Silicon Valley’s Daunting History with Public Relations

I grew up here.  Before “Silicon Valley,” Santa Clara was an agricultural mecca with a farmland culture and the fight for green space and other social movements.  The Valley was filled with families outfitted with strong schools and large housing complexes with swimming pools at their center.  Growing up in the 70s was at a slow pace among a strong diverse, peace-seeking culture.  We valued education and intellectualism, and Governor Pat Brown delivered.  We were a long way from the lessons of Theranos.

Our slow, intellectual agrarian culture turned into the male-dominated tech culture of “move fast and break things” within a generation.  Even when I attended graduate school at American University in 1995 my northeastern classmates were still asking, “what’s out there?” As a publicist who promotes scientists and medical technology, that seems laughable now, as we’ve grown into a series of cities and ended our innocence.  What I wish is that Bay Area business would finally grow in the sophistication of recognizing the value of communications.  Most of Silicon Valley’s businesses do not communicate effectively, fear the news media and fail miserably at communicating publicly.

I went back east to learn the communications trade:  D.C. and Chicago, and with giants such as Edelman and other international agencies I perfected my craft, showering our clients with media coverage and fame.  I kept an eye on the epic failures at home:  very young CEOs, male-dominated cultures and superficial technologies that didn’t really do anything meaningful.  But some inventions were nothing short of amazing.  They failed when they shouldn’t have, inadequately communicating their benefits publicly.  We got used to seeing apps and other technologies come and go quickly, when some of them should have succeeded.  Now look:  a whole menu of technologies within another generation and some tech execs holding their heads up high for the innovation, but others hide in shame at the dangerous communities they realize they have created.   Indeed, we are still a long way from learning the millennium lessons of Silicon Valley.  Move fast and break things is still very much operative, and the problem is twofold:  1.  investors are everywhere taking a superficial approach to business, or 2.  They create something that could really work but fail to communicate its wonders.

I know, because they call me.  I learned, once I came home, to be very particular about who I will work with.

They do not know who they are calling.  They do not know how the important mix of marketing and publicity works.  This “Fake it until you make it” world of fake marketing ignores the important planning process of identifying your market’s problems to make sure you are solving them.  The process here is to ignore the critical research and planning, to fail to put together a plan that brings a discipline to the process so you can succeed.  This is not about clicks and likes—it is about creating messages that help form the relationships you need: relationships with your customers, natural partners, and the news media (those reporters that stoke so much fear among the Valley’s execs) so that you are not only relevant—you have a strong brand to keep.  This is the relationships business.  It is who you know and how you are known that gives you the profits you are looking for.

Look, if you are harming society the press has every right to write about that.  But what if you aren’t harming society?  What if your app actually does some good?  So many products are developed by intelligent, creative, competent, and well-meaning people, who launched “their babies” only to see them fail.  Why?  Because there is not an understanding to go through an important process, we know how to use to make sure there is sustained success in reputation and popularity.  This process has been developed over centuries (and accelerated over 75+ years) and it works.  We come to you ready, wanting to know your product inside and out.  In order to build a strong foundation, we do a lot of research up front and a lot of planning.  Some investors cannot see why this takes time.  They are the ones who fail.

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