At the “We Mean Business” Expo held yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing Bill Rancic’s keynote speech on entrepreneurial success. For those of you don’t know him, he was the first winner of Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” reality show.
But before his trip to stardom, he was a successful entrepreneur, having launched Cigars Around the World, a monthly cigar-by-mail club. He lead us through some entertaining tales of his childhood and his early experiences trying to grapple with, but ultimately rejecting, a life in the corporate culture.
His abilities to recognize opportunity, to take calculated risks and to ignore critics, were all instrumental to his success. But simply having a good idea, such as his cigar club, does not ensure a money-maker – you still have to get the word out. Indeed the turning point for his fledgling company and entrepreneurial career came from a single brilliant PR idea.
Bill told us the story of how he wanted radio programs to tell their listeners about Cigars Around the World, but he didn’t have enough money for advertising. After a few fruitless attempts sending letters to radio producers, he came up with the idea to send his letter in a box with a few cigars. However on the top of the letter, he placed a pair of dime store glasses with a note for the producer to “take a closer look at my idea.”
One Chicago radio station brought him onto the show to talk for five minutes about his product, but five minutes turned to 30 as the host got more excited about his new idea. When Bill returned to his office, his phones were ringing off the hook with subscribers. His popularity propelled his business onto more radio programs and the orders continued to fly in. And this event occurred in the early 90s before the Internet was mainstream. Think about how his approach may have been different today.
Here are the keys to Bill’s success, as he put it:
- Find an unserved market and strive to fill that niche.
- Don’t succumb to analysis paralysis. Figure out how to open the parachute on the way down.
- Have a strategy going in, but be flexible.
- In order to remain successful, you must constantly evolve and adapt to world.
His last point is my favorite. Any business that sticks to the old ways of doing things will soon become obsolete. In his example, the dot com boom inflated advertising prices greatly but some cigar distributors decided to keep advertising in the same places. As a result they went out of business. Bill shifted his PR and advertising strategy as the market changed and he stayed in business.
Would Bill’s original PR gimmick still work today? I highly doubt it, as producers are flooded with silly packages from marketers every day. It worked in the early 90s when such a technique was rare. But the media was really the only way to get in front of large numbers of people. Today we have not just the Internet, but a world of online communities just itching to get their hands on the next new product or service.
What are some things that you can be doing today to rise above the crowded marketplace? Tell me what you think in the comments.