With over ten years of experience as a reporter, Ed Zitron knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the curtain when it comes to press. As the CEO and founder of EZPR, and the author of two books on the subject, Ed has endeavored to help companies and the PR world generally develop sensible, effective public relations strategies.
Ed spoke to Crunchbase News last week, opening up about his inner thoughts, goals, fears, and judgements. He is a down to earth, no B.S. kind of guy who is both aware of his faults and grateful for his success. We enjoyed his candor and spirit as the latest founder in to participate in our Proust Goes Tech Series.
What would you otherwise be doing right now?
Most probably I’d be working. If it’s not pitching the media, it’s staring at one of the many cryptocurrency exchanges for reasons I can’t remember. Or reading twitter and tweeting endlessly, endlessly, endlessly until I just fall over from exhaustion. Just really healthy stuff all around, I find.
Your main fault?
It is honestly that I have trouble letting go. I have trouble letting people help me. It’s something I’m getting better at—I have a very good Chief of Staff. I work on this constant problem of just trying to run the whole company myself, never really handing off enough, never really forgetting about stuff, being emotionally held down when bad things happen. I’m more of a college quarterback than an NFL quarterback in that way.
I definitely would say I’m very emotional, which is good. That’s not really a fault, it just goes hand in hand with the problem of not really being particularly good at asking for help.
The quality you most desire in a tweet?
I don’t think theres any specific quality in a tweet that makes it good. Because a good tweet is a good tweet. It can be funny or it can be serious or what have you. But I would say number one is just stop stealing things from Tumblr. It’s just kind of sad. There’s this thirst with tweets.
Also, don’t be super generic. If I see another tweet with “TRUMP IS A MOTHER BITCHING IDIOT, YOU KNOW, UH, HE SHOULD BE PUT IN JAIL!” Yeah, no one is happy with this situation right now; we get it. But no one is going to post their way out of the presidency. No one tweet is going to break Donald Trump.
But also when it comes to humor, I think that people take it all a bit too seriously. I say this after getting mad at someone for saying something on Twitter, but try to have a light heart with it. Also try not to be entirely generic or forced. I could go the rest of my life paying a monthly subscription to never read Aaron Levie’s tweets again for example.
Your idea of misery?
Having been there, true isolation. Isolation is the coldest death one can have without actually dying. And when it comes to Silicon Valley that’s a very strange thing because you can be isolated when surrounded by people. I would argue that when it comes to Silicon Valley, in particular, people have this strange quasi allegiance with a bunch of people.
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
Honesty and loyalty. I expect them to tell me when I’ve messed up, but I don’t expect them to just leave me when it’s convenient. That’s why I have very close friends, and I only have a few of them. It takes a lot for me to build trust with people. I mean this goes both ways. Trust is very hard to gain and very easy to lose.
I admire my friends for being not just loyal to me, but also loyal to my best wishes and my best success, which means basically saying “Ed you messed up” or “Ed you need do so something about this because otherwise things will go badly.” That’s very hard to find in people because they’re usually either saccharine or what people think sarcasm means, but it’s actually just being rude.
Your chief characteristic?
Tenacity. It’s very hard for me to give up on things. I don’t let go for better or for worse. So I will stay on something until reasonably I have run out of mental or physical gas.
What skill do you wish you possessed?
I wish I could speak another language. I failed every single language I ever tried. I failed four languages in high school. Impressive amounts of failure I’d say.
Your most impactful book?
I can’t think of a book I’ve read in business that’s actually good or an impactful, well-written, interesting book. I mean the last book I remember being “impacted” by was Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis. That was quite some time ago.
I mean, I’ve read a lot of these startup books and they all have the same advice. They’re all trying to tell these magical stories about how wonderful and successful they’ve been and the struggles they’ve been through to get there.
I think the reason I keep coming back to Liar’s Poker (I’ve read it about five times now, actually) is the whole junk bond payoff situation that happened is so applicable. Junk bond trading and the get rich quick keeps coming back [and] keeps replicating itself. Something cool starts, something that has value or was undervalued, people make money off of it, then people go deeper and deeper into darker corners of this money making thing. The obvious application is probably crypto. I mean it all started with these very interesting situations where people said, “bitcoin has value being a decentralized currency,” but now people have gone even further saying, “bitcoin has value because of reasons.”
What defines success?
In business, it’s profit without destroying other people or lying. I do not want to win on the broken backs of other people.
People love to focus on big businesses, and I see PR firms that don’t do as well as ours and they’re focused on growing a big team. I’m like, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense. Why do you have more people? They’re not helping you.”
