
Recognized (by whom?) or not, CG was not a limo driver who knew nothing about programming and miraculously started a software company. He had a master’s degree in engineering and computer science.
“Immigrant with master’s in computer science founds software company” would probably describe about half of all Silicon Valley companies.
Business Insider insists on the Man Bites Dog approach of “Limo Driver Founds Software Company” to the point of explaining away the master’s degree because it interferes with the narrative.
“He launched a second startup, TIAN, and merged it with a company called OutlookSoft.”
Tian was not “merged” with OutlookSoft; it was acquired by them, per CG’s own LinkedIn. Why the spin?
“OutlookSoft did a form of big data known as business analytics.”
There was nothing whatsoever “big data” about OutlookSoft, which was a business performance management company that did planning, budgeting, consolidation, and analytics. Gratuitous buzzword inclusion, and nothing more. Presumably inserted by the PR firm and swallowed whole by the journalist.
“Tidemark also does business analytics/big data, but it’s designed for the modern age: it works on a tablet and runs in the cloud.”
The Holy Grail of PR these days is social, mobile, cloud. This sentence scores a 2 out of 3. For what it’s worth, I actually think this is part of their strategy, so in this case it’s not buzz-wordy journalism, it’s the clear communication of a buzz-wordy strategy.
“More importantly, it is designed to be what CG calls a ‘revolution at the edge’ with a ‘Siri-like interface.'”
Revolution at the edge is both buzz-wordy and meaningless. Siri is definitionally not revolutionary because it was launched 4 years ago in 2010 and based upon natural language and speech recognition technology that was more than a decade old. What was revolutionary about Siri was its inclusion in a mass-market, consumer product.
I’d say a Siri-like interface for BI has been discussed since the Natural Language Inc (NLI) was acquired by Microsoft in the late 1980s. If nobody’s noticed, it hasn’t worked. Turns out the specificity of human language is not precise enough to directly map to a database query — even with a semantic layer. But, hey, let’s go pitch the idea because it sounds cool, the journalist probably has no idea of the history and doesn’t realize that no CFO wants to say “Hey Tiri, I want to hire 3 people next quarter and increase average salaries 3.5%.”
“It’s like Google mixed with Wolfram|Alpha.”
That’s like saying it’s nuclear fusion mixed with a perpetual motion machine.
While it may indeed do voice recognition like Siri, I can assure you it is not like Wolfram|Alpha (press the link to see just one example). This seems an easily challenged assertion, but it gets repeated as a sexy soundbite. Great packaging of the message to just flow through the media channel.
The first rule of PR is to have good metaphors and that certainly a good one. The first rule of journalism, however, should be to challenge what’s said. How is it like Wolfram|Alpha exactly (and there’s a lot, lot more to Wolfram|Alpha than a question-style interface).
“In the first 18 months since his product became available, his company is on track to hit $45 million in revenue, CG told us, growing 300% year over year. It has about 45 customers so far, with, on average, 180 business people at each customer using the product.”
We’re going to need to analyze this last set of claims one at a time.
“In the first 18 months.” Tidemark was founded in 2009, so it’s about 5 years old. While PR is cleverly trying to reframe the age issue around product availability, you’d think a journalist would want to know what happened during the other 3.5 years. As it turns out, a lot. The company was originally founded as Proferi, with an integrated GRC and EPM vision. When that failed, the company “pivoted” (a euphemism for re-started with a new strategy) to a new vision which I’ve frankly never quite understood because of the buzzword-Cuisinart messaging strategy they employ.
“On track to hit $45M in revenue.” Frankly, I have a lot of trouble believing this, but it’s happily stated without a timeframe and thus impossible to analyze. Normally, when you say $45M, it implies “this fiscal year.” But it could be anything. Is it simply “on track” for doing $45M in, say, 2016? Or, maybe it’s a really misleading answer like $45M in cumulative revenue since inception? To paraphrase an old friend, saying $45M without a timeframe is like offering a salary of 100,000 but not mentioning the currency.
“Growing 300% year over year.” Most journalists and some PR people confuse tripling with growing 300% which is actually quadrupling. But let’s assume both that the math is right and we are talking annual revenues: this means they did $11.25 in 2013 and are on track to do $45M in 2014. To do this in revenues means an even bigger number in bookings (due to amortization of SaaS revenues). I banged out a quick model to show my point.
“Growing 300% a year.” The far easier way to grow 300% year, of course, is to do so off a small base. If you do some basic math on private company numbers and it doesn’t make sense, you probably shouldn’t repeat them. Net/net: a journalist who hears 200% or 300% growth claims should first make sure the math is right, and second default-conclude it’s off a small base until proven otherwise.
