Living three different lives shaped my life today.
Before I was forced to go into business for myself (I'll explain more later) and offer my skill set to help the masses, I lived three different lives - or at least it feels like it. Each life preparing me for a greater purpose that I was unable to realize at the time. My experiences equated to a storied life, allowing me to acquire specific tools leading me to where I am today.
Growing up the focus at home and school was on a perpetual preparation for entering the workforce. Starting my own business never crossed my mind. There wasn’t much emphasis in the curriculum on entrepreneurship. I had been programmed from the start to work for someone else.
Life #1 - Collegiate & Professional Athlete
At the time all that "real job" talk didn't mean much to me anyway. I was going to be a professional baseball player. In fact, that was my first job (Life #1). After college at the University of San Diego where I pitched for the Division 1, West Coast Conference champion USD Toreros, I signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs.
Collegiate and professional sports provided the armor I would need to persevere in my next two lives. At the time I didn't know, but I was building a mental-makeup that would allow me to push through during the physically and mentally challenging times.
When competing at the highest level it becomes a constant battle between yourself to handle failure, stress, focus on the task at hand, perform in uncomfortable environments and shut out the surrounding noise.
Working with a diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds, with different egos and personalities was an introduction to teamwork that most don't have the opportunity to experience. It's not just working in unison toward a common goal - but working together while executing your particular function with the objective of not letting your teammates down. That's teamwork!
After playing for a year with Chicago I was released. I got the phone call from the Cubs minor league director on my birthday. I'm not going to lie, it was a punch to the gut. But, I was confident that I could sign with another team and get a second shot. The fire was still burning strong and I wasn't ready to hang it up - so I kept working and trained harder.
Then something strange happened. This little thing called "life" got in the way and had other plans for me. I ended up hurting my arm while throwing batting practice to a group of high school kids that a friend of mine coached.
Enter, Life #2.
Life #2 - United States House of Representatives
The arm injury wasn't extremely severe, but required a good 3 to 4 months of rehab.
Here I am with a damaged rotator cuff and a degree in Political Science. What the hell am I suppose to do with a degree in Political Science? Apparently, people who major in Political Science go on to law school? Or so I was told. No thanks!
A friend of mine said, "you should volunteer on a political campaign." The thought was, go volunteer, get your feet wet and see if it's something you like. Heck, I got nothing to loose, might as well give it a try. Best part about it, I can rehab at the same time. Win-win.
I reached out to the campaign manager of then candidate, Brian Bilbray. The reason I picked his campaign was because I remember his yard signs from when I was a kid. This was during his first stint in Congress in 1994. He lost in 2000, but chose to run again in 2006. That's when I came on board.
Well, one day a week led to volunteering two days a week. Then, two days a week turned into three and four. Do you see a pattern materializing? I was hooked. I loved it. The stress of a fast paced campaign with 16 other candidates all vying for the coveted title of "Member of Congress" was right up my alley.
Not to mention I was learning more than I ever could have in school. Education by fire!
Did I mention that the race was a special election being covered closely by the national media? The previous Congressman was found guilty of taking bribes and violating a whole host of federal laws. It was a huge story that garnered national attention.
Fast-forward five months and we got a winner... Bilbray. Out of 16 other candidates the guy I end up volunteering for wins. What!
Then comes the phone call (better than the phone call from the Cubs). I'm offered a position with the newly elected Congressman. I'm 24 years old at the time and just got asked to work for a Member of Congress. What!
Now the dilemma. The fork in the road moment. Continue to pursue my baseball career or take the road to Congress?
I pondered my choices. It wasn't easy. Closing the door on a dream to pursue a once in a lifetime opportunity was more than difficult.
At the end of the day I made a choice. And there hasn't been a day that's gone by since where I regretted my decision.
So, my adventure into politics began. Only thing was, it didn't feel like an adventure. It was like being thrust into a hurricane. I didn't have an iota of experience and now, all of a sudden I'm meeting with CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies and scientists who were the first to map the human genome.
I remember the first time I had to give a speech. I was more than green. It was to a crowd of about 300 Farm Bureau members at their annual dinner. My heart was pumping. The adrenaline was flowing. But, because of Life #1, I was able to fall back on my past experience and control the anxiety... stay composed - just like pitching in front of thousands.
That was the first time I can actually remember thinking, "experiences matter." If it weren't for my past experiences I would have never been able to handle that situation.
What I learned in my seven years campaigning and meeting with constituents, doing crack of dawn TV interviews and late night public events opened my eyes to the power of publicity and positive exposure.
I got really good a what I did. I learned how to communicate with people and speak to them in a way that inspired confidence. Though the job was relentless and the speed was breakneck it became second nature. The longer I did it, the more it slowed down.