In life I think it’s truly having a good life. Doing the things you want to do not at the cost of other people.
When is confidence lost?
I run on a deficit of confidence at all times. I am an anxious, depressed person at times. If it’s not a case of saying “It’ll be alright,” it’s definitely a case of saying “It probably won’t be as bad as the things I’ve gone through before.”
I think that is one major reason why I am still a success. I’m very happy; I have a child on the way, and I have a beautiful wife. It’s wonderful. But several years ago, I was not in a great place. Going through various things, undiagnosed ADHD, for example, definitely taught me to realize that things could be a lot worse. I’m not saying that everyone should suffer on some level, but I am suggesting to learn exactly where your life’s low point has been and move on from there. Understanding that and getting perspective on everything from that, I think is a good way to get confidence.
Even if I lose a bunch of clients, if I still have a company, if I can still afford to pay everyone, if I can still afford to pay myself, that is a good thing. That is a WIN. Knowing how lucky I am is something that gives me confidence.
I realize this is answering the “when do I lose confidence question?” with how I have confidence. The final thing I’ll say is confidence is lost when I forget how lucky I am. That’s probably the cleanest way of answering that.
Which buzzword is exhausted?
Hmm. Where to start? Well, let’s load up PR Daily. I’m sure they’ll have, like, eight.
I’m going to go with my industry. “PR professional.” I think it’s a buzzword, and I think its a bloody stupid term. It suggests that there are “PR unprofessionals” or that PR people need to be reminded that they’re professional somehow. They need to be given a special badge. If you ever want the actual example of the millennial “participation trophy” it is the term “PR professional.”
Ask any journalist, and I don’t think they’ll describe most PR people in their emails as “professionals” unless it’s like “professional bug with a million legs that eats dust.” Basically all PR people are professional dust-eating bugs with a million legs. Except for me and my company. That is the official statement.
What virtues do others have that you don’t?
Patience. And this is a cheesy, cliche thing to say. But with ADHD one of the biggest problems, even medicated, is patience. It is tough. And I’ve found this talking to other people who have ADHD. It’s about the concept of time. So it’s tough to stay patient, and it’s tough to be patient. You want things to happen way faster than they do. And when they don’t, it’s a frustrating annoying situation for you.
What impact do you want to leave behind?
A happy family.
I also want to leave a mark on the PR industry, even if it’s a bruise. Even if there’s one person out there who improves because of me.
I’ve written two bloody books on this. I find the state of the industry sickening. I want to see people not form-pitch anymore. I don’t think I’ll be the one who stops it. I hope I am, but probably not realistically. But I want to stop these “dust eating bugs” from spamming so much.
What’s the biggest problem tech is failing to solve?
There’s a few, but I think tech is generally failing to solve real people problems. I feel that there is this focus on technological advancement vs. technological enhancement. Realistically tech could do a lot more for the regular person.
People usually respond to this with saying “well it isn’t necessarily a good business to help everyone.” This is not only disgusting; it’s also completely stupid. Snapchat burns money constantly, and they’re not helping many people at all.
There is this very big focus on these, at best, middle class—probably more like upper middle class—problems. I don’t think tech, in general, cares that much. You see a lot of this “social good.” I just don’t see them as doing good.
Perhaps we’re in the froth we used to be in. Perhaps we’re not in a situation where it’s like bitcoin for dogs, or it’s entirely focused on really stupid stuff. But we are still in the zone where companies that are profitable aren’t really getting funded. We’re obsessed with these really inherently stupid things, like Elon Musk’s fake flame thrower that’s actually a blow torch.
I also believe this is an issue where people are saying that it’s a binary thing. They say you can only help completely by being a nonprofit, or you can only be a for-profit company making as much money as possible from the richest people you can find. I think there has to be a middle ground.
Also creating things that approach more than just California and New York, or frankly, approach more than just San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. How about East Oakland or the poorest parts of San Leandro? Or going out to Central Valley where there’s Tracy, Patterson, and Modesto? There’s an issue where people say the “Bay Area” and they just mean San Francisco, and that’s gross on its own. It’s taking the identity away from the area.
It’s also the people in the states that the people in Silicon Valley roll their eyes at: Pennsylvania, Montana, Michigan.
I realize I’m going all over the place, but the point is Silicon Valley still rolls it’s eyes at the problems of other areas and still prioritizes the most interesting press worthy product over those that will actually change most of the world.
Editorial Note: Answers edited for brevity and clarity.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
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