Blogs  / February 20, 2013

To seem less elusive, PR changes name to Tom

by Rebekah Iliff

Tom McLeod is the personification of PR.

In other words, if PR were encapsulated in a human being, Tom would be that person. Instead of a crotchety, aging man, unsure as to his ultimate fate (Are we dying? Why is no one responding to my press release dammit!), PR would walk right up to you, ask you how you take your FroYo, tell you you’re pretty and smart and do ya wanna jump on a quick flight to Jersey to meet his mom.

Instantly making you feel like you’re the most valued, engaged, related-to individual on the planet. THE PLANET.

But Tom missed his calling as a PR superhero and instead decided to do the only thing more insane than attempting to get people to communicate adeptly for a living; he became an entrepreneur.

When Tom’s not bopping around the U.S. doing entrepreneurial-slash-changing-the-world type activities, he’s knee deep in startuplandia working on a variety of mobile-related endeavors. These details are less important. What’s more important is his experience and understanding of how startups can use the PR engine to ramp up business, gain customer insights, and more.

So, from PR himself…

How important is PR in terms of emerging startups and the need to gain mindshare and market share, often quickly?

Tom McLeod: I don’t know how important a massive PR campaign is. It’s certainly important to have a lot of the facets of PR handled early on in the “game”. Clear talking points, corporate messaging, and the ability to explain your business to others and not sound like a gushing parent. Having a strong plan for where your end user is going to be and getting your business in front of those eyes should be paramount. I come from a niche web/mobile application space. When we want PR, we identify key opinion leaders that influence our target market and try to get placements and unique stories to them via the appropriate channels. This has shown to be the most efficient (cost + effective) way to get our messaging out during a launch.

When you launched Crosswa.lk, what was the #1 result you saw from PR efforts?

TM: Feedback.The people who get in early with your product are the most important folks you get. With that in mind, you don’t have to get 75,000 users on your first day, you just need to make sure really reach out and engage with your first 1000 users. They are going to be the zealots that spread your messaging to the next user. They are also most likely early adopters and have been a part of these kinds of things in the past, you can learn a lot from their feedback. As long as you don’t let it overwhelm you, it can be a great way to determine the path that that your business should take moving forward.

PR is more than just sending out a stupid press release. In fact, having a founder going out to events, constantly talking to people, making a positive impression on key constituents, etc. is all part of the PR dance. That being said, what do you think of when you think of PR?

TM: I think me and everyone else on the planet thinks of press releases. However, I think the most important part of PR is acting as a sounding board and a moment of pause before you take your brand to the media. A lot of times just knowing that there is a “last mile” buffer between you and the mass population gives you a leg up on clarity of thought.

What would qualify a “soon to launch startup” to do their own PR? Do you think it’s a good idea? What did you do? What are possible pitfalls? So many questions!

TM: I think if you’re a well-established founder, have been through a launch before, have a ton of media connections, and are a capable writer then you could probably give it a go…at least in terms of getting some early hype.

I didn’t do this with Crosswa.lk because we needed a more robust rollout, but I’ve done small PR campaigns on my own for specific products that I felt I had a good handle on, from a messaging standpoint.  Something to beware of though: it’s hard to self-manage, self-regulate when you do PR without an objective person (PR pro, agency, etc.) keeping you on track. It’s easy to alter your message depending on your audience, to make them feel at easy, comfortable, and to persuade them as to your “cause” – this is the natural tendency of an entrepreneur. But when providing informative details about your business it’s important to be consistent in tone and language.

5. Techcrunch, in less than 15 words is?

TM: Not quite what it once was, but growing in a good direction.

6. Favorite tech journalist or writer? Why?

TM: I’m a big fan of Rafe Needleman. He’s been around awhile, used to do all the tech stuff for CNET. He works over at Evernote now, but has always been super available and communicative with me, even with just some early on cold email exchanges. Rafe has a great feel for how your product fits in the landscape, and is always willing to share other things he’s seen.

7. Ack! Enough of the serious… 3 things you do for fun besides harass me about being old and boring?

TM: I play a lot of basketball. I like to play during lunch and then head back to the office feeling pretty good. Unless I lose at lunch ball…in which case I head back to the office and stop for a FroYo along the way. That makes everything better. I make mixes and share them with friends, family, and business peers. It’s a great way to keep up on a life long passion (I’m an Audio Engineer by trade) as well as connect with people I don’t see regularly. Lastly, I fancy myself some kind of Boogie Boarding all star, I keep one in my trunk at all times along with a wet suit. I like to think that there is always going to be that one moment where I’m near a beach with 90 minutes of free time. Not surprisingly, this has happened exactly 2 times in the last 16 months. Worth it.

Tom McLeodAbout Tom McLeod

Tom McLeod is President and Co-Founder of Imaginary Feet, a web and mobile app idea factory. At Imaginary Feet, Tom oversees the direction of the company and its successful applications and services for work and play. Tom has spearheaded efforts to successfully launch 10 iPhone apps into the U.S. market, including the multimillion-user Frametastic and it’s newly released sister app, Collagetastic.

He currently serves on the boards of Mama Hope and Fuck Cancer and was recently named to Dell’s #Inspire 100 list of leading influencers in entrepreneurship, philanthropy, education and technology. Tom graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Audio Technology and a minor in Computer Science from American University. His many interests include classic films, building computers, basketball and making mixtapes for his daily commute.


Follow Tom on Twitter: @tmcleod3