That's where I met comfortably. At first, this role was intense and challenging. The stakes were always high. Because members of Congress are up for reelection every two years, we were in constant campaign mode. It was a 24/7 grind to get out in the community and meet with constituents.
Days began at 6 a.m. with media appearances, followed by meetings all over the district, capped off with after-hour fundraisers that often went until midnight. Then I’d wake up and do it all over again. It took about three years to get used to the craziness. When I did, it was comforting. The days were long, but at least they were predictable. There is solace in routine.
When I accepted the role, I thought I’d stay on for two years. I stayed for seven, lured by the security that comes from staying in your comfort zone. If we hadn’t lost re-election in 2012, I would most likely still be in politics today.
Cue, Life #3
Life #3 - Tech Startup World
Let me start by saying Holy SH#%. The startup world was like nothing I had ever seen/experienced before. I came from the land of suit & ties. I had no idea there was a land of shorts & flip-flops!
The 22 year old CEO, who I previously met during my time in Congress reached out a few days after the Registrar of Voters officially tallied up the final vote count. They were a small company doing big things and were ready to "grow up."
They wanted me to do for them what I was doing for the Congressman. Essentially create a ton of visibility and get people around town familiar with the company. They were going to give me the keys and let me do whatever I wanted - that's how much trust they had in me.
Another turning point in my career presented itself. Do I completely change paths and start over in a new industry I hadn't a clue about, or stay with what I was good at and where I'm most comfortable... politics?
Honestly, I think I said to myself, "efff it... let's do this!" "Why the hell not?"
I jumped in and it was off to the races. We went from being a relatively unknown to the most popular company in San Diego. From a team of 10 to 80 in just four years. With a barely recognizable reputation, we'd grow our customer-base, our annual revenue, and become one of most desirable companies to work for in the industry.
All of this in large part due to our relentless pursuit of publicity by any & all positive means necessary.
How did we do it?
We established a positive relationships with local news outlets, getting covered by reporters, and highlighting what made the company different from all the other massive tech companies.
However, the focus was not all about media attention. We established relationships with with every community leader, stakeholder and elected official in the region. This helped build our credibility and create opportunities to collaborate with others who already had a large following/brand. In my workbook I call that the "piggy back effect."
When you average about one new award every month, nothing about it is easy. However, it's certainly not the unattainable feat you probably think it is - and that they had no idea was even possible!
Things were going great. All the hard work, awards, media coverage was paying off. Soon we would have reporters reaching out to us for a comment or story idea. We were constantly being approaced to team with a local leader for an event or media appearance. You know that saying "people want to associate with winners,?" That was us. Everybody wanted a piece of us.
Just as my previous job in Congress, I was becoming comfortable in my current roll.
Surprise! Life Today
It wasn't until after year 4 with the company that my life would change again. I was confident in my value to the organization, and I knew I was good at my job. So my heart didn’t sink when the Chief Revenue Officer called me into a meeting. We talked at least 10 times a day. As he explained that the company needed to downsize temporarily and allocate resources to other areas, I felt instantly numb. He understood the value of positive publicity. Where was this conversation going?
He didn’t ask me to pack my things and go. Changes were imminent, but they hadn’t started yet. Instead of sitting back and waiting for the inevitable, he asked if I would consider starting my own business, so I could continue working with the company as an independent contractor.
When success is synonymous with job security.
Before that, starting my own business had never crossed my mind. Growing up, the focus, at home and at school, was on perpetual preparation for entering the workforce. There wasn’t much emphasis in the curriculum on entrepreneurship. I had been programed from the start to work for someone else.
Both of my parents worked 9-to-5 jobs for more than 30 years, and I admired their hard work and loyalty. Company benefits like health insurance, a 401(k) and paid time-off have real merit. I revered the “steady paycheck.” To me, success was job security.
A “comfortable” life was a life well-lived.
Starting my own venture felt entirely at odds with how I measured success. Sure, my employer would sign on as my first client, but for how long? One client was in no way going to be enough to pay my bills and sustain somewhat of a comfortable life. The money concerns were real, but I was even more concerned with my ability to deliver. Providing measurable value is important to me. If and when I got more clients, how would I provide them all true value, without giving them 100 percent of my time?
The CRO hadn’t said it outright, but the message was clear: Start your own business or you will likely be let go. Should I start scouring Indeed, or searching for a domain name for a company I was being “forced” to start? Both choices felt risky.
A love affair with comfort.
Now it is clear that going out on my own was a massive step forward for my career and my growth. But at the time, I wasn’t sure how to see it, perhaps because it was someone else’s idea and not my own.
“Comfort” and “security” were rewards hard-won. I was results-driven and hardworking -- but I was comfortable. Comfort was not something to be taken lightly. I had lived the alternative. I had been uncomfortable.
