SBM 001: Peter Shankman on Being Nice and Getting Publicity The Easy Way

Today’s Guest

Peter Shankman Talks Public Relations
Peter Shankman on The Smart Brand Marketing Podcast

Welcome to The Smart Brand Marketing Podcast. I wanted to start the show off with a bang so I reached out for the best person I know when it comes to public relations and getting attention from the media. I met Peter Shankman at a conference in Bangkok and he is in a personal branding mastermind that I am a part off. He was happy to come on an share some tips and strategies that work best for small businesses that are looking to get exposure.

Being the Nice Guy in Business: How to Make This Work Out for You

We all have heard the phrases “it’s a dog eat dog world” and “nice guys finish last”. Or how about the Hollywood stereotype of businessmen being these ruthless, pushy jocks in suits?

In all of these instances, it is indirectly implied that “being nice” when running a business is tantamount to committing a long, drawn out suicide. So, is the business world a place that the nice guy cannot stay in for long? The answer is no.

There is a way to run your business successfully and be considered more like Mother Teresa and less like Genghis Khan. To do that, there are a few things about being “nice” that we have to cover first.

How Can Nice People be Successful?

So what’s it with nice guys that they have a great potential to be successful in business? To start things off, ambition is not directly linked to aggression. There are quite a number of people out there that knows how to deal with the loudest, pushiest, and meanest people as business owners but remain modest and generally nice to be around with.

This means that the path of success for a “nice guy” is considerably different from those that are used to a dog-eat-dog level of competition. They do this by bringing in different qualities to their business.

  • 1. Collaboration, not CompetitionBeing competitive is arguably part of human nature. Two or three people trying to outdo each other was the thing that ushered the birth of many industries, after all. However, it can also be often tied to egoism, jealousy, and unnecessary aggression that borders on toxicity.

    Remember the phrase “nice guys finish last”? It’s not because people like these are incompetent dorks, they just never acknowledge the fact that everything has to be a race to the top. If there’s no need to butt heads with another person, then there’s no point to be overly aggressive in every dealing you might have.

    What nice guys bring to the table is the ability to see another business owner not as a competitor vying for the same group of people but as a potential member of their network. Since they see everybody as a potential friend, then these people are more open to the idea of working with others to meet a common goal.

  • 2. DiplomacyIt’s no secret that a lot of conflict starts when somebody says something about someone. Of course, this is not to discount the fact that some business owners tend to take criticism too personally, even ones meant to help them improve.

    A nice guy businessman, on the other hand, knows what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Basically, they know that markets tend to become less toxic if you don’t piss off a lot of people. For example, a nice person compliments another not because they want to make a backhanded comment but because it is born out of admiration.

    Conversely, they accept criticisms properly and think of their responses thoroughly before saying it. The less conflict they create, the more opportunities for business will arise.

  • 3. TransparencyBluffing is part of the business world especially when closing deals. You just can’t afford to look weak in front of a potential partner or a competitor so you’d rather say something bold in the hopes that they don’t call you out on it. The problem rises, however, if people do call you out on your bluff and find out you have nothing else to back up your claims.

    A bit of honesty will avoid such a problem on your part. Basically, a nice person will tell a person exactly what another person must know and this includes their business’s current capabilities. Of course, you shouldn’t give out unnecessary information lest you expose your business to a lot of problems. It’s just that you’d rather not deal with an expectation that you can’t meet.

  • 4. EmpathyLook, all of your efforts to say that your business cares for its customers won’t mean anything if you don’t show it. It’s not just about standing up for the same values that your customers believe in, it’s about seeing them as actual human beings whose lives can be elevated with your product/services.

    Sadly, that’s quite hard for a lot of businesses today since every act of empathy ends up short so much that they look forced. Keep in mind that people are smarter nowadays when it comes to big businesses trying to connect with them. They can smell BS from afar. This is where the next quality comes into play

  • 5. ConsistencyThe reason why a lot of people distrust major companies nowadays is because they say one thing and do another. It’s like when EA Games say that they care for gamers everywhere but insist on putting in predatory micro-transactions in all of their games. Or when every company out there says their all for diversity but would jump at every opportunity to vilify white, straight males.

