Pramana’s New Guy & A New Role

This post is a welcome to Mike Mayzel as The Pramana Collective’s first executive in residence (EIR).

It’s also an opportunity to set some context on why bringing on Mike in this role is so important to us. I’ll get to this first.

When Brandee, Brian and I created Pramana a year ago, the three of us had most recently come from the all-in 24/7 experience that is leading in-house communications teams. None of us wanted to jump immediately back into another role like this. All of us agreed that there is a role for a project based communications consultancy that focuses on helping busy companies manage important inflection points. We also knew that being able to share our respective experiences with each other on behalf of our clients allowed us to establish a unique model. We wanted to build around this.

To do this we intend for Pramana to be a desired option for top in-house communications and marketing people when they start thinking about their next role. As they join us, many, we hope, will settle in for the long haul — drawn to the interesting work, the opportunity to work with top-notch talent, and to help us build something that’s meaningful.

Others may be in more of a point of transition. We think there’s opportunity in this. We get it. We’ve gone through those same periods in our respective careers. And we are very open to partners or principals only being with us for a year or two before they might want to jump into the next phase of their career. But, while they are with us, we get their energy and insights, and, in turn, we can provide them with both a deep view inside of fascinating projects and a wide-lens on the industry.

If this works, they’ll eventually be a helpful ecosystem of Pramanians (a word that I just made up).

This gets us back to Mike Mayzel and the aforementioned EIR role that Brandee first divined last spring. Like its VC inspiration, we view it as a special role that will be customized depending on the individual that holds it. We’ll only have one EIR at a time and there will be specific time-period for the role.

In Mike’s case, he was considering new opportunities from his role running communications at StumbleUpon. We wanted both his insights and experience at Pramana while we gave him an opportunity to explore his next steps in his career.

Mike is a perfect fit for our first EIR hire. His six-month full-time stint with Pramana starts today.

More about Mike

Mike comes to us after three-plus years running the show at StumbleUpon, including all product and corporate communications. Like all of Pramana’s partners, he’s been around for a few cycles. He’s done enterprise. He’s done consumer.

But, by far, Mike’s most significant stretch at a company was at Google from 2002 through 2010. His five years for the little Mountain View company was focused on managing communications for their advertising and partner programs. And, in a twist for a comms guy, his last three years at Google were directly in the sales and partner development team. His job included selling a cross-section of Google products to big financial services companies and partnering with newspaper publishers.

We’re Hiring

Also, we are hiring. We’re closely vetting potential new partners (roughly 20-ish years experience) and principals (roughly 10-ish years experience). Location is secondary to skills, philosophical alignment, and experience —whether it includes in-house, agency experience or a mix. 

Perfect example of a partner is Larry Yu who joined us last June. Perfect example of a principle is Eitan Bencuya, who joined us last September.

Both Larry and Eitan immediately impacted not only the service of our clients but also in shaping what the Pramana is today and where we’ll be tomorrow. As with any startup, there is so much more to do here. We are building a fast moving company and seeing an incredible array of projects that have fascinating challenges and opportunities. If you think you are a fit, we hope you consider us either soon or down the road when the time is right.

"There’s a style in which Brandee competes and wins and drives that’s a lot more authentic and humanist."
From “They Want Her On Their Side" — a New York Times feature on my Pramana Collective partner Brandee Barker.
"Treat your users in the same way you would treat a good friend in a time of crisis or concern: approach it with care, humility and empathy for a lasting impact."
—Words from my Pramana Collective partner Brandee Barker in a Digiday piece called “The Startup Guide to Screwing Up.”

To The Victors Go The Toils

image

We’ve won.

Thirty-plus years after Bill Gates called for a computer in every home and nearly 20 years after John Doerr insisted to everyone within earshot that the “Internet is underhyped”, tech has infiltrated all corners of the developed world and become part of the fabric of society.

In only a couple of decades, tech has joined entertainment, sports and politics as Thanksgiving dinner topics of conversation; it’s changing adjacent economic sectors; and its impact is top of mind to global leaders.

