Michael Hayman: 'Throw a party' and other advice for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur and PR whizz Hayman doesn't follow conventional wisdom when it comes to running a business. Here's why struggling start-ups should splash their cash on a party, and avoid being 'part of the crowd' at all costs.

by Michael Hayman
Last Updated: 05 Apr 2013
You’ve started your firm. You’ve got a little bit of start-up cash. You need to survive. The odds don’t look great. One in three firms won’t reach their third birthday. What do you do?
 
Throw a party.
 
It worked for us. We had just started our firm. We had £50,000 in the bank, we spent £7,500 on a brilliant bash. Put it another way, 15% of everything we had on a one night stand.
 
Outrageous, profligate, irresponsible? No doubt, but utterly brilliant for letting the market know that you’re in business to do business.
 
We wanted to make our mark. The party looked more like a £50,000 event because those that liked us, namely One Alfred Place, Doug Richard and Rory Bremner, did us proud.
 
We gathered 250 of the most influential people in London together and by so doing let a room full of potential clients know that we had the style, not only to entertain them, but to interest them in the services we could offer.
 
It worked spectacularly well. We had hit a home run and become remarkable, and what I mean by that is a business worthy of remark and attention. We went from a company craving cash to one that suddenly had the not inconsiderable task of coping with all of the interest that it had provoked.
 
If I’ve learned one thing it is that there is absolutely no safety in the pack. None whatsoever. Get out of it as quickly as you can. Conventional wisdom states that in tough times you keep your head down, focus on the knitting, take no risks.
 
It’s a siren cry, a fine sounding and misleading folly. It makes problems more not less likely because by doing this you rob yourself of the ability to be memorable. You’re the same as everyone else and as the marketer Seth Godin said, 'tastes like chicken isn’t a compliment'.
 
Make no mistake. Everything you do is a risk. But here is the biggest risk of all. If you can’t command attention you’re dead in the water.
 
We live in a world where we are bombarded with information. And in this era where resources are plentiful, the one real scarcity that we have is human attention. We just don’t have enough of it to go around.
 
According to the University of San Diego, the average American is subjected to over 3,000 advertising messages a day. That is one message every 30 seconds aimed right at you.
 
The result is that we’ve become numbed to most efforts at marketing. Do you remember the last advertisement you read in a newspaper? Probably not.
 
I remember the one that Tesco did about the horse meat scandal and there is a reason for that. It caught my attention, it disrupted my sense of the normal.
 
But that’s the exception. Most ads have become the intellectual equivalent of Polyfilla. Just fillers. No real break through, no real difference.
 
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, the man behind The Black Farmer sausage brand, told me that the way you get your brand to break through is by instilling some jeopardy into it. He chose the brand The Black Farmer because he knew that white people don’t like to say black.
 
'Imagine what they’re going to say when I open in Alabama,' he told me, full of mirth, at an event I interviewed him at last year.
 
His inspiration was Virgin. 'Screw it let’s do it' is the clarion cry of Sir Richard Branson. Transport yourself back to the 1980’s and you’ll remember why. My Dad wouldn’t even let me use the word 'Virgin'. It used to scandalise and upset the market. It made his business.
 
Which brings me back to the party. We threw it not to be good time Charlies but because we wanted to make a statement to our market that being a start-up didn’t equate to not having big ambitions.
 
We heeded the words of Cecil Beaton: 'Be daring, be different, be impractical: be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the shades of the ordinary.'
 
So, my advice to you? Start as you mean to go on. If you want to be a market leader, act like one and be one from day one. Throw that party.
 
Michael Hayman is a co-founder of the public relations firm Seven Hills. Follow Michael on Twitter.

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