    And this is not just for customers and outside people. Sometimes, there are business owners who are quite nice to their customers but downright rude to their very own people during at work or outside. You can find that being inconsistent can be quite damaging to your business’s reputation as well as sales.

    Being nice is also about practicing what you preach. If you say you’re approachable, then don’t berate a person for looking at you weirdly. If you say that you have a heart for nature, then implement some eco-friendly measures at work. And so on and so forth.

    These are just some of several qualities that make nice guys potentially successful business persons. The point here is that being a generally amicable person does not mean that you can’t also be competitive in the market. It’s all about having the right perspective when it comes to everybody else that surrounds you, be they partners, family members, employees, business contacts, and even your competitors.

Generating Good Publicity

The phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is no longer applicable in the age of social media. In fact, people can take what you said, even ones with good intentions, badly and overblow it online. So what chance do you have if you intentionally antagonize your market?

With that said, it would be better if you attract the right kind of attention for your business. Here’s how:

  • 1. Media RelationsPeople like journalists, reporters, bloggers, and columnists have influence in various industries which makes them potential allies for you. As such, it’s best that you get on their good terms. First, take the time to know each of these people from the way they talk and write to the topics that they usually cover.

    Then, you would have to reach out to them and convince them that establishing a relationship with you is going to be beneficial for them also. Do it right and that journalist might turn to you if they need an authority to provide them with information regarding a certain topic.

    Also, having the media at your side tends to help you negate much of the fallout after a poorly-made decision. Let’s look at Star Wars as an example. Say what you want about Kathleen Kennedy and the way she handles Lucasfilm but one cannot deny that the goodwill established by George Lucas with the media decades before has given Star Wars a veritable army of journalists and spin doctors ready to defend the recent movies from criticism, even from fans.

    If you don’t know which journalists to connect to, you can use some online tools to help you get in contact with the media. Of course, social media like Twitter and Facebook are great places to start building your media network.

  • 2. Becoming NewsworthyHaving friends in the media is one thing, generating enough interest for your business in the market is an entirely different challenge. What you may think to be newsworthy such as a new head of operations or opening a new branch may not generate enough interest in the public.Instead, what you should offer to the public is something of value. Before you release a story, you must ask first whether or not this story offers something that people will find to be valuable. Things like opinions on recent topics, market research, your financial report, and, of course, participation in charitable movements tend to generate more interest for your brand.

    This also means that you must respond to breaking news. An official statement of sorts regarding incidents and how you stand with the community is a strong message and can make your business all the more endearing to the public.

  • 3. Press ReleasesThis sounds old school but press releases can be your go-to strategy to generate publicity for your business. This is most true when you have to introduce something new to the market like a new product, a new branch, or even a new group of people that form your staff.

    It’s also an opportunity for you to give your consumers a glimpse into the ins and outs of your company (without revealing too much, of course). They can see how your company responds to current social issues and deal with typical issues related to the running for your business. Once they see that you’re just as human as they are, your company should become even more relatable to the market.

  • 4. Responding to EmergenciesAlthough nobody in their right mind would ask that you have to deal with a disaster, the way you would do such will have more of an impact than any planned publicity stunt. This is because emergencies force you to handle things that are beyond your control, a sentiment that a lot of average Joes face on a day to day business.

    Of course, the way you deal with emergency matters will be important especially if that emergency directly affects the company. Remember the Malaysia Airlines incident a few years ago? Much of the fallout the company had with the public did not lie in the fact that one of their planes plunged somewhere in the Indian Ocean, it was the overall unemotional and insensitive response the higher ups had with the crisis. Seriously, whoever though it was a good idea to inform families that their loved ones may be dead through a text message?

    On the flip side, we have great examples like Johnson and Johnson who recalled every over-the-counter product and initiated changes in its quality assurance process in 1982 when it was discovered their Tylenol was laced with lethal amounts of cyanide. Or how about in 1993 when PepsiCo brilliantly refuted that their Diet Pepsi cans were tampered by showing how the canning process worked?

