Silicon Valley – The HBO Show (not the place)

SiliconWhile binge watching HBO’s Silicon Valley last weekend, I was thinking about whether the show actually mirrors reality, or if it’s mostly a work of fiction. Since I’ve never started up a tech company, I don’t have an opinion on how real that aspect of the show is, but since I do spend my days in the worlds of finance and communications, and I did work for a tech company that was incubated, I believe that the show’s conversations about venture capital, fund raising and public perception are pretty on the money (pun intended).

So, I thought a blog about Silicon Valley (the show) and its ties to business and celebrity of Silicon Valley (the place) might be interesting. But when I sat down to actually write something, I couldn’t quite figure out how to relate what I’ve seen on the small screen to my life in investor relations. That got me pulling up a search engine (one based in Silicon Valley, of course) on the off chance there might be something that would help stir my creative side. Much to my surprise, when I typed “HBO’s Silicon Valley and business” into the search bar, I got 421,000 results. Titles like, “3 Management Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley,” “Business Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley” and “INCUBATE THIS: Trade Secrets Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley” made me realize that this is a topic that has been done before.

At the risk of being somewhat of a copycat, here’s a quick summary of the lessons a lot of bloggers and journalists want to you take away from the show:

  • From Hivewyre: Have a work/life balance. “By taking the occasional break (or, gasp— even a vacation) you’re doing yourself and the company some good. Doing so means recharging your batteries, clearing your head, and coming back ready to kill it!”
  • From InsideCounsel: Protect your IP. “It is important for these companies to invest in protecting its own IP so that it can use that IP to defend itself if necessary.”
  • From WeberShandwick: Clear messaging is essential. “Especially in deep tech, it’s easy to get caught up in the specs and techs of a product. Our challenge is to elevate the messaging to something meaningful, but not generic. Instead of “making the world a better place,” can you get more specific?”
  • From Forbes: Do your homework. “Startups need to have the basics buttoned up long before raising money.”
  • From The Business Journals: Assembling a board is not an easy task. “Good board members can help young companies gain credibility and open doors. Board seats are valued rewards for key investors and personnel. But they also carry tremendous responsibility. Board members must place the company’s interests ahead of their own. And for every new board seat created, the value of every other board seat is diminished. The lesson: board positions matter and should be given out very carefully.”

If you haven’t given the show a chance, check it out. It’s politically incorrect and foul-mouthed, but an incredibly funny look at the culture of tech start-ups, and a fountain of good information…for what NOT to do!

— Laurie Berman,

Transparency Matters

“Think outside the box.”  “Stretch your imagination.”  “No idea is too big or too small.”  How many times have we heard those phrases when brainstorming solutions?  Everyone who practices our craft strives to be as creative as possible to generate the best results for our clients, but how many communications professionals fully understand the ramifications of their chosen strategy?  That’s why this story about a top-five public relations firm really piqued my interest.
I am not using this blog to place blame (plenty of media outlets have already done that), but rather to examine what happened and help others learn how to avoid what has become a rather public embarrassment for said PR firm.
On behalf of an unnamed client, who has since been identified as Facebook, Burson-Marsteller began a “whisper” campaign against Google to shed light on some of their privacy practices, presumably in the name of helping Facebook get out ahead of the competition.  While this practice might not seem extraordinary, the way the campaign was conducted, and the fact that it came from a highly respected firm, was a bit unorthodox.
The events:

  1. A Burson employee, former political columnist John Mercurio, offered to ghost write and place an op-ed column for former FTC researcher and blogger Christopher Soghoian, but would not provide the name of the client to Soghoian.

  2. Soghoian responded by posting Mercurio’s email pitch, along with his rejection, on the Internet. According to Forbes, Soghoian said, “I am quite capable of authoring my own anti-google stuff thank you.”

  3. USA Today devoted a story to the campaign about a week later, which included information about the pitch they received from Burson employee Jim Goldman, a former CNBC reporter.

  4. Former Internet analyst Henry Blodget, who now writes for Silicon Alley Insider, later proclaimed, “BUSTED: Former CNBC Tech Reporter Jim Goldman Caught Spreading Lies About Google For Unnamed PR Client.”

  5. Burson-Marsteller says that it shouldn’t have pitched negative Google stories on behalf of Facebook.

In their apology, Burson conceded that, “When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.”
Media is a fantastic tool to get your messages to a broad group of people, but remember that everything you say or write is “on the record.”  Should we continue to find creative ways to disseminate messages?  Of course.  Should we do so without transparency?  Absolutely not.  In most cases, taking the high road is indeed the best course of action.


Laurie Berman,