It’s become a really big thing. And, we’re still long from fulfilling its promise.

Yet, we seem trapped in small debates about the latest dumb tweet/Medium post/selfie; a 22-year-old CEO who acted like a 22-year-old; the latest from the Google bus wars; and, so on.

But, you know what? This isn’t the fault of clickbait journalism, Schadenfreude or even the random guy who posts miserable opinions. Those are symptoms.

At a high level, this comes from a disconnect between the high impact that we have locally, nationally and worldwide and the relative amount of leadership that we provide outside of building and selling products. Maybe this is because there are many more battles to be won and we come from a culture that can’t be satisfied by the current version of whatever you’ve just created. But, make no mistake, we’ve made it. We’ve got what we’ve wanted and now it feels like we’re the Robert Redford character at the end of The Candidate.

When you create massive economic success and build products that become ingrained in people’s lives, you get lots of attention of all kinds. This has been true in the United States for as long as we have had newspapers.

[The Roaring Twenties was the last time we had as much economic disparity as we do today. A whole new kind of journalism sprung up then just to cover new wealth, the emergence of Hollywood, and innovators like Charles Lindbergh. Called ‘jazz journalism’, the style thrived on controversy and a focused on the sordid — with an emphasis on photography instead of words…. Sound familiar?  (Also note the media’s role as portrayed in Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street)]

The attention that we now get runs the spectrums from intelligent to vapid and fawning to cynical. We want better, we can push for better, but we can’t expect better. Not with our success. Not with all of unified self-congratulations around disruptions. And, not until we stop pretending that the Valley is just one big plucky start-up so consumed in its own geekery that the outside world is a big distraction.  

Take the example of the industry’s impact on the Bay Area. The world is watching us and we’re largely letting the Bryan Goldbergs and a photo of graffiti lead the conversation about complex economic disparity issues.

Or, consider that despite countless painful lessons learned over and over again regarding consumer privacy by consumer Internet companies, an emergent company worth multiple billions of dollars can still act cavalier towards a known security hole.

Or, wonder how questions about diversity are mostly avoided or, when answered, responses are convoluted at best.

The reverberations of this are being played out by media in Washington, DC, London, Tokyo, São Paulo and so on in an international game of telephone that only deepen caricatures and lead to further distortions. Business and political leaders there then form opinions about our industry. So do consumers.

My experience suggests that the vast majority of people in the tech industry truly want to change the world for the better and that’s a big reason why they got into tech in the first place. They are good people. Smart people.

We just need to get all the good, smart people to recognize that, as one wise Valley veteran told me, if the Valley crashes out again, we are currently on a path toward being perceived as charlatans, or if the success continues, we’ll be seen as modern-day Robber Barons. We can certainly do better, and I expect that we will. It just needs to start happening soon.

The most critical place to start is by asserting greater long-term thinking that we expect from the best companies in the industry. Don’t get distracted by the Twitter fight of the day. At the same time, don’t get distracted by the vacuum of your own company’s daily machinations. Think about where you and your company want to be in a decade. This place will require friendly places to live for your employees. Wonder whether having good relationships with policymakers will be important to your company’s success. And think about the steps that you need to take to have open and constructive conversations with them. Consider how workplace diversity will allow you to compete in a world where your products are used by those from all walks of life. (For an extreme long view, check out the 10,000 year clock project.)

Then begin to get engaged and, at least, be forthright and direct in conversations about the issues the industry is facing. Reid Hoffman’s recent words on diversity are a great example. From there, recognize that small but symbolic acts are largely what is damning the industry and be willing to take some more on your own whether you get credit for them or not (today’s $1.5 million agreement between tech companies using private busses and the SFMTA is a strong start). They will eventually add up. Then, find an area of interest to lead on. It can be focused. It can be broad. It can be locally based or international. You can go alone or you can join others. Just recognize that winners lead.*

Lastly, whether you are fresh off a flight and are settling down for your first week at Pinterest or whether you’ve been in the industry for decades as a mid-level engineer, recognize that the world considers you a winner. Billions would love to be in your shoes. We (including us at Pramana) should all aspire to be good winners that are grateful, humble, generous and self-aware about success. We’ll be more successful and it will make our industry’s wins more enjoyable for both those of us in it and those observing it. And, when we inevitably fail at times, the world will be more forgiving.