“It has 45 customers so far with 180 [users at each customer].” Some quick math says $45M/45 = $1M/customer, which is Workday-class large and ergo highly suspect. Slightly better math (using my quarterly model) suggests $800K/customer in ARR, which is still huge — by my estimates $100-$200K ARR is a nice deal in EPM. Combining this with 180 users/customer implies an average price of $4.5K/user/year — 150% of the list price of the most expensive edition of Salesforce.com. ERP-sized deals, deals 4-10x the industry average, deals done at 150% of Salesforce’s list. It doesn’t add up.
I should also note that LinkedIn says Tidemark has 51-200 employees which is generally not consistent with the numbers in my model. Moreover, I can find searching for words like “account” [executive] or “sales” [executive], only fewer than 10 people who appear to be in sales at Tidemark.
Overall, I conclude that the $45M is more like 2014 bookings or maybe cumulative bookings since inception than any annual revenue figure. The numbers just don’t hang together. If I had to pick a figure, I’d guess they are closer to $10M in revenues in 2014 than $45M.
But what is a journalist supposed to do in this situation? I’d argue: fact check. Call VCs and get company size estimates. Use Google to find similar/alternative stories. See Crunchbase for history. Do some basic triangulation off LinkedIn both in terms of numbers of sales reps and size of company. Ask industry execs for industry averages. And if the numbers don’t hang together, don’t publish them.
To wrap this up, yes, I dislike this kind of puff-piece, softball story. Not because it’s friendly — not all news has to be challenging and analytical and the raw material of CG’s story is indeed impressive — but because it seems to take the PR-enhanced version of it, and swallow it hook, line, and sinker.
The media should do better. The trade press was crushed by the tech blogs for lack of sufficient value add. The tech blogs are quickly falling into the same trap.
Disclaimer / Footnotes
 I’m told Autonomy’s Mike Lynch was a big fan of this book.
 Host Analytics theoretically competes with Tidemark. Since we rarely see them in deals, I feel comfortable editorializing about their PR as I might not with a more direct competitor. Nevertheless, I can certainly be said to have a horse in this race.
 I refer to Christian Gheorghe as CG both because his name is notoriously hard to spell, but more importantly because this post is not supposed to be an attack on him — to my knowledge he is a delightful and inspiring person — but rather instead a call-out of the publication that wrote this story and the system of which it is a part.
What a great week for learning public relations (PR) from sports figures. First, we have (yet another) figure skating controversy with Evgeni Plushenko earning “only” silver despite having done quadruple jumps which the gold medalist, Evan Lysacek, did not. Then, we have the Tiger Woods confession — after 3 months of silence — for his extramarital affairs.
I’m not judging morally or technically: I blog about business, I know little about golf and even less about figure skating. I am, however, judging PR strategy and skills in handling these situations. In my estimation, Tiger gets an F and Lysacek gets an A+.
Lysacek did a simply amazing job in last night’s interview with NBC’s Bob Costas. Either Lysacek is the best PR “natural” I have ever seen, or he has simply world-class PR advisors. Despite Costas repeatedly baiting him, Lysacek looked a home-run hitter at batting practice, swatting away the inflammatory questions.
Excerpt (after having just shown a video of Plushenko saying that he thought he merited the gold):
Costas: “Plushenko said: ‘if the Olympic champion doesn’t know how to do quadruple jump, … now it’s not men’s figure skating, it’s dancing, … you can’t be considered a true men’s champion without the quad.'”
Lysacek: “well, I think no one likes to lose, and a lot of what he’s saying is probably coming from a little bit of disappointment and anger so, taking it out of context, I don’t think, for me, I can’t be emotional or react to it …”
That is simply a superb answer. He gets the real issue on the table (bitterness), takes the high ground, and refuses to answer the question all at the same time. But it gets better:
Lysacek, continuing: “the truth is that he’s been a force to be reckoned with in men’s skating for the last decade and has been a great role model for me … [he] did something that no one thought was possible, [took time off,] came back, and got his third Olympic medal — two silvers and a gold — and that’s not something to be taken lightly.”
Wow. Call the guy who’s attacking you a role model and then cite his accomplishments in a clear and precise way. This guy is good.
But it doesn’t stop there, Costas continues: “Plushenko said: ‘ … the sport itself is regressing if the Olympic champion doesn’t do the quad, just doing nice transitions and being artistic, that’s not enough, because figure skating is a sport, not a show,’ again quoting him.”
Lysacek: “Well I think it’s interesting that he puts so much emphasis on just one step in the program. It is a 4 minute and 40 second skating routine so we have to put together our strongest moves — jumps, spins, and footwork — and we’re graded on everything we do in between …”
Here he’s answering the question, but using a powerful technique — framing — in how he answers. Sure Plushenko wants to make it about one jump, but what about the other 4 minutes and 35 seconds? It gets better:
Lysacek: “… interesting enough, last night we tied on the component scores (the old artistic scores), and where I edged him — slightly — was on the technical scores which means my jumps were graded better than his and my spins were graded better than his.”
