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global tech pr expert - Chosun Ilbo Weekly Biz interview

“Tech PR Expert for Global Companies” Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency

“The era in which everyone wants only beautiful stories is over. Consumers are more attracted to companies that are not afraid to stay honest and show their weaknesses.”

Lou Hoffman (Age 58), CEO of The Hoffman Agency, is a corporate PR expert. After attending the University of Arizona, CEO Lou Hoffman launched The Hoffman Agency, a PR agency with a focus on the technology sector, in 1987 after six years working at PR companies. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, California, The Hoffman Agency has offices in seven countries across the globe. The agency has led PR campaigns when a variety of tech companies, including HP, IBM, Google, Twitter and Evernote, entered the global market.

I met Mr. Hoffman at his company’s headquarters located in San Jose, California, where he offered four PR tips.

#1: Be confident. Be honest and show your weaknesses.

PR spin is a traditional PR tactic used to twist weaknesses so that the audience only sees the positive side.

Companies tend to think that demonstrating only their perfect sides is good PR, but this strategy should be reconsidered.

No company is perfect. Embellishing and creating a company that is different from reality is not effective PR.

In an era where social media allows consumers to freely communicate with each other, attempts to hide weaknesses don’t work. Companies that show only positive sides can increase consumers’ skepticism, allowing them to think, “Is this information provided by the company correct? Is the company only trying to show me the parts that are beneficial to them?” Eventually, it can backfire, making companies lose the trust of consumers.

Every company experiences failure. I believe that accepting failures and overcoming challenges are effective ways to communication. They show the company is human. Failure is more interesting than a perfect and beautiful story. One of the latest trends is that more consumers crave companies trying to “gain empathy” based on the “right facts.” I always say this when I meet an entrepreneur: “Are you confident in your company and product? If so, be confident. And be honest.”

#2: The essence of advertising is memorable images.

Advertising understands the concepts of storytelling.

One of the biggest trends in advertising and communications in general is visual storytelling. People say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I believe that. One image gets imprinted in the consumer’s head and lasts longer. Due to this, the app trend is shifting to image-based. New apps to communicate with photos or videos, such as Instagram or Snapchat, are more popular than old text-based apps. People consume visuals much faster and easier than words. Responding to this trend, companies should pay attention to “pictures” when advertising and communicating. It means that they should prepare photos or videos that not only draw attention immediately, but also deliver memorable stories.

#3: Make CEO the hero.

“In corporate PR, many people think that introducing a company based on scientific facts such as its product features is the way to go. While it is crucial to explain what the product is, the most effective way to introduce the company is to tell the bigger story. For this reason, there is no better hero in corporate PR than a CEO. Not only for startups but also for large corporations, a CEO should be the center of PR. More customers want to learn details about the company than ever before, so an executive’s philosophy, background and goal in creating the product become one of the customer’s major interests.

This is why we recently see more celebrity CEOs. For instance, Apple’s Steve Jobs was the most prominent entrepreneur of his time. Because he had a large number of passionate fans, the entire world sent condolences when he passed away. Many corporate CEOs, including Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Internet video service Netflix’s Reed Hastings, electric car company Tesla’s Elon Musk, have become celebrities. Even their private lives — like marriage and divorce — become hot topics every day. The impact of a CEO in PR is powerful. The more the executive is attractive to the public, the more interest and affection grow for the company’s products. If a company wants to increase the public’s interest in it beyond just its product, its CEO should be a major part of the PR campaign.

#4: Tell a story that people want to hear, not what you want to say.

During an interview, most CEOs accompanied by PR professionals often reply with prepared answers.

This is not effective. The interviewer does not want a robotic answer. Those can be found by browsing the company website instead of meeting with the executive. Instead, the CEO and other executives should engage in a real discussion and share stories.

Rather than promote the company, executives should think like the journalist thinks. Share information that is not in the public domain so the journalist can write a fresh story, not a story just based on a news release. Of course, PR professionals strive to maximize the company’s or the client’s public profile. On the other hand, the journalist is writing the story from the perspective of the entire industry. This gap can never be completely closed, but savvy PR professionals can minimize the gap.