We are very excited to continue our public relations and crisis communications expert interview series with Dave Farrow, CEO of Farrow Communications.
Dave Farrow is best known for his brainpower. Listed twice in the Guinness Book of Records for Greatest Memory, he is first and foremost an entrepreneur who mastered PR to promote his own business. Most PR professionals have a background working in television BUT have no sales or entrepreneurial experience. As for Dave, he took his skill in memory and developed several educational products and used PR as his primary sales tool. His results are impressive.
Dave has personally been on over 2000 media interviews, including multiple appearances on Dr. Oz, Steve Harvey, the Today Show, Fox and Friends, CBS Early Show, Live! With Regis and Kelly, BBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, The CW, QVC, Discovery Channel, Science Channel, and was the star of a CBC documentary. Most recently, Farrow won the $50,000 prize on the new hit show SuperHuman on Fox.
Sales Records: Dave Farrow sold an impressive $170,000 in online products sales as a result of ONE radio interview, and over a quarter million as a result of ONE TV interview. His appearances on Dr. Oz and other prime-time shows have also been highly successful resulting in over $55,000 in sales. This sales volume landed Farrow on the Amazon bestseller list in the category of memory for over a year, a sponsorship deal with Sony Corporation, and several venture-backed infomercials. These endeavors resulted in estimated sales over 10 MILLION WORLDWIDE.
Dave says the secret of his PR success is that he has experience knocking on the media’s door and getting in for over 20 years. His success comes from years of practice selling his own products. For years he supported himself solely from the web sales he received from traffic after media interviews. As a result, he developed the skill of selling in interviews without sounding like a salesperson. Today he runs Farrow Communications and applies this experience to his client’s sales and marketing strategies.
What is reputation management? How does it relate to public relations?
Your reputation is a real asset or liability. In accounting terms, “Good Will” is essentially reputation and it accounts for much of the new sales a mature company experiences, so it is essential to keep it strong.
In our business, we are often hired to expand a person’s reputation by getting them exposure in the media. However, the type and quality of exposure will determine the results of their campaign and often their career.
Reputation is the intangible force that makes or breaks a company.
What are the biggest PR mistakes you see companies make online? How could these mistakes have been avoided?
In no particular order, the mistakes I see are: 1. Not being bold enough, not trying hard enough to stand out and be different. 2. Not being aware of the audience to whom they are speaking. Sending mixed messages or missing the talking point. 3. Making it all about them when they should focus on tying into other peoples’ stories, which is the key to growth of reputation. Tie your content and story to what others are talking about. Don’t be an island.
How does social media factor into your reputation management strategy?
The key to our social media strategy is to place the client as the expert in the area. This could be a field they wrote the book on or just had experience in, but all the content and focus revolves around being an expert, being professional, and sharing that expertise without talking down to the audience.
What is the first thing a company should do when there is a crisis online?
My first advice is to avoid the crisis. Many people try to step into a story because they are passionate about it, which can often get them in trouble, such as for reposting something. This criticism can defy logic as well. I also believe a post does not change the world as much as it is an expression of the individual.
If you are in a crisis the best plan is to be honest. If you made a mistake say why you made the mistake and why it is in keeping with your company’s values. The biggest advice on crisis communications I can give is to have verisimilitude. That is the internal truth about a subject. What I mean by this, is that every statement may not be what people want to hear but as long as it matches your internal values then you do not appear to be a hypocrite.
I decided a long time ago that our company would have a focus on free speech. That every voice deserves to get exposure and that we would, as a result, represent clients from any background or political view (of course this excludes anyone who incites hate or misinformation). As a result, we have had a variety of clients with different backgrounds. If a person says they do not like what one client says, I simply respond by saying it is my job to help them say it and that the public has the right to decide. In this way, I have represented clients from all kinds of backgrounds, but I am keeping true to our original principles or free speech and assisting voices to get exposure.
I believe every company should look at their actions and not necessarily try to appeal to every individual or group in the world. But rather to have a mission and be true to that mission. This way, your communications should match that mission.
When you follow your values instead of the crowd the conversation changes to give a reason behind the crisis.
For example: If you have a creative person who makes the mistake of hitting a hot button political issue the response might be something like:
“We believe in giving our creative people freedom to be creative, in this case, it went too far and the person has been let go as a result; however we still believe giving creators freedom helps us connect better to our customers in general.”
Most people would not argue with the first statement being laudable and thus the company has verisimilitude.
What can employees do to help their company during and after a PR crisis?
I think they can focus on helping point out the goals of the company and that the goal was laudable. They can support the company by separating its core values from the action that was permitted. This is like when a group of people in America do something terrible. People respond by saying that is not what America means to them etc. That is our natural desire to separate the action from the core values of the nation.
In the same way, a good communications plan can set in stone what a company believes in and stands for. Then, if/when there is a crisis, it is inoculated against that bad news. It can keep its core values and cut out the cancer.
What can senior executives and companies do to better prepare for a PR crisis?
Executives are key to defining the values of a company. They need to look deeply into the company and decide what it stands for. Is it family-friendly? Is it progressive and rebellious? Is it stable and apolitical? Defining what the company wants to be then communicating it is key.
Also, I would add that communicating your core values without words is most important. Communicate the core values of a business with actions. If you are working on diversity, then work on it. Put the work into hiring and internal development. If you are saying you care about gender relations, then implement a plan to help female employees move forward in the company after having children (the most common reason why women do not reach executive levels). In general offer things like flex time, flex pay, or other modern adaptations as solutions. Take the right actions first, then tell people what you did.
The plan needs to fit the company and be in tune with its values. As Yoda says “do or do not, there is no try”
Is reputation management getting easier or harder? Why?
I think it’s getting harder to be fake and that can be good. But it’s also harder to be private. Social media culture has given everyone the right to be a virtual paparazzi. I am not happy about this change, but it is here to stay for now. There may be a future law or cultural shift, that values privacy more, but so far Andy Warhol was right about everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame. Whether they like it or not.
What has been your biggest PR or crisis communications challenge? How did you handle it?
I am not at liberty to talk about specific client situations. I keep that confidential. There are still some things in the world that are private.
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