I’ve been all-in on the great How to Start a Startup podcast and webinar series put together by Sam Altman and Y Combinator.

One of the segments that caught my attention was the first of two on corporate culture – the one with Alfred Lin of Sequoia (former Zappos COO) interviewing Airbnb founder Brian Chesky. Neither Zappos nor Airbnb leave anything to chance on culture – to them, culture is a reflection of values, and as such, it was critical to them to clearly express those values to everyone in and around their companies.

Propllr is a young and growing PR agency focused on startups and innovators, and much of what I heard during this particular podcast resonated with me.

Inspired into action, we set about writing down a statement of principles that could guide the company and our people every day. Having just completed the process, I thought it could be interesting to see how it all went down.

Below was the first take for our 10 core principals:10 Principals

Oops. I meant 10 core principles.

  1. We are honest, trustworthy and committed to our clients and each other.
  1. We commit to bettering our abilities and increasing our knowledge.
  1. Our work with clients is based on mutual respect, admiration and trust.
  1. The work we do makes our clients successful.
  1. We are immersed in startups and innovation.
  1. We strive to help clients beyond what they expect.
  1. We give back to the community around us.
  1. We build true and lasting relationships with clients, reporters and each other.
  1. We respect reporters’ and clients’ time.
  1. We take nothing for granted.

On the surface we thought those were great, but on closer review many were redundant, unnecessary, limiting or just poorly worded.

Here’s an annotated version of where they fell short:

  1. We are (a) honest, trustworthy and committed (b) to our clients and each other.
    a. Honestly, honesty should be assumed, not stated.
    b. That’s pretty much everyone, so no need to say it.
  1. We commit to (a) bettering our abilities and (b) increasing our knowledge. (c)
    a. Get that week gerund s**t out of here.
    b. Ditto.
    c. Just too long and odd-sounding, all in all.
  1. Our (a) work with clients is (b) based on mutual respect, admiration and (c) trust.
    a. Only our work?
    b. Really? Not on our communication skills? Our creativity? Our diligence? Our etc.?
    c. Already said trust. A little over the top, no?
  1. The work we do (a) makes our clients successful.
    a. Yes, but something about this didn’t feel right. Sounds like we’re credit-hungry – doesn’t match the generous spirit I hope we have as a firm.
  1. (a) We are immersed in startups and innovation.
    a. This is perfect. But why so far down the list?
  1. We (a) strive to help clients beyond (b) what they expect.
    a. God I hate the word “strive.” Quit striving and start doing.
    b. What if our clients don’t expect much? Doesn’t mean we’re going above and beyond.
  1. We give back to the (a) community (b) around us.
    a. Who else would we give back to?
    b. Isn’t our community by definition “around us”?
  1. We build (a) true and lasting relationships with (b) clients, reporters and each other.
    a. There’s got to be a better way to say “true and lasting.”
    b. Why limit it? We should be focused on relationships with everyone we come in touch with.
  1. We respect (a) reporters’ and clients’ time.
    a. Why limit it to reporters and clients? What about each other? Partners? Friends? Family?
  1. (a) We take nothing for granted.
    a. Not sure how I feel about the negative “nothing.”

Based on the above, it was time to take another stab.

We needed something stronger and more concise. Something that was focused but not limiting.

Here’s the result – with our rationale for each.

  1. We are immersed in startups and innovation.
    — This is who we are and where we live. No offense to whoever runs PR for the Midwest region mortgage group at Chase Bank, but that’s not a gig for us (now if Chase were to launch a new fintech innovation lab, I’d ask them to please email me).
  2. We know trust is earned.
    — This one is a bit like saying we’re honest, but we like the broader implications. And you can’t just say you deserve it; it requires a track record of honesty, reliability, accountability and consistency.
  3. We are transparent. 
    — Transparency covers honesty but is more active. It’s about showing clients everything we’re doing for them. It’s about sharing the bad and the good. It’s about employees knowing what is expected of them and getting them the feedback they need to be excellent. Transparency goes on and on.
  4. We do work that matters.
    — A lot of companies have a PR function or agency, but only because others do. They don’t have a belief that PR can make an impact. By focusing on work that matters it means we will do what matters – not the stuff that doesn’t, even if it falls under the auspices of PR.
  5. We are respectful.
    — Just three words, but they cover a lot of ground.
  6. We go beyond deliverables.
    — Our most rewarding relationships are those where we’re more than just a PR firm. Where we bring additional depth of ideas and expertise that helps our clients grow.
  7. We give back.
    — Karma, dude.
  8. We build authentic relationships.
    — Sadly, “authentic” has become a buzzword. But it’s the key to any relationship, and what is public relations without relationships?
  9. We respect time.
    — Each other’s, our clients’, reporters’. Time is the most valuable asset most of us have, and we treat it as such.
  10. We are grateful.
    – A perfect bookend, no?

This was a great exercise for all of us at Propllr, and the end result is a series of guideposts that will keep us moving in the right direction – and doing work for the right reasons – as we continue to grow.

Still need to put your principles down in writing?

Let me know – I’d love to help.