The Circular History of Press Narratives
When you've been in marketing / PR / media long enough, you'll notice that press narratives largely follow a predictable path.
That path goes something like this.
- "They're not worth any attention."
- "Hey ... look at this amazing traction!"
- "They're going to disrupt X!"
- "They are so great!"
- "Hmm ... are they really so great?"
- "But will they ever make a profit?"
- "Can you believe they did X?"
- "Wow, they're an awful company."
- "They're the worst."
This path is especially pronounced in tech, where the industry moves so quickly that you can observe a company going through this in real time. Look at this 2015 article describing this phenomenon and consider how things have played out.
Let's see a few more short examples.
As I write this in the summer of 2021, the narrative around Facebook is undeniably somewhere near the bottom of this list. It wasn't that long ago that Zuckerberg was the vanguard of a new generation of leaders, and we were all wowed by how he wore hoodies to meetings, "move fast and break things" as an inspirational mantra, etc.
But now there's an unstoppable forward march towards labeling Facebook as the new nicotine, and how it's contributing to the decline of society.
Shopify was already a big deal, but it really broke through during the covid tech boom of 2020. The stock price skyrocketed, businesses moved online en masse, and they were seen as the great enabler.
There are signs that Shopify is now exiting the "good guy wearing a white hat" phase of the cycle, which is exactly what you'd expect if you followed the list of narratives to its next steps.
We all had glorious schadenfreude when WeWork tried for an IPO in 2019, only for horrendous stories (and financial reports) to come to the fore.
But in 2021, that story has been told, and with the significant changes in both company personnel and the macroeconomic environment, perhaps it's fashionable to celebrate WeWork again.
The takeaway: ride the circular nature of press narratives.
In the early part of the cycle, you might be able to trigger narratives. Funding announcements, traction milestones, key hires – these are things that build company momentum.
But eventually you will lose control of the narrative. You are largely powerless in the back half of the cycle. At some point, it will be boring to write about how cool you are, and people will start writing about the unexplored "dark side" of your company. You can't really fight this and your goal here is to avoid making too many unforced errors.
The constant throughout all seasons is you should make sure your company's north star is executing on the vision, and not spending too many calories obsessing about what the press is saying about you.