Peter Shankman: PR Superstar
How one man turned a deficit into an asset and blossomed into a worldwide sensation.
Some people let labels hold them back, others use them to push forward. Peter Shankman is of the latter group. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in his mid-30s, he got tired of being misunderstood. His desire to talk to people, need for stimulation, and pursuit of creative outlets, became the impetus that catapulted him into the multi-million-dollar success he is today. Just ask him, and he’ll tell you – he wouldn’t be who he is today without ADHD.
Help A Reporter Out (HARO)
Unique is one way to describe Shankman. He’s fearless, and has no problem creating his own lane. He’s the founder of The Geek Factory, a boutique PR and marketing agency that’s worked with bigwig clients like American Express, Snapple, The US Department of Defense, NASA, Royal Bank of Canada, Sheraton, Napster, Walt Disney World, Harrah’s Hotels, and others. While running The Geek Factory in 2007, Shankman ventured out to create Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a revolutionary platform that connects journalists to sources through email. The platform created a whirlwind of success for Shankman, leading him to sell HARO for a multi-million-dollar deal in just three years.
As the name suggests, HARO was created to help people. Shankman said that reporters would constantly reach out to him for sources because he talked to a lot of people and had a large network (a by-product of his ADHD, he says). He noticed a trend of journalists on deadline frantically looking for reliable sources, and the need for small businesses, traditionally overlooked by media, seeking exposure. He lent a helping hand and connected the two through HARO.
At first, he would send the reporters to a Facebook list that he created. Then, Facebook became too small, so he started an email list. And then the email list evolved into HARO, the well-oiled machine that sends out over 1,500 media requests a day to thousands of subscribers.
“I learned to help people at an early age and I talked to everyone. You know, I have really, really bad ADHD, so I talked to a lot of people. I also know a lot of reporters that I met over time due to running a PR firm and they called me and they said, “Hey, who do you know? Do you know anyone who could do this, do you know anyone who could help? I’m doing a story on (whatever)? And the idea grew from that,” he said.
Today, HARO has redefined how journalism and public relations work together by connecting millions of sources with millions of journalists. In the company’s first year, it saw $1 million in profits, and it continued to grow under Shankman’s leadership until HARO was bought by Vocus in 2010.
Work Hard, Play Hard
Shankman describes himself as an introverted extrovert. When he’s not zooming across the country dishing novel marketing, public relations, or customer service advice, he likes to spend time with his daughter and his rescue cat on the couch in their home in New York City.
He’s also an angel investor, corporate keynote speaker, skydiver, two-time best-selling author, ironman tri-athlete, NASA advisor, and TEDx speaker. He’s got so many things going on, simply because his ADHD won’t let him focus on one. The New York Times has called him “a public relations all-star who knows everything about new media and then some.” Investor’s Business Daily calls him “crazy, but effective.”
After selling HARO, Shankman founded ShankMinds: Breakthrough, an online community of business professionals from all over the world who come together to give and receive advice to improve their businesses and their lives. He’s also authored Zombie Loyalists, a book about how to provide such amazing customer service that your customers turn into walking, talking zombies that market for you.
His unique approach is to combine creativity, spunk, and honesty with everything that he does. But underneath it all, he loves to get people moving through a good story. “I think the best way to use PR, in terms of growing your business, is to create great stories, and allow your customers to tell these great stories.” He believes that social media is a great way to tell a company’s story, but a lot of organizations just aren’t doing it right. “People need to stop focusing on the ‘me’ in social media, and instead call it social you-dia. The people want to know more about how you can interact with them, not exactly what you’re doing.”
One time he tweeted Morton’s Steakhouse while taking off for a flight. He tweeted jokingly, “Hey Mortons – can you meet me at Newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)” Two hours later, a porterhouse from Morton’s was there. “It was mind-blowing. It was totally unexpected, and I think they got so much press out of that, it was just ridiculous.” That tweet got him the honor of one of the best tweets of 2010.
In spite of his success, Shankman still thinks the best advice is to fail often. “Document every failure, because you can learn and grow from each one,” he said. He has created the Faster Than Normal podcast, which helps people to embrace their ADHD and ADD, and not let it hinder them. In all things, he wants to be remembered as an entrepreneur who broke down barriers with his ADHD, an innovative thinker, and a customer service and public relations connoisseur.
“The expectation of customer service and even entrepreneurship in this country is that we expect to be treated like crap,” he said. “If you can figure out a way to treat your customers… one level above crap; your customers will remember you. Be five levels above crap, they’ll take a bullet for you, that’s how you grow a business.”