This guy’s on fire. First, he reframes the problem back to whole-routine and then fires a cannon through the “dancing” argument by saying, “uh, by the way, I won on technical scores.” And I love the passive voice : not “my spins were better,” but “my spins were graded better.” But it gets better still:
Lysacek: “… to me he had a challenge, he had to skate last, he had to wait until the end of the event, he had the most pressure on him because he was leading after the short program, and I thought he looked incredible. He went out and skated great and, for me, I congratulate him and hope that he’s 100% satisfied with that.”
Costas: “Was he gracious to you in the immediate aftermath?”
Lysacek: “Yes, he was very nice. He’s a great guy. I known him for a long time. I’ve looked up to him for a long time.”
What do I love about Lysacek?
Absolute sincerity and ergo credibility
Great use of facts
Refusal to engage in an emotional conflict
Remapping the questions: saying what you want to say almost regardless of what was asked
Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me. I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in …
But still, I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did. I am embarrassed that I have put you in this position …
The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame …
I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.
I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife’s family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’ve done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It’s now up to me to make amends, and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I’ve made. It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity.
Let me be a little cynical here, but in terms of frequency “star athlete / rockstar / celebrity / politician has affair” should be a dog-bites-man, not a man-bites-dog story. How is that John Denver can write his affairs into song lyrics …
There’s so many times I’ve let you down,
So many times, I’ve played around,
I’ll tell you now, that they don’t mean a thing
… and get away with it, while Tiger gets hung out to dry? (And yes, I know there are a few decades in between.)
The first mistake Tiger made (other than the affairs) was letting this story get so big. Some of that was out of his control (e.g., his enormous popularity) but a lot of it was controllable. He could have just said earlier what he ended up saying later: look, it’s no surprise that star athletes get a lot of “temptations” and I, uh, gave in. My bad, it happens all the time, and what’s between me and wife is none of your business. Next story, please.
But, having holed up for three months, he’s turned an “oh, another athlete had an affair” story into the Tiger Woods 24 Hours Mystery. And, unfortunately, his confession does nothing to provide the details that he should now sadly provide if he wants to kill off the mystery angle, once and for all.
His delivery was poor: scripted, stiff, hollow, robotic, insincere.
I didn’t like the way “therapy” was pitched. You could substitute “disease” for “affair” and “drug” for “therapy” and the script would still make sense. While I might sound harsh, that smacks of not taking responsibility.
The whole framing of the announcement was wrong. Who is he apologizing to? Everyone, it seems, but as one fan said: “he doesn’t owe me an apology.” Is he apologizing the sponsors who already fired him? If so, send them a letter. In his public statement, he should be apologizing to his wife and his kids, period. The rest should be commentary for the media. Not a confession. Not an apology.
The execution was bad as well. Media attendance was limited to three reporters, alienating the journalists he’s trying to reach. The timing was in conflict with a golf event, further irritating the golf establishment. There was no Q&A, which further reinforced the stiff/scripted perception.
So what I did dislike about the Tiger confession?
The therapy angle
The mass apology framing
If I were Tiger’s PR advisor, I’d say the message (which should have been delivered fast) should be:
I got caught up in the celebrity bubble
I admit that I had affairs
I apologize to my wife and kids for what I’ve done
Any questions about my wife and family — either past or future — are personal, and I will not answer them
Deep down I am unhappy and in therapy to try and fix that core problem
I hope to return to golf within a year
If I learn any lessons that are useful to others in this process, I hope to share them in the future (think: book!)
This is extremely difficult for me and I thank you for your support
I value speed and authenticity in PR which is why I am so negative on the Tiger confession. But I must admit that the media has responded pretty positively to it, for example, this piece in the New York Times, entitled Vulnerability in a Disciplined Performance.
Quick post to highlight this New York Times story, Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley. The article starts with the story of a start-up first pondering, and then deciding not to pitch the big tech blogs like TechCrunch.
Instead, [publicist Brooke Hammerling] decides that she will “whisper in the ears” of Silicon Valley’s Who’s Who — the entrepreneurs behind tech’s hottest start-ups, including Jay Adelson, the chief executive of Digg; Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter; and Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo.
Notably, none are journalists.
This is the new world of promoting start-ups in Silicon Valley, where the lines between journalists and everyone else are blurring and the number of followers a pundit has on Twitter is sometimes viewed as more important than old metrics like the circulation of a newspaper.