*Here are some good examples:

“Entrepreneurs are realizing that they don’t need to wait until they have big piles of money to start helping others in need. In fact, the earlier you align your company with social causes, the better. With an early start, the results can have more impact over time.”

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Thank you to my Pramana Collective partners for their edits and insights on this post.

Lessons from the Paul Graham episode

I was just tweeting about getting back to blogging in the hopes of finding inspiration when, blammo, the whole Paul Graham thing and his response today. (Update: Also see Jessica Lessin’s post on behalf of The Information here).

And, as everyone on Twitter knows, nothing makes a blogger move faster than being able to make a point with a previously written post. In my case, I offer this post, in which I propose that interviewees consider “post(ing) the transcripts of their on-the-record interviews once the story comes out — regardless of whether it’s positive, negative or neutral.”

If this had been done last Thursday morning when The Information story came out, any disparity between the printed piece and the transcript would have been readily apparent. 

It also would have been a very hacker-y thing to do, no?

Other thoughts:

  • Record your interviews. Sure, there is the benefit of catching a misquote. But, generally, it’s quite helpful to keep track of what you say and how you say it when talking to the media (or on stage). My tip: Use Evernote on your phone to record the interview. It will automatically sync to your laptop. Send this file to Rev.com or a similar service and get the transcript back within 48 hours.  A great example of the value of this was brilliantly executed by my Pramana partner Brandee Barker when she worked on a Wired feature with Dropbox and was subsequently able to secure what was easily one of the best corrections in memory.
  • Interview vs. conversation. But, you say that this wasn’t an interview and was a conversation with a reporter? Rightly or wrongly this is semantics. If a reporter is taking notes or recording the conversation, you just have to assume your words will be used somehow. If you’re having beers with them, you trust them and no notebook/recording device is in sight, than that’s a different story.
  • Twitter time. It was a holiday week. The Information piece came out on the day after Christmas. People are traveling and spending time with their families. All very reasonable. Still, one would expect that someone active on Twitter on the 26th would have read the interview, caught the discrepancy and either corrected it behind the scenes or have proactively tweeted about it. Instead it just hung out there (see the Twitter search results), and 28 hours after it was originally posted, Valleywag got hold of it. Fire.

I’ve never met him, but I do think that Paul Graham has good intentions and was caught in a hard-to-win situation. His response today is solid and also brings up worthy discussion points about contextualization in the Twitter/Reddit age. I just wish he was faster and more direct with it.

However, what would help a whole lot more is if those with bully pulpits in the industry didn’t wait until they were shoehorned into a bad situation before articulating their solutions for more women (or minorities) in tech. If this happened, I would hope that people would start to them the benefit of the doubt when they’re tongue-tied over tough issues.

Alastair Campbell on Modern Communications & Why Law is Just PR With a Wig On

Alastair Campbell is best known for being the often controversial communications lead for then Prime Minister Tony Blair. He’s also been a journalist, a consultant and an author in his long career. I particularly appreciate that Campbell was one of the inspirations for the profane character Malcolm Tucker in the fantastic satirical film In the Loop and the TV show In the Thick of It.

Campbell recently gave a presentation on what he calls modern communications in Australia and published the full transcript on his site. Here were the most interesting perspectives on communications today:

  1. Public affairs now covers any interaction between any two people or organizations.
  2. As the PR industry grew up, it did a lousy job on its own reputation, and indeed terms like “PR” and “spin” are synonyms for bullshit, lies, deception. 
  3. The real spin doctors in the modern world are journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, and they want their readers, viewers and listeners to think they have the monopoly on truth.
  4. The interaction with the public space has become more complicated, and therefore the demand for simplicity is stronger. In a world of greater chaos, people search for greater clarity. 
  5. The definition of PR as being focused on getting a good press, whatever that means these days, is close to being redundant.
  6. Quote from President Clinton: “Clinton said something else that stuck with me that day ‘Too many decision makers define their reality according to that day’s media. It is almost always a mistake.’ 
  7. Tony Blair understood instinctively that in the modern world comms is not simply the means by which you explain, it must be integrated into your strategy. Churchill knew that too. So did Lincoln.
  8. Social media’s pressures are to be tactical, so the response should be strategic.
  9. Sometimes law is just PR with a wig on

