You don’t know what competition is until you challenge yourself to get ahead

With all of the tech heavyweights taking all of the air out of the room, it’s hard to feel like you’re in second place. Get growth marketing! SEO. Email marketing. Digital marketing. Clubhouse. Even radio is popular again, and now it’s social! Hyper-content creators like Rob Moore are even saying that this is the golden age of social media. So, how do you get ahead when you feel like you’re stuck in second place?

I’m not being original when I say we’re in the midst of some kind of new-age technological revolution. Seriously. I was just a year into my first agency when the hot technology was CRM, Customer Relationship Management. was the 800-pound gorilla in 2002. I was on the public relations team at RightNow Technologies. One of my teammates told me that I didn’t know what competition was like until I felt stuck in second place. I was up to the challenge.

PIXAR Bet on A Bug’s Life

In the late 1990s, I was a public relations manager at the famed PR firm Niehaus Ryan Wong. I experienced what it was like to be in second place, to put it lightly, when my client, PIXAR Animation Studios, was behind another computer animation studio that Disney hired to produce a different film.

We had built a public relations strategy that we hoped would pull PIXAR out in the front by positioning Steve Job as a future movie mogul. It seemed like a long shot to many. Not one believed that a reporter would bite on our story. I found a reporter at a popular local publication who longed to get into the entertainment industry. He wanted to be at the table to hear industry stories. We went out to lunch.

By that time I had a good amount of experience as a celebrity publicist and had my own war stories. Over food we hardly touched, I shared memories of days past. Anecdotes that only an insider would know. He was sitting on the edge of his seat. Tell me about PIXAR, he said. I told him, now having reassured him that I was a credible source, that the studio was being headed by the next creative visionaries in the film sector. He took note.

There was no telling what he would do. I told my boss we had a good lunch. I got our point across. It was kind of a funny feeling. I was thinking that it may be possible to use a story to move a mountain. I had no idea about what was about to happen. I always thought that Disney only hired two computer animation studios within miles of each other to not give either preference and keep the preferred studio (PIXAR) on its toes.

The reporter called. They decided to do a feature cover story. Pictured on the cover, the title read, “Steve Jobs, Movie Mogul / Pixar looking for second big hit in `A Bug’s Life’”. We didn’t even have to send Disney a copy. PIXAR was no longer the second fiddle. Disney dropped the other computer animation studio overnight and put all of its efforts into making “A Bug’s Life,” the biggest grossing computer-animated film of its time, which it became. Disney eventually acquired PIXAR.

RightNow vs.

Fast-forward to 2005, we were two years into pushing RightNow Technologies in front of every journalist and analyst in the CRM sector, and all that had written about or met with Marc Benioff, CEO of We were still in second place. Benioff was masterful with the media. He met them regularly, sent chocolates and other gifts. He and were top of mind. We were, after all, based in Montana. Far from Silicon Valley.

Keep in mind that was already the 800-pound gorilla before RightNow came onto the scene. We didn’t have the time or the resources to get ahead. Some of us thought there was nothing we could do. Some of the PR team members were out of gas, completely flummoxed. It would take creativity, experience, and guts to keep up.

CEO Greg Gianforte put his cowboy boots on. He traveled to San Francisco. Greg met with everyone. He was charismatic, engaging. A consummate salesperson. He had a story to tell. It wasn’t about He talked about how the CRM market was bigger and growing more than anyone thought. It was bigger than both companies. He shared RightNow’s successful quarter after quarter results. The journalists were amazed.

Suddenly RightNow was appearing in Benioff’s stories. There was no getting rid of us. No longer did it seem like we were in second place, but head to head. More journalists were accepting meetings and writing about our company. Not only were we repositioning ourselves in the media, internally our team saw RightNow in a horse race with, side by side.

And Down the Stretch, They Come

How did the race end? came out ahead. RightNow wasn’t far behind. Strategically, RightNow decided to follow’s IPO, and subsequently, RightNow became one of the top 5 performing IPOs of 2005.

For startups or mid-sized companies that feel like they’re operating in the shadow of others, author Nancy Pearcy said it best, “Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.” In both examples, I was pushed to challenge myself to do better, be more creative, work harder. My mind wasn’t focused on being second in the race. My mind was focused on what I could do to help our clients win.

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