Ego, Adrenaline and Hubris: Keeping the Fuel of IPOs In Check


Today we bring you a guest post via Paul Wilke. Wilke is CEO of Upright Position Communications, the leading IPO public relations firm in Silicon Valley.

This post is presented by AirPR, a technology platform to increase PR performance. The San Francisco-based technology company is passionate about using data to show the true impact and value of PR.

Alibaba, GoPro, and Datalogix are just three names that are being volleyed around under the “Next Big IPO” moniker of 2014. As these companies get closer to their IPOs, they will invariably be compared to Facebook’s IPO, Twitter’s IPO or [INSERT HOT COMPANY’S NAME HERE]’s IPO.

It’s what’s done.

But what’s behind the buzz and desire for greatness? Besides the obvious almighty dollar, IPOs today are often fueled by the egos, adrenaline and hubris of those behind the IPO. But it’s important to keep each of those elements in check, especially when it comes to IPO PR.

A company’s IPO is an incredible opportunity to grow a company’s public relations footprint. With strategic thinking and well thought out storylines, an IPO enables an organization to rise above the noise and lay a communications foundation that can position the company as an industry leader. For reporters, the period leading up to a company’s IPO is often the first time they’ve dealt with the company.

For the CEO taking a company public, it’s very likely their first IPO, and the first time in a much brighter spotlight. That creates an interesting mix of excitement, fear, adrenaline, and yes, ego.

Do you want your CEO to go all Norma Desmond on IPO day, complete with personal makeup artist in tow? No, but you also don’t want a wallflower reluctant to talk to the media. Here are some tips for making sure your CEO is ready for the big day:

  • Understand what success will look like: As a PR professional, it’s crucial you sit down with your CEO to find out what he or she views as a successful IPO. Some CEOs want their mug plastered across CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, while others are content with coverage in local media and trade publications. This is one area where you don’t want to assume. I’ve worked with CEOs who were content with conducting as many interviews as possible on IPO day, while other CEOs preferred the approach of making sure coverage was accurate and that the PR team was prepared for questions from reporters. Find out what a CEO wants and manage those expectations well.
  • Check the ego at the door: While ‘cocky’ is an adjective that is equally synonymous on Wall Street as it is in Silicon Valley, no one wants to see an over exuberant winner. I’ve had more than one CEO ask me for witty talking points for media interviews, and every time I counsel against it. Wall Street and potential investors aren’t looking for witty; they’re looking for a sound investment.
  • Stick to the script: Even when the veil of media interviews has been lifted, there are a lot of things that a company’s CEO still can’t say on IPO day. It’s important to create a messaging platform the CEO is comfortable with and knows intimately going into any media interview.
  • It’s not about you: An ego is a very strong piece of heavy machinery. For a company to reach the IPO point requires founders, executives, sales staff, admin staff, customers, HR, banks, landlords, managers, interns and everyone in between. When the CEO is asked by a reporter what their company’s IPO means to him or her, it’s like thanking your spouse when you win an Oscar: Remember who helped get you there. Same goes for the media: Now that your company has hit the big time, it’s great that the CNBCs and the Bloombergs of the world want a spin around the floor, but remember to ‘dance with who brung ya’ on the trade media side of things.
  • Be yourself: While it may sound contradictory to the above point about being witty, it is good for a CEO to show some personality. An IPO is a big day for the company he or she is running. Smiling won’t kill them.
  • Act like you’ve been there before: This is an important one. As companies reach their IPOs faster than they used to, it tends to mean younger CEOs and founders…they don’t call it “youthful exuberance” for nothing. Vince Lombardi famously said, “When you go into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.” Empower your CEO with confidence and celebrate their success. They have worked hard and should be proud of their accomplishment.

An IPO doesn’t have to be rough for a CEO as long as the business fundamentals and a sound communications infrastructure are in place. Just make sure your CEO follows the above steps, and leaves the makeup team at home.

PW crop low resPaul can be reached via email at

Paul has advised and worked on IPOs including those of VisaSplunk and Tableau Software. For more information about Paul, follow him on Twitter at @pwilke or his agency @UprightComms.