The Sky is the limit, but there is no comfort zone. This is true for all of us. Our only limitations are ourselves. I’ve learned to hire for mindset and aptitude over skill. People’s instinctive reactions are telling, and it becomes easy over time to determine who is prepared to play “all-out” and who is perpetually looking for an arrangement to minimize their work and allow them to deflect accountability and blame onto others. The best practitioners are energized by challenges, not undone by them.
As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Snapp Conner. She is the founder and CEO of SnappConner PR and creator of Content University™. She is a speaker, author, and national columnist on business communication and PR. In 2014, ClearPoint Strategies named her one of the world’s Top 20 Business Thought Leaders to Follow.
Since the launch of SnappConner PR in April 2007, the agency has established itself as the top US thought leadership and communications firm, winning Top Tech Communicator recognition and multiple awards for agency growth. Prior to forming her first agency in 1989, Snapp Conner was Director of Public Relations for Novell. For six years from 2012–2018 Conner contributed to the Entrepreneurs channel for Forbes as a PR and business communications expert. She’s also been a guest contributor to WSJ Startups, a regular contributor to Inc. and since mid-2019 has been authoring a bi-weekly PR and entrepreneurship column for Entrepreneur magazine.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My PR Career is a lucky accident. Most people believe I was a PR major in college, but I was not — I had a minor in English, but majored in Family Resource Management, as I anticipated becoming perhaps a part-time English professor and a stay at home mom. But life had other plans. When my three oldest sons were small (I now also have two adopted Russian children and since 2003, four stepchildren, all now grown), the need arose for me to go to work I attempted to apply for a documentation position at a technology organization, Novell. But the two jobs had already been filled by the time the ads hit the local paper. By fortunate destiny, I was directed to the PR department and the rest, as they say, is history.
Within three months I was named PR manager of Novell and hung onto my hat through 4 acquisitions and an IPO, all while doing my best in raising my three sons. Ultimately, I realized something would have to give and made the anguishing decision to leave my role and work from home.
And so I did. And prospective clients found me immediately due to the work I’d done in the technology ecosystem through Novell. My income tripled and I never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There are so many stories. Maybe the most beneficial one is a scenario that’s repeated itself many times. PR can be a vicious line of work on many occasions. I’ve learned many times to hold my tongue and sleep on a situation before reacting when someone is cutting loose on me unfairly and that one piece of wisdom has paid off every time. People who lose their temper or behave badly are in actuality communicating much more about themselves than they are inflicting any kind of genuine harm on others. As one of my top business heroes, serial entrepreneur Alan Hall, has said, “The market corrects itself quickly enough. You don’t need to help.”
He is right. Put your focus on doing the right things that represent your own character and ethos instead of reacting to the actions of anyone else. In most cases, it’s best to stay calm and ignore the drama. If you retain your own focus, the “noise” will fade away of its own accord.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made many, I have to admit. One of the funniest was accidentally faxing to a reporter (yes, we used to send out our news via fax) not only the press release but also the internal Q&A intended to guide the company spokespeople on how to respond. I was mortified. I called up the fax operator on the other end and asked to hear him ripping up the paper before the reporter would see it.
Another time, early in the days of webcasting, the service provider was afraid of the internet connection failing during a global announcement the next day, so they left the connection running through the night but didn’t mention that fact. The result: we unwittingly broadcasted our dress rehearsal the next morning to a group assembled for a celebration cocktail party before the announcement began. It was awful. I learned to double-check the internet and camera connections first before rehearsing or beginning any kind of event.
I’ve learned that mistakes are a gift that teaches you important lessons and keeps you humble.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There are perhaps too many to number, but most especially the developments in renewable and sustainable energy and in breakthroughs around instant and home-available tests for COVID infection, windows of contagion, and the presence of antibodies. These are developments that are changing the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. The Sky is the limit, but there is no comfort zone. This is true for all of us. Our only limitations are ourselves. I’ve learned to hire for mindset and aptitude over skill. People’s instinctive reactions are telling, and it becomes easy over time to determine who is prepared to play “all-out” and who is perpetually looking for an arrangement to minimize their work and allow them to deflect accountability and blame onto others. The best practitioners are energized by challenges, not undone by them.
2. Think of yourself as an organization of one and take 100% responsibility for your own success and for your business success. I wish I had learned this lesson much sooner. My organization began to thrive when I took over the responsibility for our financial management and growth and stopped yielding to the pressure of “experts.” At a certain point, you know what needs to be done and you learn to discipline yourself and others to achieve it. The so-called experts who pressure you to hike up overhead and amass debt are pursuing a different agenda. Don’t let anyone dissuade you from protecting your company’s long-term viability and health, but work to make it possible for every person to rise as far and as fast as they are able alongside or within it.
3. Always be innovating. When you get complacent and stand still you will fail. Thought leadership. Authorship and publishing. Value-add content over hype and promotion. Smart use of every kind of media including online, print, podcast, and broadcast. Develop new areas of service before they are needed and you will thrive in every market condition as it comes.
4. Think through your customer’s eyes about what they need and want as opposed to what you are determined to sell and the price you are determined to charge them. If you can find the intersection between what you do best and enjoy most and what the client wants to receive, your services will fairly well sell themselves and you can obtain the price you will need. When you’re locked into trying to enforce what you want under the pretense of “value-based pricing,” in the few cases where you actually get it, the relationship is destined to be short and painful. Be very careful about creating a word track about your worth that doesn’t mesh with the market or the needs of the customer you’re addressing. You earn what you need by providing value the customer is seeking and by treating them in the way you would want to be treated, not by bulldozing over them with a “word track” about the value of what you’re trying to sell.
5. Be open-minded. But when an idea doesn’t work, move on! This is my one and even only regret about my business background. When a person or program isn’t working out, pivot quickly. Do not allow the anguish to carry on for seasons or years. Save what works, and when something isn’t working out as hoped for, move on.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I guess for me the principles of networking are intuitive. In actuality, I am fairly introverted and am far more comfortable in a smaller group of people I thoroughly respect and enjoy than within a larger assembly of relative strangers. But the key to networking is to follow up, formalize a connection, and do so to add value in every case, as opposed to pressing others for favors. If you do this, when the time comes that you need to ask for help from others, you will be astonished at how willing your friends and associates will be to help out when everyone is genuinely helping each other without the need to keep score.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Our clients are higher-end companies, so the greatest thing I’ve learned in that regard is to analyze and genuinely understand the kinds of clients that are the most ideal fits. In our case, it’s fast-growth companies or organizations in the midst of high stakes communication because these are the places where our specialized skills can move the needle the most demonstrable way. So knowing the characteristics of our ideal clients makes it easy to determine the fit when we engage in a conversation. When the fit is not ideal, we’re quick to refer to ensure the client has a good experience and a value-add connection results from the conversation as opposed to being hard sold or turned away. In fact, I personally do not believe in hard selling. If a fit makes sense, it doesn’t need to be a hard sell, and if a client is trying to talk us down in price, it is most probably a that is not worth having.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
So many options. A particular favorite is James Clear, “Atomic Habits.” Some of the specific teachings of Tony Robbins on mindset, preparation, and breaking addictions have been very key. Jim Rohn’s statement about how “you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with” is absolutely a key.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would be to communicate with care. Our words and our actions carry so much power — we should wield that power for impact and good instead of divisiveness and competition.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.