A Startup CEO’s Perspective on Public Relations

A Startup CEO’s Perspective on Public RelationsWMA Corner Office Interview with Malauzai CEO, Tom Shen

Recently, Bevin Wallace had an interesting conversation with Tom Shen, CEO of Malauzai. See below for his insightful responses on public relations.

What role has PR played in the launch/success of your company?

PR has played a pivotal role in the initial launch and continued success of our company by helping us get the good news out to the public. It has driven sales in two different ways. The companies we are trying to reach would not necessarily have heard about us without our appearances in the media. With the help of public relations, our target customers are now able to read about our innovations in the trade magazines and reach out to us. The media results from PR also provide Malauzai with reinforcement. It helps our sales force when they are out in the field working with prospects and even customers. It legitimizes us as a company when our prospects read about our products and some of the actions we are taking. It’s a bitlike Ferraris—one day someone talked about a red Ferrari and three days later they can be seen all over the streets. Ultimately, public relations has garnered us business.


What would you say to a fellow CEO who is skeptical of starting a PR program?

In my opinion, public relations is the most cost-effective way to get your message and your brand out in the marketplace. I think the most important advice I would give is that you need to be organizationally ready to work with a public relations firm. Otherwise, you will not get optimum results.  You have to have a plan, define the desired outcome, and have seasoned internal resources to work with the agency to make sure you’re maximizing your PR spend.

How much of your time is spent performing PR related activities, and is it worth it?

Typically, I spend between 60 and 90 minutes per week involved with PR activities between calls, approving items and communicating with customers on our behalf. I absolutely feel that it is more than worth it. We have received huge returns based on our investment with WMA.

How should CEOs explain the importance of PR to their CFOs and investors?

For Malauzai, we engaged WMA early while we were in “stealth mode.”  I will admit, we were a bit skeptical about the value of public relations at that stage; our opinions changed very quickly though. We got WMA up to speed about our business, product and positioning. We had a strategy in mind, and we had items that we had pre-determined we would not compromise on. We drew up a box of how we wanted this to work and of lines that could not be crossed; upon doing so, we made sure to communicate this to the agency. We helped educate WMA on our business and on our strategy, and then the agency polished our message to get it out to the marketplace. We hit the ground running at the right time. It was a collaborative and communicative effort.

Some CEOs enjoy PR activities and some don’t enjoy it. Do you think a CEO’s role in PR affects the overall success in a program?

Yes, absolutely. I think the sweet spot and most effective way to get the full value of PR is for me to be involved in the strategic messaging. I thoroughly enjoy participating and contributing.

How important are the relationships you have with the editors and reporters covering your industry?

Not as much as you might expect. However, I do know who the reporters and editors are, and I recognize them at a trade show and say hello. If part of the outcome that we want was to get my name out there, I would say that’s important. At Malauzai, we were very intentional about Robb Gaynor, our Chief Product Officer and chief innovator, to lead the charge, while I focused on corporate and business development.  I want Robb to be the person that people call when they have a mobile question, and that is absolutely the case today.

Do you believe the PR program is aligned and supports your company’s strategic goals and objectives?

Absolutely. It is a critical part of what we do.  Our name as well as our brand is a little bit quirky. Our messaging is provocative and intriguing, which has appealed to reporters. Public relations is a 24/7/365 day activity. It’s like brushing your teeth—you’ve got to do it every day. I now see and recognize how important this is—even the weekly calls between our company and WMA. A lot of CEOS may choose not to invest their time this way.

And when you have an agency that works so closely with your organization such as WMA does with Malauzai, they become an extension of your team. They are a strategic resource and voice for you at conferences, trade shows and other public events; they have your best interest in mind. When they know your business and core objectives, they can even sell your value to others.

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