I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle McIntyre, a self-proclaimed Silicon Valley PR diva and president of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a tech public relations consultancy in Saratoga, Calif.
Known for her IBM roots and making complicated products sound interesting to a mainstream audience, McIntyre loves emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Business2community.com syndicates her blog, and while at IBM, she picked up eight awards for press coverage of software as a service, data analytics, Venture Capital Group, and other campaigns, one reward being an all-expenses-paid-for trip to Hawaii.
Ranked #3 on the Top 50 PR professionals to follow on Twitter, McIntyre has driven successful media relations campaigns for technology clients like Y Soft and Nnaisense, headquartered in the Czech Republic and Switzerland respectively. She’s also served many clients in Canada and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In addition to being on the TEDxSanJoseCA executive team, McIntyre was also named 2017 Volunteer of the Year by VLAB, a Silicon Valley group that brings together people, like startup founders and VCs, to promote emerging technologies.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My interest in PR started when I was yearbook editor at a high school near Cleveland, Ohio. Producing it was like doing PR for the entire student body. On my first day at the Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, my guidance counselor advised me to pick PR as a major. I’m detail oriented, a born storyteller and organizer and like to make decent money. I picked PR as my major and stuck with it. I started work a couple of days after graduation at a tech PR firm housed in a six-story oceanfront
Victorian mansion near Boston. A year later I packed up my car and drove across country to work at a PR agency in Palo Alto, Calif., near Stanford University. I’ve been in Silicon Valley ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Meeting inspirational game changers and learning their stories about overcoming adversity make my job interesting. I set up a TV interview for Olympic gold medal winner and swimmer Dana Vollmer. Despite a serious heart problem and having to wear some sort of monitor while training as a teen, she went on to be hugely successful in her athletic career. That was for TEDxSanJoseCA.
I was inspired by meeting Vaclav Muchna, the Czech co-founder and CEO of Y Soft at a Starbucks. His global tech company turned 18 (in 2018) with $45 million in annual revenue. He’s 38 years old. Vaclav was born into Communism during the Velvet Revolution with everything against him. In addition to having no nearby entrepreneur role models, a college instructor advised him against pursuing computer science because working on the computer is like what a secretary does. Look where he is today: he’s so successful his company invests in other startups.
And former IBM Fellow Patricia Selinger who co-invented the relational database was one of my favorite clients; she was chief technology officer at a data analytics startup.
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?
My mistake was casting too wide of a net pitching a candy story right before Valentines Day. Despite mostly serving tech clients, I did do PR for a few food companies back in my early agency days. I successfully placed stories about Frankford Chocolate Company with several top tier outlets including the Wall Street Journal and two regionals, Philadelphia Business Journal and Philadelphia Inquirer. The latter two ran their features on the same day. One editor was angry that the other came out at the same time: he vowed never to work with me again! I apologized but said that we didn’t have control over the story date or angle. Frankford sent me a five-foot box of chocolates as a thank you gift anyway. I had literally placed stories with every outlet I contacted!
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
I’ve been in business for five years. I was profitable within six months. Expenses were low and people wanted to hire someone from IBM. However, to land my first client, I had to convince a CEO that I actually wanted to consult and not work full time. People thought the consultant gig was a cover-up for looking for a job. When I established my limited liability corporation, selling my services got easier: people saw I was serious. The third year annual revenues quadrupled.
To get new clients I do content marketing and blog for key websites. I write about PR tips, tech trends, remote work, and leadership. Company executives see the tips and get in touch. LinkedIn is my top sales channel but my Twitter profile @FromMichelle has generated up to 300,000 impressions monthly.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m obsessed with two things: artificial general intelligence (AGI) and quantum computing.
AGI is when AI evolves to be as smart as a human. Currently AI is not even as smart as a four year old child or cat. Also manufacturers need to work on robot design, e.g. it is still really hard to make agile robot legs. AI is the future of the world. Look at large company growth plans. They all involve AI.
I recently completed a survey with my client Y Soft on robotics in the workplace: it examined whether or not people are worried about our future with robots. Will they make good coworkers? We found most people are not worried and they look forward to offloading some of the menial tasks to robot coworkers. Oddly though, among the small handful who are worried, people under 30 were the most concerned. That amazed me. Here’s something else that surprised me: I was added to a “Future of Recruitment” Top 100 influencers list in 2018 for discussing the future of work, especially AI’s impact on social media so much.
