An irreverent, entrepreneurial executive with an appetite for shaking things up, Patti founded Penman PR three weeks after 9/11. She is simultaneously intense and laid-back, which is a refreshing change from public relations’ traditionally conservative culture. Her penchant for disruption creates a unique space for Penman PR’s style of executive representation in ways no PR antecedent could.
As the managing executive of Penman PR, Patti straddles a divide between business and sass. Although all the company’s PR campaigns are purpose-built for each executive and seriously executed, Patti does not come across as a “suit” in her appearance and manner. Her uniform is a t-shirt and distressed jeans; she listens to soul, blues and metal to pump up for work and her conference calls are typically taken while poised on a balance board.
Despite her irreverence, Patti has a passion for complex technologies and has actively engaged in several nanotech organizations. She is the former editor of NanoExpress News and columnist for Nanotechnology Now. She is a founding member of Nano Advancement Center and founding strategic advisor to Nanotechnology Research Foundation. She has authored several articles on small tech, including “Issues and Strategies for Marketing Nano Inside” Issue 5.4, Nanotechnology Law & Business.
Where did the idea for Penman PR come from?
Penman PR was founded in October 2001 during the rubble of the dotcom bust and three weeks after 9/11. The company was brainstormed while I was stranded in Playa Del Carmen during the days following 9/11. In seeking to address the considerable services gaps in public relations consulting and services, after I returned from Mexico, I conferred with executives to determine what they enjoyed and what they did not from the public relations firms with whom they had worked. Three weeks later, I founded the company under its original name, BlabberMouth PR – the cool firm with the sticky and uncharacteristic name.
During our early years, the company name was widely embraced. It was whimsical and fun – something the corporate world desperately needed. University of Texas Marketing Department recognized BlabberMouth as an example of how to develop a sticky brand successfully, yet not all remained right in the BlabberMouth world. In 2007, there were whispered protests about the company name. To get a more precise reading on audience perception, I distributed an electronic poll to our database of approximately 10,000 executives across the globe. The survey had one question with three answer options:
What do you think about the BlabberMouth name?
Do you like it?
Do you not like it, but would not let it deter you from doing business with us?
Do you not like it, and you wouldn’t do business with us because of it?
The response was incredibly revealing. Where 55% of the approximately 5,000 respondents liked the name, 45% did not. The 45% who responded negatively held executive positions in complex industries, such as biotech, nanotech, software, financial services, etc.
To test the effectiveness of a name change, I developed a DBA called CameronWeeks Public Relations. Lo and behold – the corporate name resonated with executives in complex technologies and industries and was accepted as a brand. To simplify, in August 2009 BlabberMouth and CameronWeeks became Penman PR – a penman being an author or litterateur.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Public relations is in my DNA. I love every aspect of it. I keep my eye on the company while implementing PR campaigns. I work strategically as well as tactically, which means I always keep our clients’ organizational goals in mind while driving initiatives on their behalf. Because we’re industry agnostic, the work is always interesting.
I start my workday at 9 am Eastern and follow a schedule where I have time blocks dedicated to specific activities. I calendar client and colleague calls, time to write pitches and executive contributed articles, media outreach, among other things. During those times, I am singularly focused. Of course, there are interruptions, but our flexible, virtual work environment lends itself to a really great work / life balance which provides for dedication and discipline while offering time for ourselves and our families.
I’m fortunate to live near Topsail Island. When I need to clear my thoughts, I head to the docks to watch the fishermen come in or take walks on the beach.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’d like to think of myself as unconventional. I tend to focus intently and with fresh eyes. I step back, typically while riding my road bike or Peloton, to gain perspective. I seek out unorthodox combinations, experiment quickly, and work to understand potential issues. As someone comfortable with risk, I pull the trigger.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The ongoing pandemic is driving virtual, and results work environments. I love this trend. All of us at Penman PR have enjoyed a virtual work environment from inception which has given us a far greater work/ life balance than working in a traditional office environment.