The article goes on to discuss what, in my opinion, are truly massive changes to the business of Silicon Valley PR over the past five years, driven by changes in the B2B trade press and the rise of social media.
While the article raises many good points, I think its over-reliance on Ms. Hammerling starts to make it feel — in an ironic twist of journalistic narcissism — like a puff piece about her: the journalist admiring the PR person instead of focusing on the changes in the business.
Over the years, her contact list swelled to the point that her stories now overflow with dropped names. There are the e-mail messages from Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, and the time she handled a client’s crisis from her BlackBerry while traveling to St. Barts to join the former Hollywood überagent Michael Ovitz and his family on his yacht. Or the time she was in her bikini at a Mexican resort, checking her e-mail at the hotel’s computer, when Ron Conway, a veteran tech investor, walked in.
Or the purportedly secret poker party she threw in her suite at a recent tech conference: “All my friends were there — Arianna was there, the Twitter boys were there,” …
“Arianna told me I was a great hostess, and I thought I was going to die,” she said
As frequent readers know, I’m a contrarian when it comes to most things, including corporate blogging. Most companies, it seems, want corporate blogs that are written by junior PR people, repackage corporate good news, and recycle standard corporate messages.
Validating my suspicions, a few months back I had a few inquiries from former marketing teammates asking: “Hey Dave, you seem to know something about CEO / corporate blogging — so should my CEO have a ghost-written blog?”
With the standard approach, most corporate blogs are easily identified by would-be readers as “marketing” and accordingly avoided. In fact, according to a recent study by Forrester (subscription required), only 16% of consumers trust corporate blogs, ranking dead last in trust among information channels surveyed.
Many corporate blogs are A. boring and B. not credible. They’re written in corporate speak. And they gush about the company or its products or services (what I call widgets). Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff blogs about his new report, encouraging companies “to be thoughtful in how and why you blog.”
And that’s precisely the point I make in my book: NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR WIDGETS!
Unless, of course, your widgets happen to be XML Servers. (Just kidding.) More:
Secondly, saying that consumers don’t trust corporate blogs is kind of like saying that people don’t trust advertising. Well, duh. We’ve been talking about that (cf the Cluetrain Manifesto) for a decade now.
Until today, I had two all-time favorite high-tech public relations (PR) oops-es:
The first was when some company sent The New York Times a softcopy of a press release in Microsoft Word without first accepting all the revision marks. The journalist who received the press release changed the view in Word to show the complete revision history and got to see a live demonstration of the corporate weasel-wording process.
The second was when Google’s new head of investor relations sent a PowerPoint slide deck to analysts and forgot to sanitize the notes section, inadvertantly leaking both confidential financial projections and a new product announcement. I blogged about that one, here.
Ever wonder why most PR people now convert both Word and PowerPoint documents to PDF before sending them out?
Well, today, I have a third all-time favorite. See this amazing story where Microsoft (and/or their PR firm Waggener Edstrom) accidentally mailed a briefing document prepared for a spokesperson to the journalist that was interviewing him, Fred Vogelstein of Wired.
If you’re at all interested in PR then you have to read the briefing document, here.
If you’re not interested in PR you should probably read it anyway, because you will get a first-hand education into just how much work large companies spend on pitching stories and preparing spokespeople for press interviews.
In my opinion, Waggener Edstrom president Frank Shaw should have eaten some humble pie and/or simply shut up, but instead — as I suppose would be every PR maven’s instinct — he tried to make lemonade out of lemons here. It didn’t work for me at all nor, judging by the comments on his post, did it work for most other people either.
Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson has an interesting and fairly charitable post on his blog, here.
I’m Dave Kellogg, technology executive, investor, independent director, adviser, and blogger. I’m also a hiker, oenophile, and fly fisher.
From 2012 to 2018, I was CEO of cloud enterprise performance management vendor Host Analytics, where we quintupled ARR while halving customer acquisition costs in a highly competitive market, ultimately selling the company in a private equity transaction.
Previously, I was SVP/GM of Service Cloud at Salesforce and CEO at NoSQL database provider MarkLogic. Before that, I was CMO at Business Objects for nearly a decade as we grew from $30M to over $1B. I started my career in technical and product marketing positions at Ingres and Versant.
I love disruption, startups, and Silicon Valley and have had the pleasure of working in varied capacities with companies including ClearedIn, FloQast, GainSight, Lecida, MongoDB, Recorded Future, Tableau and TopOPPs. I currently sit on the boards of Alation (data catalogs) and Nuxeo (content management) and previously sat on the boards of agtech leader Granular (acquired by DuPont for $300M) and big data leader Aster Data (acquired by Teradata for $325M).
I periodically speak to strategy and entrepreneurship classes at the Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley) and Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris (HEC).