Alma Mundi Ventures’ Rajeev Singh-Molares a favorite “sometimes” client and Series A backer of white-hot startup Nnaisense says that the projected future growth for AI is “infinity.” He’s right. The amount of money and changes that AI will drive is so enormous, it’s hard to put a dollar figure on it. AI will change how we work, play, live, virtually everything. Nnaisense scientists once worked with Nvidia to teach a car to teach itself how to park. How cool is that?
And excuse the cliché: but quantum computing is going to be the next biggest thing. Watch this space for world-changing developments. In fact, my former employer IBM already launched a commercial quantum computing program. Although products aren’t out yet, the business opportunities will be tremendous. It’s because quantum computers should be able to figure things out around four times faster and better than classical ones. Startups take note: the challenge will be coming up with a security system to protect them.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
Think about what industries you like. You need to pick a career and also an industry: do you like music and entertainment, education, health, or electric vehicles? I’m passionate about how technology can change our lives, especially AI and increasingly quantum computing which is in its infancy. Also, after graduation, work at a PR agency first. I worked at PR agencies for five years before joining a client’s company and then IBM after that. Young people will learn more and have more fun at an agency.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Yes, “networking” is my middle name. First, network before you need to. Think about it: it’s easier to network when you can say good things about yourself. Second, pick two organizations to focus on, not 20, and show up at events. Make sure one is a small group where you see the same people over and over. It’s better than going to a party with 300 people and bumping into someone you’ll never see again.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I like, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It teaches you how to think about positioning things to please others. When you ask for something, you need to think about how it will make the other person feel. No one cares what you want except maybe your mom.
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?
There are 3 1/2 million small businesses in California employing six million workers according to the Small Business Administration. California needs to lower its high limited liability corporation or LLC annual tax of $800 to help these businesses thrive. An internet search will show that the average LLC annual fee is $100. So I paid $4,000 while someone in another state paid about $500 over five years. That’s on top of regular annual taxes and it is unfair. Thinking bigger, we need people in Washington DC who care more about saving the environment. I heard on National Public Radio that global warming will start affecting us in a big way in 2040. So people, especially young adults, please get out there and vote for people who care about a bright future for our kids.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Include something surprising in your news announcement. While working on an IBM press release about a new device, a colleague from research, Mike Ross pointed out that it had one billion bits per square inch, a technology world record. I added that to the release as well as a cool analogy showcasing what it could mean to the consumer. It went from boring new product to major headline news. Associated Press covered it. I got an award for results. IBM launched an ad campaign on the topic and it was mentioned in a Tonight Show monologue. Jay Leno jokingly said students were using the IBM technology to write really small on their hands to cheat on tests.
- Realize that a writer owes you nothing. Great content is what sells your story. It took me three reach-outs to a San Jose Mercury News writer about one of my first clients, a Romanian VC and startup CEO from the UK named Ozana Giusca. I told him about her: “She’s a female VC.” No response. I followed up saying she was speaking at a startup conference. No response. Then I gave an update in the third note. I said she was staying at a startup accelerator bed and breakfast style home set up to host European visitors in Silicon Valley and that it was a unique place to stay for several reasons. He loved that, visited the place and put my client on the front page of the business section. It wasn’t my relationship with the writer that helped. I had worked with him previously. It was the interesting content I pitched.
- Writers like scoops: tailor the pitch. My client Y Soft set up a local office in China. I offered a contributed article “Three Tips on Successfully Expanding in China” to one key industry-specific media outlet. The editor bit. We didn’t offer this contributed article idea to everyone. By truly thinking about what he, in particular, cared about, we were able to get the coverage.
- Try a creative route to land your dream story. One client really wanted a story in his company’s local newspaper. His previous PR agency failed at placing it. His PR manager, a former IBM coworker, hired me to get the job done. Instead of pitching a story to the daily newspaper’s tech beat writer directly, I instead set up a get-to-know with the smaller weekly community newspaper in the same newsgroup. That editor did an in-person interview, wrote a thoughtful, well-fact-checked article that included a photo of the executive as well as company news. The larger circulation newspaper then ran her story a few weeks later.
- When selling something, highlight the one thing that really makes a product or person memorable. I got a community fitness online group and app coverage in a TIME New Years Resolution story: only two apps were mentioned among the 38,000 that were out there at the time, my then client’s and Apple’s. I was able to articulate their key differentiating feature: people on their social media platform don’t get bullied. It was super unique: the software was able to weed out negative comments.
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