PR Insider: Redefining Success for PR Goes Beyond the Benjamins

Nicole Yelland
Nicole Yelland

Pop culture teaches us that over-sized paychecks, lavish offices, hoards of subordinates, jet setting across the globe and connected technology demanding attention equate success. Communications professionals tend to daydream about our versions of "making it big": A billboard on the moon, billions of social media followers and front pages or magazine covers devoted to the brands we represent.

We learn the above vision has the bloated ego and one-trick-pony capabilities of Ron Burgundy. The real world, and perhaps a touch of maturity, eventually teaches all of us that making it offers more substance and less stuff. The same is true for us PR folk.

Working at Detroit-based start-up Livio has offered each member of the team a lot of wins but even more losses as we work toward the mirage we call success. The longer we work toward it, the more each of our visions change. So here’s how we’ve learned to redefine and reexamine our versions of success through the peaks and valleys of start-up life.

It’s not all about the Benjamins, baby
Success for products, plans and people can’t always be measured by money. In the case of our wildly successful Bluetooth Internet Radio Car Kit we did make money, but we learned more about the needs of automotive manufacturers and app developers leading us to license the technology inside it. Eventually, this same discovery led Livio to adapt from a company that made and sold consumer electronics to one focused on making and selling software as a service (Saas). We also learned press has a voracious appetite for in-vehicle infotainment, automotive safety and experts not tied to an automotive brand for comment.

Busy isn’t always “a good problem to have”
Ask anyone how he or she is doing and they’ll probably answer, “busy.” I dare you not to respond with, “that’s a good problem to have.” People assume constant demand for their attention or talents is good. More often than not, it means we’re not making the best use of our time, delegating or trusting our team members to the fullest. After all, it’s PR, not the ER. Moreover, we become addicted to being needed and don’t know how to cope when the inevitable “slow season” hits. Let’s redefine what a good problem is. Consider adjectives like focused, relaxed, hiring, excited and growing when describing good problems to have.

Jet setting is bad
Ever see a movie where the main character is urgently rushed to the airport to travel across the globe to go solve a problem overnight? The mistake we make is thinking this is a good thing. Last-minute travel is expensive, exhausting and a huge time suck. Unless you’re working for a start-up and your business get’s a last-minute P.O. to solve a problem for a customer, last-minute fixes are bad and probably could have been avoided with more attention to detail. For more on travel, check out our software engineer’s rant on business travel.

Fail fast
Failures are just as helpful as successes and safety nets are only going to slow you down. Remember that guy, Nik Wallenda who tightrope walked across the Grand Canyon without a safety net? He attributes his successful feat to skipping the false sense of security the net offers (ironically causing more tightrope walkers to fall). At Livio, we launched a series of Autos ‘n’ Apps Meet ups to see if we could get everyone (media, app developers, automotive manufacturers and suppliers) in the room to talk about car tech. These meet ups were launched at a series of tradeshows throughout 2012. To win, we knew it would take skipping safety net of partnerships so we had no one to blame but ourselves if it failed. A few of these were spectacular failures where literally no one showed except our team. Without the safety net, we failed fast and learned that these meet ups needed to happen fewer times and at the shows we knew best. With a few modifications, these events have quickly grown, allowing us to take on financial support from sponsors and get one hell of a turnout in 2011, 2012, 2013 and going into 2014 at CES.

Your goals should change
If the blog you launched three years ago still has the same goal, you’re failing. Goals are supposed to change over time to help you progress. Whether you’re launching a thought-leadership campaign about safe driving or writing code for the next big thing in music apps, you should always be setting and re-evaluating goals. If you don’t know how or get stumped on how else to challenge yourself or brand, reach out to someone and swap a cup of coffee for some frank advice. The point is, keep challenging yourself and your brand to do better.

As much as I hate to say it, Ashton Kutcher’s recent acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards has something to it: Opportunity does look like hard work. Call it “agile marketing” or whatever buzzword someone on a book tour is using. Redefining goals for yourself, your projects and your life is going to lead to a career defined by your version of sweet, sweet success.

Nicole Williams-Yelland is director of marketing and communications at Livio Radio.

Follow Nicole on Twitter: @NWLife.