PR Lessons from Bill Gates
In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates and his company were under attack by several skeptics who believed that home computers would never catch on with the general public. These skeptics were often quoted in the media, and it seemed they had a lot of influence over prospective customers.
Rather than letting the skeptics bother him, Bill Gates came up with a brilliant solution. He invited the four most influential critics to Seattle for a tour of Microsoft and a chance to spend time with Gates himself. The critics agreed, and once they arrived at Microsoft’s headquarters, each one was given a private meeting with Gates. After the private meetings, every single one of them was converted into believers and supporters.
The lesson is clear: any business can use PR to turn negative influencers into positive ones. Gates Is known for his privacy, but he’s also a genius in the PR department. As the world’s wealthiest man and the driving force behind one of the most recognizable brands in history, Bill Gates is not only a titan of business but also an icon of marketing. From his early days as an upstart programmer to the more recent days as head of the world’s largest software company, Microsoft, Gates has avoided media scrutiny with aplomb.
The Bill Gates-Steve Ballmer relationship is the stuff of legend in the technology industry. It’s the ultimate yin and yang, where you have one focused on the science and one focused on the business. And yet, both were able to make their partnership work for over 30 years.
The most interesting thing about their relationship from a PR standpoint is that it was very real, very public, and very personal. There were no handlers or intermediaries. Gates and Ballmer would often have altercations in meetings, yelling at each other when they couldn’t agree on something and pounding on tables when they got angry.
Sometimes things got so heated that at least one Microsoft executive had to physically step between them to keep them separated. Yet even though these two men were acting like an old married couple, they were still able to build a world-class company together.
There are a few lessons to be learned from the Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer partnership:
Never underestimate a partner’s contribution
One of the biggest myths out there in PR is that a great leader needs to be 100% self-sufficient. The truth is that all great leaders have partners who compliment their skillsets. This can be anyone from a spouse to a cofounder or even an investor.
One thing Gates has done well on his blog is getting personal. People want to know who they’re dealing with when they buy things online or read about a product. The personal touch can take your business to another level, and can give you an edge over competitors who might be less willing to connect with their customers.
Keep an Open line of communication
Gates also uses his blog to learn from his mistakes. He’ll talk about how Microsoft handled something in the past or how he handled something personally, and explain what went wrong and how it could have been different. It’s especially important in today’s marketplace for businesses to be open about their mistakes, because people trust those businesses that are honest with them. Be honest even if it means admitting you made a mistake.
Gates also focuses on the positives when discussing his business ventures and other topics on his blog. Even though he is sometimes making a point about weaknesses in his
Make sure you’re in the news
While it might seem obvious, if you don’t make news, no one will know about you. Gates was a master at making sure he was always in the news, whether it was for his philanthropy or for suing other companies that used his technology without permission.
People want to associate with winners, so if you’re an entrepreneur or executive, they want to be associated with you as well. If people can identify with you, not just your company, they’ll be more likely to use your products and services.
Gates understood that public relation means looking at the big picture over a long period. He invested in public relations early on, and it paid off handsomely later on when he sold a lot of software.