Three Commandments of Tech PR Learned in HBO’s Silicon Valley
July 6, 2017
For those of you in tech that haven’t caught the Silicon Valley bug yet, you should watch it. Each episode chronicles six guys as they go through the ups and downs of launching a startup in the infamous tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley. From securing funding, to understanding the ins and outs of a startup incubator, and dealing with sheisty sharks out to steal the company’s IP, the HBO series paints to me, what seems like a hilariously real look at the tech industry.
Throughout the three seasons of Silicon Valley, the guys (Richard Hendricks, Erlich Bachman, Gilfoyle, Dinesh, Jared Dunn and Big Head) learn several important PR lessons along the way. *Read: SPOILERS AHEAD!* Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can begin.
One must stay calm in all fire drill situations.
After reading an article about Pied Piper’s mediocre tech in the show’s TechCrunch-like publication, Code/Rag, an enraged Richard demands to set up an interview with the reporter, C.J. Cantwell to set the record straight. Richard Hendricks is forced to meet with the head of PR before the interview to work on his communications skills. In an unfortunate mix-up, Richard is led to a conference room where he assumes the woman sitting there is in charge of PR. Richard launches into a tirade and once his rant is over, the woman reveals herself to be to the Code/Rag reporter and leaves.
I can thankfully say that this has never happened to me, but “fire drills” as we call them, or in other words s*** hitting the fan, happens all the time. Sometimes the reporter gets a fact wrong, sometimes the client has said something “off the record,” but regardless of who is at fault, the team must remain calm through these situations. Calling an immediate internal huddle to discuss the best path forward, in addition to taking one million deep breaths, is the best way to approach the fire drill. At the end of the day, one must always remember: it is not the end of the world, even if it feels like it at the time.
One must SWOT it out, when in doubt.
In what is probably my favorite episode of Silicon Valley, the guys attempt a publicity stunt of livestreaming a monster car jump for an energy drink brand. When Richard and the crew encounter the extremely rude monster car jumping stuntman, they decide to use the SWOT method to determine if they should allow the stuntman to die in a fiery car crash. Jared had originally introduced the corporate decision-making tool, the SWOT, to the team, which was widely rejected until they find use for it later on in a cruel matter. The startup is ultimately double-crossed by the energy drink company, who decides to remove Pied Pipers logo from the live steam and instead replace it with their arch enemy and competitor’s logo, Endframe.
In our line of work, especially in the world of technology where we’re moving at the speed of sound, it’s mission critical to have a strategy for our communications campaigns. Bringing it back to the basic SWOT matrix when we need to develop a new strategy or pivot our efforts, will help you craft a compelling PR program while taking into account the bigger picture. Sometimes we get wrapped up in what our clients are doing and completely miss what the competition is doing, and a handy-dandy SWOT can help prevent this from happening.
One must track the right metrics for success.
After enduring humiliation, a legal battle with a Google-like monster, Hooli, the guys are having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Just when the company thinks they’re on the verge of failure, Pied Piper achieves 100,000 downloads, a significant milestone for the startup. It’s only once they’ve hit the mark when they realize that their investors, Raviga Capital, only care about the daily active users on the platform. Low and behold, the daily active user profile was much lower than what they had anticipated, leading the company to provide fraudulent numbers via an offshore “click farm.” Pied Piper risks losing their funding and shutting down all together once the fraud is revealed.
Drawing the parallel to PR, we must provide the right metrics as a scorecard to our clients. Working with tech companies, many of which are startups, need to see what ROI they can expect from their public relations program. You should always have an honest conversation to set expectations upfront and get everyone “on board” before beginning your program. This will set the standard for your partnership and avoid turning your company’s story into a real-life comedy.
With a great mixture of comedy and applicable lessons for the industry, Silicon Valley is definitely worth a watch. Hopefully I didn’t spoil too much of the show for you, but as a tech PR pro, Silicon Valley should definitely be on your radar.