    The point here is that how you address controversies that you certainly did not expect will shift public opinion for or against you. Do it right and remain a credible company that people can trust. Do it wrong and you can expect for several things in your company, from sales to stocks, to plummet.

To Wrap Things Up

So, is there still a place for nice guys in a rather competitive field like business? The answer is yes. Just keep in mind that being agreeable, amicable, and sincere does not mean that you are not as ambitious as the rest of your more aggressive peers.

What it means is that you know how to put your competitive tendencies in place and find solutions that benefit everyone, not just you and your company. With that said, there is always the possibility that you can establish your business in any market and make it competitive without stepping down on others.

Are you finding maintaining a good relationship with every people in your business and out a challenge? What strategies have you used to ensure goodwill with your partners, employees, and people outside of the business? The comments section below is open for all sorts of ideas.




Peter Shankman (Peter’s official site & blog)

Tom:   Hey guys, welcome to the Smart Brand Marketing Podcast. This is the first episode and I will not be talking about myself. If you guys do wanna look at the bio, it’s on the page, uh the about me page on Smart Brand, so have fun and enjoy that. Let’s go over a different topic and its more on that I finished speaking about on The Mastermind. Why we do things? The person asked a question, should I follow the money or should I follow the passion? Some of the gurus will say, follow the passion and things will happen for you, you’ll have a great life, you will love what you are doing, and money will follow.

I think, that’s first of all, the wrong question to even ask. And it’s one of those things that when you do ask that question, you’ll start asking other bad questions such as, “What about the competition? There are a lot of people doing this already or am I good enough? or do I have something unique to bring to the conversation?” BUT, once again, wrong question.

In order to create something, like what I’m doing with this podcast, the first thing you need to do is to ask yourself, why you’re doing it. What is the point? If there’s no point to it, that’s when all those other weird questions that lead you to nowhere will come up. Once you do figure out why you are doing something then everything else will fall into place.

Now I wanna distinguish between something else and that is motivation, inspiration, and desire. Now, motivation is great. When you wake up in the morning and you feel motivated to clean your house because that only takes a couple of hours you might actually knock it out. Motivation is not a good reason to start a podcast or a business because once that motivation wears off and the first time you have a road block, what happens then?

Same with inspiration, you know, you can get inspired to do something like I can get inspired to start uh, uh, a new company that will compete with Legos but after the inspiration then what? You’d probably have like five or ten years of actual work that will have to go into it but inspiration will not get you there. Now desire is a good one. Let’s say you’ve been broke, for so long and you just have the really strong desire to not be broke. That actually, you know, could work especially if the desire is strong enough but the one that really works for me is PAIN. Now, one of the reasons why I started this podcast is because I hate answering the same questions over and over and over again and I have a consulting business, a SEO agency and a Kindle publishing business and a lot of clients and the people I have talked to ask me the same questions over and over and over again.

So I figured, if I start this podcast and I made some really good material with some really good reference points, I will tell them where to look and not have to answer them. So when someone asked me about unpaid SEO, marketing in general or podcasting or getting in the media, I can simply point them to the podcasts that speaks about that topic but that’s really the point and that pain made me actually wanna create this and the pain is strong enough and there are enough topics and questions to go around or I can keep doing this forever.

That’s kinda what I want to distinguish here, is why you are actually doing what you’re doing and if you’re getting frustrated or your brain is all over the place following different people, looking at different companies saying, “well, he’s doing this, he’s doing that,” umm, maybe I could be like him or her.. well, the thing is, figure out why you are doing it. If you want clarity in your life and in anything that you’re pursuing at the moment, then figure out why you are doing it in the first place. I guarantee, all the other blocks will fall into place. You’ll find the right people to help you, you’ll find the right material to teach you what you need to know and you will not work much, much efficiently once you actually know your reason for networking.

And speaking of networking, I have a guest today.

He is one of the best guys when it comes to public relations, so I hope that I could really get some bits of information from him that helps small businesses like ours also get in front of the media coz I know it’s one of the hardest things to do unless you hire a public relations team but it will cost a fortune so, let’s bring in Peter Shankman.


