P.T. Barnum once famously said that there is no bad publicity. Of course, if you are, say a guy who is going bankrupt, or marrying and divorcing blondes or hosting an outrageous reality television show where you are firing people, like say Donald Trump, you probably like the idea of bad publicity. But if you are an entrepreneur running a technology company, let me tell you, there can definitely too much publicity. Infact, overexposure in media is actually bad for you. Let me elaborate.
In my long tenure as a technology writer, I have seen many patterns. The worst of them, from a startup perspective, is overexposure. During the dot-com mania of the 1990s, there were a few people who were constantly in the press — Naveen Jain (Infospace) and Jeff Dachis (Razorfish), to take just two examples. (See 60 minutes: DotCom Kids) They were always available for a quick “quip.”
Most of these quips were pretty worthless. The more these experts talked to the media, the less they had to say. After a few months of seeing their quotes, I had developed a certain kind of blindness to these entrepreneurs and what they had to say. I mean, if you read something again and again in half-a-dozen magazines and a handful of online publications, you kind of stop paying attention. Today’s technology media landscape is worse – there are just too many publications, both new and old, all looking for comments.
I totally understand that startups need attention. In order to get it, they hire media relations professionals who try and get their comments into every possible story, regardless of its impact on the overall strategy of the company. That’s their job. In fact they get paid by the media mentions! But it is the wrong approach — and extremely short-term thinking.
Why? Talk too often, and the media will soon think: He has nothing new to say — didn’t I hear him talk about this recently? Too much media exposure means that the focus of media attention starts to shift from the product (and the company) to the person, and that is never a good thing.
Now look at Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. She doesn’t make a statement every day and doesn’t comment on everything. Whenever she speaks to the media, it is about Facebook’s operations, revenues, goals and company’s strategy. It is a good strategy to emulate. Say you are Brian Chesky (of AirBnB), it makes perfect sense for you to talk about the emergence of people-to-people economy and positioning AirBnB from that context. It makes AirBnB seem part of a much bigger movement. Staying focused on the bigger picture and your product is what it means to be “on message” without being boring or obvious.
So unless you are the equivalent of Donald Trump, keep in mind, too much publicity is bad for you.