I moved to California in 1999 to work for an e-commerce start-up in
San Diego. I had grown up in Oklahoma and immediately fell in love with
the southern California lifestyle. I loved the girls, the surfing, and
the sun. I also loved being the business development director of a
$120 million e-commerce start-up. But one morning near the end of
the company's life span, I received an e-mail from the controller.
His message was directed to all employees stating "the cleaning crew has
been picking up half-empty cans of soda, which means you aren't drinking
all the contents. We will not continue to purchase beverages for the
staff if the privilege is taken for granted."
We were burning more than $3 million a month on infrastructure
I was flying first-class to New York and back on a weekly basis, and all
of a sudden he was monitoring how much Yoohoo I was drinking.
The deals were easy to close during that frenzied internet period, and
the engineering department reached critical mass in a matter of
My whole career focus had been in PR, so I moved over to the PR
department to begin announcing the largest partnerships. I learned from
working at Alexander Ogilvy as an account manager that it was actually
possible to brand a company through its IPO in a matter of months or in
one intense press tour. All I needed was the CEO's availability and a
Interviews took place with The New York Times, Forbes, Business Week,
CBS Market-watch, and Reuters, all discussing our new leadership
position in the e-commerce space. I was exhausted from the back-to-back
meetings and breathless with anticipation of the forthcoming investor
road show that would lead to our public offering. The press came fast
and traffic soared. Then something totally unexpected happened. The
remainder of the press tour with trade publication editors was canceled
by the VP of marketing.
The reason given was the search engine wasn't working properly. Huh?
I lived in a $1500-a-month apartment on the beach that I shared
with the Chief Search Engine Technologist, a 21-year-old whiz kid who
assured me the site was fine. Instead of going forward with the press
tour and completing the PR campaign, I was asked to stop all PR
No more soft drinks, no more press tours, and no revenue. Everywhere I
looked there were lists of dot-coms going down the drain. Everything in
my soul was telling me now was the time for PR - but our leader clearly
didn't see it that way.
I was unsure for a while about what to do with all the exposure we had
received in the national business press. It had to be worth
Otherwise, why was I doing PR for a living? I calculated the exposure
was worth a grand total of $15K, the amount we would have spent
had I used an agency instead of doing it alone. I went to the controller
and told him that I would stop consuming free soft drinks and walk out
the door if he paid me the $15K. He wrote a check for $10K
and we parted ways.
I surfed up and down the SoCal coast for about a year until I ran out of
money and landed a job at a small PR firm in Del Mar. I was fired within
a month for not studying the technology I was supposed to be
The truth is I had - temporarily - lost faith in PR.
After that, I moved back to my original home in Oklahoma City and took a
job waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant owned by Barry Switzer. There
I met a board member of a $3 million dollar online education
start-up who needed help in business development.
I joined the company last summer and quickly closed a few deals. I've
since moved over to become the PR director and have scheduled an
interview with Business Week in late January to discuss these
PR is powerful. It can feed you when you are starving and give you a
flair for the fantastic. It is perhaps the only skill I have to rely
upon to live out my life. It can take its servants to wondrous heights
and dizzying drops, but we shouldn't lose faith in it because the
business we worked for didn't live up to expectations. I wouldn't change
a thing though, would you?