Tom:   Peter, you help people, companies and brands be better, be nicer and make more money. All else (?) other small businesses have no budget. How can they apply their thinking to their marketing?

Peter:  Well, a lot of companies when they start to marketing, they think, oh I have to think all this tremendous plan, all this money in advertising and PR.. the first thing I tell companies to do is  and this doesn’t cost a penny is to shut up and start listening. Too many companies focus on marketing as a way for them to talk about how great they are or how awesome every thing is, blah! blah! blah! BUT the problem with that is when you talk? You’re not listening. So you wind up talking to people who may or may not be listening to you. The best advice that I can give is to listen to what other people are saying long before you ever say anything. Find out where your audience is, find out what they are talking about, find out how they like to get their information, ALL of these things before you start shouting how great you are. Let them know that you are listening and that you care about what they want, and if you do it right, combine that with a great customer service and great customer experience, they’re gonna wind up doing your PR for you.

Tom:   Let me ask you a more um, strategic question. Let’s say I’m a mechanic, there’s like ten mechanics around me as a small business owner and I wanna listen to people but no one really, I guess, knows about me. They’re not talking to me, how do I get them to talk to me without saying I’m the best, come to me and then I’ll listen to you?

Peter:  Okay, so you’re a mechanic.

Tom:   Yeah.

Peter: You wanna reach your customers? Well, you have already customers coming in. The biggest problem that most people have is that they spend most time focusing on, getting more customers but they forget to pay attention to the customers they already have. But it actually cost eight times more get a new customer than it does to keep the customers you already have.

Tom: Okay.

Peter: The best advice there is to focus more on doing great things for the customers you have. They will tell the customers you want how great you are and the customers you want will come to you. Now if you have ten clients, ten customers, create such an amazing experience for those ten customers that they will bring you fifteen customers each one! The best way I can describe it is when I go to a bar and see a woman there and I say, “Hey! I’m awesome! I’m great in bed! You should come home with me,” she’s probably gonna throw her drink on my face and go back to talking to her friend.

Tom:   probably.

Peter:  As a matter of fact, that’s what she’s gonna do. I’ve done tremendous research in this.

Both:   *laughs

Peter:  But if I’m sitting there and just hanging out on my arm (?) and her best friend notices me and says “Oh my god! That’s Peter Shankman! You should go talk to him! I heard such great things, he’s amazing blah, blah, blah! I’d probably get her number.

Tom:   Yeah, but likely.

Peter:  We believe in people we trust. We believe in people we’re friends with. We covet who we know.

Tom:   That’s the whole social thing I’d like but for a mechanic though, how do you make such a great experience though? Just like oil changes, how do you make such an experience happen that people talk that way right, so that when I walk in a bar, people will be like “Oh, that’s my mechanic man! You should really -”

Peter:  Hey I did your oil change, while I was doing your oil change; I noticed that your fan belt timer (?) was loose. So I tightened it up for you and you should save a couple of dollars per gallon now on your fuel. No charge, just wanted to be of help.

Tom:   Okay, I, I see the point now coz usually when I go to a mechanic they just wanna upsell me for every little thing like every little thing.

Peter:  Right. The key is you need to stop upselling and start helping. When you start helping, people want to buy more from you.

Tom:   Well, how much help should give though? I mean if he just do all these things for free though there’s probably people thinking now, who’s gonna buy from you?

Peter:  Right, if I know you care, I will bring my car to you and give you all my business. Not because I want more stuff but because I trust you.

Tom:   Okay.

Peter:  I trust that you’re not gonna screw me, I trust that you’re gonna do something awesome and I trust that you are gonna do, uh, care.

Tom:   So the concept of trust, that’s what we’re really telling here, by helping.

Peter:  Always comes back to trust.

Tom:   Okay. That would work for every industry though, right?

Peter:  Every single industry.

Tom:   But you mentioned that, keeping a customer is what, eight times cheaper than finding a new one. Can you kinda go into that? Like, where do you get that number?