But, above all, this excerpt resonates with me and what my partners and I are doing at The Pramana Collective:

Think about why people come to (communicators) like us. Often, because things are going awry. Because they have an idea but they are having trouble explaining it. Because they have a plan – but the plan is not going according to plan. Because they think that what they do is great but the media don’t seem to agree, and they want help getting the message out. So they want a new digital presence or they want a series of meetings with opinion formers or they want a new slogan. And all those things might be doable. But they all jump ahead of what is usually their problem. They are not clear about who they are, what they are doing, their DNA.

Getting to the heart of the DNA is the heart of good PR and public affairs. It is little or nothing to do with whether you can place a puff piece here or get the CEO into an airline magazine feature or have a nice dinner with a bunch of self important columnists.

They are all tactics. But objective and strategy should always come first.

And, objective and strategy built on organizations’ inherent truths are even more powerful.

There is no longevity in cool but there is coolness in longevity.

The moment a start-up focuses on lasting value and utility instead of ephemeral affirmations of coolness is the moment a company becomes intellectually mature. Facebook and Twitter each got over the coolness pressure in their early days. I doubt LinkedIn ever considered it.

Conversely, brands that have been around for a good while and pine to be seen as cool again (or for the first time) should recognize that their lasting power, ability to provide value over and over again and the wiseness that comes from experience is the coolest thing about them.

Yu & Us

The Pramana Collective has been out of the box for about eight weeks. Amidst the typical startup stuff like getting office space (see above), developing a P&L, securing healthcare benefits, and discussing debating logos, we have had the opportunity to talk to a whole lot of people we respect about Pramana’s focus and intent and we’re grateful for the support and wise counsel.

It’s been affirming that folks not only understand what we look to accomplish by building a project-focused communications consultancy that focuses on big moments for organizations, but that they are enthusiastic about it. This has manifested itself in some early projects with innovative companies at unique moments that have been fascinating to dive into. We also continue to look for the best communications people to join us so we can meet our “collective” promise.

Today, we are making a big first step with the addition of Larry Yu as a partner. For nearly five years, Larry has been a key player at Facebook in his role as director of global communications and public policy. There, he built a great team and led the company through some of its biggest corporate and financial milestones. Among other gigs, Larry is also part of the Google and Cisco alum network.

Brian, Brandee and I have all worked with Larry in the past, and we know that his close-to-20 years of experience is a perfect fit for The Pramana Collective and our clients. Beyond being a thoughtful guy who is universally liked and respected, Larry knows how to navigate companies through chaotic growth stages with confidence and calm. And we all admire how he makes financials, process and operations look easy, maybe even fun (well, almost).

We look forward to Larry joining us in June and talking to others who may help fill out our office space and shape our direction.

(Brandee insisted that I add “Go Buffs” since she and Larry share an alma mater. I assume this is some sort of a nudist colony reference. Whatever floats your boat, guys.)

John's Tumblr: Foursquare

lilly:

I was really happy to hear the details of Foursquare’s financing this morning, but a little bummed to see how my conversation with Businessweek came out in the article, just saying that I thought the $600M price was too high.

What I spent probably 95% of my conversation with Businessweek…

I love how Greylock partner John Lilly took on how he was quoted in Businessweek quickly, directly and transparently. 

Finding Pramana

Brandee Barker has the calming wisdom of someone who learned a lifetime of lessons in her four years at Facebook. She started the company’s communications team and was its leader during Facebook’s most formative, fast-moving years. Brandee recognized that when you are moving at mind-bending speeds, you have to make 100 decisions a day and, within those, a few mistakes will be made. Brandee recognized and learned from both these mistakes and the many more successes gained by her and her team. She was my inspiration during my own journey of mistake/success reflection after my similar ride at Twitter.

