by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
I’m a writer, I’m a PR too and I love the way in which we use language to create certain emotional attachments to brands and individuals. But when did ‘business’ become so vain?
Open the business pages of pretty much any regional newspaper or trade publication and you will be met with a plethora of new stories featuring companies that are ‘market leaders’.
To give you an example, I recently read one of the top recruitment industry magazines in which five – FIVE – companies were either described as a ‘market leader’ or ‘the leading provider’ within their space.
Now forgive me for appearing slightly cynical here, but how is it possible for there to be more than one market leader? To be one means surely means having the greatest share of the market, the highest revenues, perhaps the biggest workforce and instantly recognised by your peers as the number one in your space?
The reality is this:
If you claim to be the market leader, and you’re not, and your competition does the same, who will a potential client believe? After all, the word ‘leader’ is singular and can only apply to one company, so a client may think that you are the one who is lying.
Brands have a reputation to maintain and in the drive to forge long term relationships with your customers, there needs to be transparency and honesty coupled with mutual respect and trust. Pulling the wool of the eyes of your customers may generate success in the short term, but the truth will always out.
A few years ago we were appointed by a fantastic executive search firm to manage their PR. The company, based in London, were specialist IT recruiters with a 15-strong staff and a turnover exceeding £5 million. They could boast a number of USPs and for us they presented any number of great PR opportunities – they simply had a great story to tell.
But we got fired by them with one week of us winning their account.
The reason was down to how we positioned them compared to how they wished to be perceived. When drafting their first press release we described them as ‘Company X, a key provider of Y professionals for the UK and European market’. Which was true, that’s what they did. The CEO, however, had other ideas.
He insisted that we position them as ‘Company X, Europe’s market leading provider of Y professionals’. We refused to do this because it quite simply was not true. Sure they were a great company with phenomenal potential – hey, they may even become the leading provider in Europe eventually. But they were not there yet. In fact, they weren’t even the biggest in the UK or even in London.
This is not what PR is about and because we were not prepared to go to the media and position this company in the way they wished, we were dismissed. Which is fine, after all we deal with the same editors and journalists for other clients and had we gone down this route we would have lost all credibility with them ourselves…we have our own reputation to consider too!
Such self-agrandising has invariably been around since time immemorial – accentuated somewhat by the explosive influence of social media.
Social media – carte blanche to talk jibberish
Indeed, social media’s self-publishing model enables everyone and anyone to describe themselves in any which way they see fit, often without recourse. Take a look at your own LinkedIn feed as an example and you will see how this self-styling has translated from businesses to individuals.
This week alone, I have seen connections and connections of connections on LinkedIn rebrand themselves as all manner of diatribe, from self-professed ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘mentors’ to ‘evangelists’ and ‘power generators’ (whatever that means).
Not forgetting those who have replaced their job titles altogether with such statements as ‘I empower business people to realise their full potential’ – typically used by those who have actually failed in their own careers but think that reading a few self-help books or Googling ‘personal development’ makes them a credible source. It doesn’t.
Who are these so-called ‘experts’?
It gets worse. Consider those adverts we now see appearing in our Facebook timelines – y’know the ones of a man or woman stood next to a sports car or at some holiday resort with palm trees in the background.
These people offer promises that if you join them in their webinar or sign up for their new newsletter, they – THEY – will reveal the secret to their incredible success with the promise that you can enjoy the same level of success. What lovely people they are wanting to give away all their secrets to create wealth for the rest of us.
Sorry, but these people are fakers.
These are the same sorts of people who run social media seminars and build-a-better-business workshops and charge you through the nose to attend.
Yet if you were to ask any previous attendees how these events have transformed their businesses the answer will be a resounding “Erm, well I guess it’s still early days.” They simply take all of the content they can find online and then sell that in the form of an event or other money-making scheme.
These eejits claim to have built a business income far exceeding many people’s expectations, yet they all seem to operate from a home office and few – if any – have a single employee.
So if you are wanting to build a sustainable business, why the heck listen to such fakers who haven’t ever done it for themselves? You wouldn’t listen to a swimming instructor who only learnt how to swim on dry land and has never been anywhere near water, would you?
I double as a careers writer as well as a PR chap and in 2010 I was recognised as one of the most published careers writers in the UK, have written for the likes of The Guardian, Monster, Personnnel Today, MSN, GLAMOUR and a plethora of others.
It has always baffled me when I read careers articles or see so-called ‘experts’ speaking at various industry events talking about how to get promoted or what it takes to be a successful manager and business leader.
But take a look at their careers to date and if any of them has ever had any kind of corporate career to speak of it would be a very big surprise…
how the hell can someone who has never been promoted or served as a senior manager be qualified to provide advice on what it takes to be successful in such a role?
Where do they get their insight if it’s not from experience? Oh right, of course, they find the answer on Google. That’s grand then.
George Best for me was the greatest European footballer of all time, but he would never describe himself as such. In fact the closest he ever got to self-praise was when a reporter asked him to respond to news that Pele described had him as the best footballer in the world, to which he simply replied “If Pele says so, I’ll take that.” Humility personified.
You’re probably NOT an ‘entrepreneur’
The overuse of the word ‘entrepreneur’ is another issue. In my view, an entrepreneur is someone who has started a business that is sustainable, successful and has legs. It is not someone who is dipping their toes in the water ‘to see’ if it will work out for them, with the safety of returning to their old job if it doesn’t.
LinkedIn is now full of so-called ‘entreprenuers’ – people who a) have probably failed in their careers to date and figure its better to call themselves something rather than admitting to everyone that they are probably ‘Inbetween jobs’ (which wouldn’t necessarily look great on a CV), or b) self-aggrandising Branson and Jobs wannabies.
Think Gary Veynerchuck and Guy Kawasaki – they have earned the right to call themselves entrepreneurs through hard work over many years – their use of the word entrepreneur is not a title or something that lable themselves with in some sort of aspirational way, it is something that they have earned.
Believe me, I have been self-employed for over 10 years and my word it can be hard work at times trying to build a business (sorry all you ‘entrepreneurs’ but it doesn’t happen overnight).
You will get there and you can earn the right to become an entrepreneur if you want it bad enough and are prepared for the long haul. If you are not, don’t call yourself an entrepreneur – our business is growing and we’re about to recruit more staff but I would still veer away from attaching the ‘entrepreneur’ label to myself.
As for the other silly adjectives, they are daft and vain. Pure and simple.
PR, as described by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, is about your ‘reputation’ – “the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.” It is not for you or your brand to label yourself using terms that are all style and no substance, that’s for your stakeholders and peers to do.
Reputations have to be earned, not forged. So focus on communicating why you do what you do, how you do it and what difference that makes to your stakeholders. No one wants to do business with a blagger, so don’t be that person. Be genuine and let the results of your work outdo anything that can be found in the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.