Peter:  Ah, I’ve actually done some research on this, like CEOs for instance? 88% of our CEOs believe that their customer services are amazing, only 8% of their customers think of the same thing. So it’s disconnect there.

Tom:   That’s a big disconnect, why do you think it is?

Peter:  Coz I think that customers, – CEOs are like “Oh we’re doing a great job!” because they’re insulated, they don’t hear any sirens (?) they don’t see any of these stuffs.

Tom:   It kinda reminds me of the whole quants (?) and the whole hedgehog thing when the economy was going down. They were just looking at their, little you know, numbers and programs, not understanding what was going on. (incoherent words) Recently though you have sent some people home for the holiday. So you’ve kind of, you know, you’ve.. pretty much took some action and not just preach this stuff. Can you explain your reason behind that? Was it like a PR stunt? Why did you do that?

Peter:  No, for me it was not for the sake of back sales or anything. For me it was just about the fact that I have the ability to do well. I’ve been – you know, I’ve gotten very lucky in my life, I do – I do.. I’ve done very well and I believe that, you need to remember where you come from and it is imperative that you give back. I grew up in New York City, I’m a public school kid.. nothing special, and uh, for me it’s – it’s very important to be able to give back.

Tom:   I think that’s awesome, I mean, the coolest thing I’ve noticed too is that once you did it, a couple of bigger companies also, they kinda said “Well, we’ll help too” – I think they did more for publicity like Jet Blue, right? And a couple of other ones.

Peter:  Jet Blue and uh, a lot of people came in private, they donated funds. It’s pretty amazing, um, I’m sure there’s a part of Jet Blue that says “Hey we’re gonna get some free credits (?) for this. It will look good” but at the end of the day, 25 people got to go home and see their families that otherwise wouldn’t have so for me that’s just the complete win

Tom:    I think that’s amazing, I mean you jump started the whole thing. So I thought it was great but – but just seeing, you know one of the bigger companies do something like that came in, I was like, well if anyone else did something like that and put it on Twitter? we would never get Jet Blue to come in. So just, how did you get in the position to where those companies like that follow you?

Peter:  I think it comes from always having – always wanting to talk to people? Always, you know, never being afraid to express my opinion? Always sharing information? and the more you do that, the more people will think that the information you’re sharing is always valuable, the more people will take notice of you.

Tom:   Yeah I mean but how can someone in the small business get someone like a bigger company like to take notice like are there any other steps that you can do? Like a formula for this?

Peter: I think a lot of this is about being transparent. A lot of it is about really being truthful. Again the better you are at knowing your audience and giving the information that they want, the more likely they are to retweet you, to reshare you.. Remember that the power of Twitter is not to tell you how great you are. The power of Twitter lies in the ability of getting retweeted.

Tom:   Right.

Peter: So if you’re sending good information to people, they will share.

Tom:   Yeah, I mean, in that way, I think any company could kind of.. I mean is there are some industries that are kinda dry though, like maybe more technical? What kind of things can they really share that normal people or media will pick up on?

Peter:  What about something as simple as writing a blog on Five Top Ways to Keeping Your Passport Secure?

Tom:   Okay, I gotcha.

Peter:  Share what you know, share the information you know. There are people out there who don’t know about it and to them, you’re a hero.

Tom:   Hmm..

Peter:  Well, I’ve read a couple of books that has helped tremendously. People tend to share information from people they trust. And so, the more they trust you, the more willing they are to believe what you say and the more likely they are to call you when they need someone.

Tom:   I completely agree I’m just thinking you know.. when I speak to a lot of the small business owners as an SEO guy and they talk about marketing and things like, they always ask like how do I get myself on the news, how do I get myself on TV..

Peter:  I hate to say this you know, I hate to pimp out my former company but joining is a great way to start.

Tom:   I – I think that’s a really great way to do it too but umm…

Peter:  Look, everyone that is natural (?) about something it’s about making that connection between the right people.