As I contemplated my CRO’s proposal, I thought about how losing the election had forced me to make a change that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. Once again, a catalyst was forcing me to grow.
I chose to start my PR agency. I was lucky to have my former employer confirmed as a client from day one, but to me the decision still felt risky, which tells you something about my tolerance for risk. The decision forced me to reflect on how I measured success and what I wanted from a career.
I didn’t think I had what it takes to start my own business. “That’s for other people,” I thought. “They build those people in a different factory in some far away land.” But entrepreneurs don’t need to be cavaliers. You can build your business on sound decision-making, and by embracing, and learning from, failure, and taking calculated risks that you can afford to weather.
Almost three years later, it is hard to identify with that former “me” -- the one who was afraid to take the reins and step outside his comfort zone. In doing so, my comfort zone expanded!
It is OK to value security and thrive on routine, but I made room in my definition of success for personal and professional development. I do have what it takes to run my own business and, truth be told, I find comfort in that.
I began helping ambitious entrepreneurs gain attention and get noticed over their competitors.
Along the way I had friends and colleagues ask me for advice and help getting their businesses visibility. This is where I began to see a real need for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses to be able and leverage the power of positive publicity.
I began growing tired of traditional PR and marketing tactics. I would constantly hear horror stories of agencies charging tens of thousands and providing little to no value for their clients. I despised how industry insiders would act like what they did was rocket science and that nobody else could do what they do.
I soon began to realize that these insiders were purposely making things more difficult than they should be. All in the name of job security! I had enough of it.
Because of this, I began to substitute positive publicity for public relations. I grew tired of the latter phrase. It’s such a stale term. In my experience working with entrepreneurs and startups, public relations elicits confusion and apprehension, and it carries a negative connotation.
When I meet people, I used to tell them I was in public relations. They immediately looked at me as if I was an apprentice to Francis Underwood from House of Cards.
Positive publicity is what PR aims to create.
That’s why I now substitute positive publicity. At the end of the day, that’s all public relations is. It’s acquiring positive attention through various means, leading more people to becoming familiar with who you are and what you do. It’s building credibility through positive visibility -- which is priceless in business.
Public relations is what the agencies call it. It’s what the self-described “gurus,” who have all the answers and know your company better than you, call it too. But I like to use layman's terms. None of that inside-baseball marketing jargon.
If you’re a small business, startup or solopreneur, positive publicity is something you can do on your own, so you can get the returns you’re looking for without wasting money. Best thing is, you don’t need a marketing degree to be successful at it.
By the time I started my positive publicity campaign, I had accumulated 100+ awards for dozens of incredible leaders and their companies, plus landed hundreds of interviews and media placements all over TV, print and the internet, including:
- Forbes 30 Under 30
- EY Entrepreneur of the Year
- Entrepreneur.com Top Company Cultures
- Inc. Top Workplaces in the United States
- San Diego Business Journal #1 Most Admired CEO
- Inc. 5000
- San Diego Union-Tribune #1 Top Workplace
Imagine someone pounding the pavement, telling everyone how amazing your business is. They go from door to door, coffee shop to coffee shop, telling everyone how awesome you are.
Now, multiply that by 114 million. That's what it's like when Forbes covers you. It's like having 114 million people singing your praises. When you read an article or blog about how a company, or person is doing something really cool, do you ever wonder how they got there? More importantly, do you wonder if you knew what they know... could that be you and your business?
I'm here to show you that this person didn't start out anyone special.
I want to show you that those stories you are reading can be you. Do you think these people and businesses landed the front page of the Wall Street Journal with their very first pitch and zero connections?
Do you think if you simply knew more about how to identify the stories that reporters and media outlets are looking for, you might gain some new business, customers, and have people checking out just what you're all about?
Do you believe that if you were just able to get some spotlight on what you're doing, your business would boom, and you might be able to take that Bali trip you've always wanted?
But it takes time, resources, and inside knowledge that PR and marketing agencies make you believe you don't have. The typical PR contract starts out around $5,000, and often goes into five digits within six months. Because of this, 98% of companies simply just can't afford to even entertain the idea of doing PR. It doesn't have to be so difficult... And it doesn't have to be so expensive.
First, and foremost, attaining publicity is about building credibility...
It's about getting people and organizations of influence to say good things about you, and more frequently. Having a positive and prominent presence attracts new customers, and gives existing customers more reasons to stay.
Having a reputation of strong leadership, cultural diversity and innovation are traits that keep high-performing employees from jumping ship and keep qualified applicants knocking on your door.
If your company was nominated for Best Company Culture, don't you think you'd be talking about it? It all starts with identifying your unique opportunities and refining the message you live and work by.