Tag Archives: david mcculloch

How to Win a PRWeek Award (in Four Easy Steps)

Led by SVP and CMO Blair Christie, Cisco sought to rebuild faith in its leaders, reestablish relevance, and regain its “one to beat” status. To win back Wall Street, the team prioritized transparency. Raising the profile of key executives in addition to CEO John Chambers (pictured) played a vital role.

Led by SVP and CMO Blair Christie, Cisco sought to rebuild faith in its leaders, reestablish relevance, and regain its “one to beat” status. To win back Wall Street, the team prioritized transparency. Raising the profile of key executives in addition to CEO John Chambers (pictured) played a vital role.

By David McCulloch, PRSA-Silicon Valley President and Cisco Director of Corporate Communications

Right, gather around. Here’s how you win a PRWeek Award. OK, actually, I immediately need to disavow you of the notion that I am an expert in winning those coveted accolades. Sadly, I’m not.

I did have the honor of collecting three prizes on behalf of Cisco at last Thursday’s PRWeek Awards in New York, but I’ve been writing PR Week Award entries (and Saber and Anvil Award entries) for the past 15 years and this was the first time a team of mine had won in any of the ‘big’ categories (In-House Team of the Year, Corporate Brand Campaign of the Year, and the overall Campaign of the Year).

It was a huge thrill to mount the stage (without tripping over any evening wear) and collect those trophies, but as I traveled back to San Francisco on a snow-delayed flight, I couldn’t help wondering: Did we just get lucky? Did the judges at PRWeek take pity on me after all those fruitless years, or did I finally figure out the magic formula?

Only editor-in-chief Steve Barrett and the judges really know the answer to those questions, but while the ingredients of Cisco’s 2013 winning campaign submissions are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d offer them up to you here:

1. Focus on Hard Financial or Societal Impact (As Well as Media Results)

Of the many award entries I’ve submitted through the years, the two most successful (Cisco included) demonstrated a hard impact on the valuation of the company. At Cisco, our stock price improved 25% during the course of the campaign period, while direct competitors saw declines. Yes, many factors contributed to that rise, but PR was among them. For NXP Semiconductors (another successful submission), the Text 100 team I led was able to point to the (then) highest private equity valuation of a semiconductor company when KKR, Silver Lake and AlpInvest bought NXP from Philips for $4.4Bn. Bottom line: if you can’t demonstrate an enhanced valuation, revenue growth, cost savings, improved customer loyalty, or something equally impactful (like saving lives or rebuilding communities), then you probably don’t have a winning entry (yet).

2. Write Your Entry Like you’ve Never Been to Silicon Valley

Most of us in Silicon Valley work in, or for, technology companies. Naturally, we all know the difference between a SAN, an API, and a CPU, but frankly the rest of America thinks we’re a bit odd…and doesn’t. That, I suspect, is why our entries lose year-after-year to campaigns run by cat food and insurance companies. Everyone understands what cat food is, and we all have insurance for something. Almost no-one knows what a SAN is. So, if you can possibly avoid it, don’t mention the technology, just talk about what it (very simply) does for customers, and how you did an amazing job bringing it to their attention.

3. Show Your Creativity

Where do you find the time? I know, I know, it seems impossible to try anything new when you’re waging a daily war with an army of press release requestors, but you have to, if you are to win awards. For Cisco, research into how consumers use the Internet (on the move, in bed, all the time…) gave us fresh ways to make our company interesting. We wrote quirky survey questions comparing managing cloud computing projects to having a root canal. Guess what? People took notice. Yes, in some cases we spent tens of thousands of dollars on research, but in other cases, all the hard work was done in-house, and the creativity was always free-of-charge.

4. Above All, Tell a Good Story and Make it Personal

What is it we always tell our executives during media training? A good story contains drama, villains, data, controversy, colorful sound bites, analogies anyone can relate to… But how often do we incorporate all of those elements into our award entries? Cisco’s journey was genuinely full of drama these past 18 months, but capturing the headlines (“Everyone Hates Cisco”); conveying how they made employees feel (by sharing data on employee sentiment), and showing our sense of humor (given Gen Y’s attachment to their smart phones, we proposed that it be classified as the human body’s 207th bone!), it all came together to make our story resonate with the readers on the judging panel.

So, that’s how we did it at Cisco. Maybe it will work for you. Of course, if you don’t win in 2014, don’t blame me. Maybe the real secret ingredient is to make sure you’re sitting at Table 82 on Awards night!

Comms Pros: Top Four Skills You Need to Get Hired in Silicon Valley

Judgment, Consensus-Building Skills More Valuable Than PR Degrees Say Valley’s Communications Leaders

Finding ‘good people’ was the dominant discussion topic at this week’s Brunswick-sponsored PRSA Silicon Valley Senior PR Leaders dinner.

As recently reported in PRWeek’s 2012 Careers Guide, Silicon Valley is experiencing a PR hiring boom with a growing junior talent pool. Chuck Byers, brand and communications professor at Santa Clara University told attendees last night that the college’s communications courses are oversubscribed.

Despite this positive trend,  heads of communications from Applied Materials, Solar City, Apple, Cisco, SanDisk, NetApp, Visa and the City of San Jose collectively lamented that few candidates have the skills required.

“The industry used to talk about wanting a ‘seat at the table’ and Silicon Valley leaders are there.” said Vanessa Yanez, president, PRSA Silicon Valley. “The world of paid, shared and owned now sit alongside the traditional earned media realm here.  Based on the many SV leaders we met over the past few hours, the communications success bar is high and it will go up as company brand influencer communities and communications tools evolve.”

So what exactly are the Valley’s PR leaders looking for? Here’s are four tips from last night’s discussion:

  1. Write persuasively, effectively and with versatility: Take a journalism class, they say. Know how to construct a complete persuasive story in every context: Internal meetings, announcements, presentations. You also need to know social, headlines and lead paragraphs too, of course.  The whole story matters more than ever.
  2. Be curious: Research your company. Ask thoughtful questions. A deep business understanding is required. Think business first, and a communications professional second. Do you understand the business? Do you know what its goals are? If you don’t, ask questions based on what you know.
  3. Use good judgment: How does a college student develop the skills and judgment needed to know what to do in a crisis situation? Work in a restaurant or a call center and handle unhappy customers, say the Valley’s leaders. With the elevation of our profession, the ability to build consensus and manage conflict are more valuable than any academic qualification. Broaden your horizons!
  4. Learn about and appreciate complementary communications functions: In an age of instant, transparent and fluid communications, the distinction between external, internal, executive communications, advertising and marketing lines are blurring. “We expect internal memos to leak in minutes” said one leader. “The integration of all communications disciplines has become a prerequisite in our organization. Any silos are purely artificial.

Motivated? Confused? If you’re a communications or public relations up-and-comer and you’d like to get more first-hand advice on the skills sought after by Silicon Valley’s PR leaders, then contact Mar Junge, mentorship chair, PRSA Silicon Valley or contact us your local PRSA Silicon Valley Chapter.


David McCulloch
President-Elect, PRSA Silicon Valley
Director, Corporate Communications
Cisco Systems Inc.