Brian O’Shaughnessy makes things look easy. Yet, once you get past his self-deprecating jokes and his insistence on shining the light on others, you realize that you came away from a conversation with him twice as smart as when you started. And, one of most complex communications job in the last four years was running Skype’s. During that time, the company was owned by eBay, was spun out to a private equity consortium and then was sold to Microsoft. Off the original eBay/Skype management team when Brian started in 2008. He left in February as the last remaining one. This wasn’t easy. It reflects on Brian’s innate ability to bring disparate people and perspectives together to forge successful strategies through leadership defined by bullshit-free objectivity and a mastery of technical knowledge.

Brandee and Brian share an unwavering sense of loyalty, strength of character and a desire to apply their learnings to something meaningful.

I feel the same way. And I’m pleased to join these two people that I have so much respect for as partners and co-founders of The Pramana Collective.

Since The Pramana Collective comes from the same place as the philosophies that I’ve clearly, if infrequently, written about here, I won’t dive into our feelings about the state of communications and the great changes that all corners of marketing are facing as lines between disciplines blur. But, practically, this change will have us focused on client needs and not definitions of marketing terminology or dated dividing lines. For example, whatever ‘PR’ was and currently may be to some is not relevant to us now — nor was it when we ran teams at Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

The Pramana Collective is a project-focused communications consultancy. This means that we will work with an organization to help meet a specific opportunity or solve a particular issue for a finite period of time. Among the offering mix will be branding, messaging, campaign development, and road mapping communications functions. This is the type of work that Brandee and I have both enjoyed doing as consultants since Facebook and Twitter.

What we won’t do is stick around to be an agency of record that provides ongoing support.  We will provide objective recommendations on next steps and, as needed, suggest and help attain ongoing solutions of all stripes (in-house hires, consultants, agencies) to see through strategies. We look forward to partnering with our network of industry colleagues to find solutions for our clients long term interests.

Despite each of us having 20-plus years of experiences, multiple stints running comms teams for high-profile companies where we had amazing internal and external teams; we all would have benefitted in the past from having access to a partner peer set that provided actionable intelligence, straightforward advice and a pure project solution mindset like The Pramana Collective’s offering.

When you are moving at a blindingly fast pace while trying to grow a team that’s never quite big enough, it can be a constant battle to stay ahead of being reactive to both external and internal forces and create space to form proactive campaigns around important initiatives and big moments – be they known well in advance or appear suddenly. We look forward to working with all sizes and types of organizations that share our interest in substantive, transparent and integrated communications.

This brings us to our name — The Pramana Collective. For you logophiles the full definition of Pramana is here, but, in short, it’s the means by which one obtains accurate knowledge. We believe that an organization’s sometimes hidden or obscured truths are the most powerful messages to drive a conversation. And, the “collective” will be our employees, clients and partners who both feel and act the same way.

Our first priority is hiring like-minded people from both the traditional comms world and other marketing disciplines who command the respect of entrepreneurs and executives. Indeed, getting the word broadly out to top talent who may be mapping out next moves is our primary motivation to talking about our consultancy’s formation now. If you are interested or merely curious, find me at sean at pramanacollective dot com.

And know that we believe that the best people need to have dynamic careers. As our projects will be diverse in scope, so will be the professional paths of individuals on our team. We may be a long-term opportunity for some and, for others, we might be an opportunity to attain broad perspective in between in-house jobs. Indeed, we plan to borrow the entrepreneur in residence (EIR) model that venture capital firms use.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. Having a basic web site would be nice. Regardless, whether it’s teaming on the small stuff or the profound, getting to work with Brandee and Brian already has made this journey one worth taking.

Sean

++++

Brandee Barker
brandee at pramanacollective dot com
LinkedIn
@brandee

Brian O’Shaughnessy
brian at pramana collective dot com
LinkedIn
@brianosh

Sean Garrett
sean at pramanacollective dot com
LinkedIn
@SG

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