Last year, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper originating from Harvard Business School about pandemic lockdowns and resulting workdays. Generally, employees have been more productive during this forced remote environment. Interestingly enough, the report also shows that working from home adversely affects people’s work/life balance. I would venture to say that the latter is impacted by our inability to socialize as we did previously. It takes effort to create balance. The most significant piece of advice I can impart to those who struggle to separate work from personal time is to simply walk away. I am fortunate to live near the coast. When the balance is tilted against me, and I need a moment to empty my head, I grab a cuppa Joe and head to the public boat dock or off to the beach to chill.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I pride myself on continually self-educating. It is a habit I strongly urge everyone to cultivate. An open and driven mind pushes new ideas, lights a fire, and generates higher productivity. My personal commitment to continuous learning has given me all the successes I enjoy today.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn to sell early. In my mind, it is one of the most important skills anyone can develop at any age that will serve them well. I would also encourage my younger self to take more risks sooner and grow the business faster.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe Lance Armstrong is a great cyclist.
I am a former endurance cyclist (not a racer) who frequently trained in the Texas Hill Country around the Austin area. There were several occasions when a cyclist would fly by in a blur. It was Armstrong. Living in Austin for most of my adult life, I felt great pride in watching the Tour and his wins. Regardless of the doping convictions, he won seven Tour de France titles.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Manage expectations. We set client expectations and then exceed them while keeping our standards high. Anything other than that can be disastrous for a company.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We have always stayed true to the company’s core values and the fundamentals upon which it was built. For 20 years, we have been providing our clients senior-level representation with a focus on creating dynamic and inspired campaigns tailored for each executive.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In 2006, I was banned from attending an event at Texas governor Rick Perry’s office two hours before a meeting in his office between my client and a delegate from Shimane Prefecture, Japan. They were to announce a memorandum of understanding to the media and the Shimane-Texas Task Force designed to formalize cooperation on the development of advanced industrial materials. Due to a miscommunication by Perry’s PR team, I was not allowed to attend.
I scrambled to put all the pieces together remotely, and the media event went off flawlessly. The lesson learned was to tread lightly but firmly when faced with big egos.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There will be great rewards for those who enter renewables or biofuels.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I just bought clipless, performance pedals for my Peloton bike that were on sale for exactly $100. I love them. The Peloton pedals slipped and gave me an uneven ride. The new pedals reduce friction and increase power transfer.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
This may be considered cheating given my profession, but I love Grammarly. It scans text for common and complex grammatical errors. The pro version sits in my toolbar and is available for everything, including emails and texts.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Hot Stew” by Fiona Mozley
Even with the increased population of COVID vaccinated people in the United States, my caution remains high. I miss socializing and urban activities. Hot Stew gives it back. It takes place in London’s Soho with focus on an unassuming building that sits on prime real estate. It houses a French restaurant and a brothel, and the group of strange and stranger tenants converge to keep their building free from a developer’s grip. It made me want to move to London.
What is your favorite quote?
“Dream more than others think practical. Expect more than others think possible. Care more than others think wise.” — Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks
- Buck the norm. When I started my firm, every single person I spoke with told me the time was wrong, and it could not be done. I believed the time was ideal – and here we are with 20 years under our belts. Economic downturns are the perfect time for innovation and risks. I weighed all my options, did some research, and then took the leap. I would never have forgiven myself had I not.
- Hard work outweighs talent. When I started my agency, I had no background in public relations outside the vendor / company relationship. I learned the business very quickly – and then made an agency that I felt was better than any I had hired previously. The 18 and 20 hour days I put in to get the company off the ground outweighed the lack of talent I brought to the table. Intelligence and knowledge kicked in when it was necessary.
- Share your knowledge, network, and compassion. I have continuously operated under the philosophy of sharing knowledge, network, and compassion. Our knowledge encompasses everything we’ve learned and everything we continue to learn. We share valuable information with as many people as possible. Our incredible network of relationships has the potential to bring value to others when shared. And our compassion is our ability to reach out to others with warmth and regard. This should be done with no interest in reciprocity.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.