Tom:   People look for, you know, kinda look for the magic bullet, I kinda have you to explain it how it really works so that they realistically know that this is what to expect, this is what I have to do

Peter: Yup, I find it that the more people you help, the more information you share and provide, the more people talk about you and say “Hey that’s the guy you wanna go to,”. The best example is the stuff that I share on Facebook and Twitter. I got a call from someone this morning who saw a free speech that I posted online and they said “Hey I really like your stuff, I’m a speaking bureau. I’m putting together this 25 city speaking tour for a big company, would you be interested in possibly doing it?” – That’s a huge amount of money if I get that contract, you know, all for offering something for free, for offering something nice.

Tom:   Where did you get all these emotion of giving something free, like, who influenced you to – to do that?

Peter:  I remember when I was just starting out, there were always some people who were giving more than just their time? I think that was key and knowing that they would listen to me and want talk to me and not asking for anything in return, that had a big impact on me.

Tom:   What would want to be remembered for though coz you’ve always kind of tell people be nice and that’s a really big thing to be I remembered about you.

Peter:  I think that it’s not hard to be nice and we expect to be treated like crap so if you’re just a little nice, that goes  a tremendously long way.

Tom:   When I think of customer service in almost every company I don’t expect nice-nice especially on airports and airplane companies.

Peter:  Oh?

Tom:   Korean Airlines is amazing though, I’ve been on Korean Airlines, I just – it blew my mind, I tell everybody about it.

Peter:  Yeah, yeah, it’s really these little things that happen that’s easy to remember.

Tom:   You started from selling t-shirts, right, if I remember correctly.

Peter:  Yeah but that was more like a one time thing. I started my career to my mark online and when I left Milwaukee for New York, I had no money, I figured out the great way to – I started the idea of selling those shirts to make money.

(Both laugh)

Peter:  But it didn’t seem to work really well.

Tom:   Yeah, I’m just trying to figure out like, on your whole path, which moment you really started thinking about this whole be nice and give free things to- to get the, you know, the whole media exposure and just to get people like thinking differently?

Peter:  I think I’ve always been nice, but I guess the whole media exposure kinda came from the not being afraid of what other people might think of me?

Tom:   That’s a big one though, like did you –

Peter:  If you don’t know what people think of you, you can get a lot done.

Tom:   That’s true though, did you ever feel like giving up?

Peter:  Oh yeah! Always! You know every once in a while there’s that part of the expression, there’s an asshole (?) out there who always tangle or whatever but I think at the end of the day, the good people are always the ones to succeed. I really believe that.

Tom:   I think so too, I think that’s the biggest take away from this interview.. and uh, as long as you are nice, giving great customer service…

Peter:  Being nice is important. Don’t be nice because you want to get something out of it, be nice for the sake of being nice. That will actually wind you – That will actually wind up getting you more out of it.

Tom:   Yeah coz that’s where I kinda  of thinking, you know, some of the listeners will be like, “Well, I just act nicely, maybe I can get something,”- but that’s not what were talking about here.

Peter:  No, no it’s not. For me, the stuff that I get out it is sort of a nice bonus. It’s just, it’s more of a way of life!

Tom:   That sounds nicely, a way of life, just being nice. What’s your typical day look like? coz you’re busy, I know, you got me coming from The Mastermind at five in the morning.

Peter:  Yeah, I’m a big believer in uh, in early mornings. I’m a big believer in not wasting time, using your time to your – to your best time to your advantage.

Tom:   Well, I think that’s great.

Peter:  If that means, getting up.. I mean I look at it this way, I could sleep an hour more? Or

I can live my life an hour more?

Tom:   I really like that quote. Yeah, this has been great, can you tell people where to find you? If you have anything coming out.. like a book or anything? Or you just wanna put something or anything?

Peter:  Sure! I’m at – my website is simply My email is  Everything in the social sphere is some form of Peter Shankman or whatever, and yeah, if ever you are in New York City, find me and we’ll go for a ride or if I’m in your city let’s for a ride or a cup of coffee or something like that, I’m always up for that!

Tom:   Yeah it’s gonna be like five at the morning or so, probably..

Peter:  Probably!

(both laughs)

Tom:   Thanks, Peter.

Peter:  Yeah, my pleasure.

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