Computer School Startup Lesson

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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Ways to Leverage A Start-Up’s PR

D‘Anne Hotchkiss, owner of a new public relations

agency named Ellsworth Kaye, found out she liked to do PR at her first

job after college, when she worked on a weekly paper in a suburb of

Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her job was to write feature profiles on the townspeople.

"In a small town," she says, "everybody already knew the

things people didn’t want them to know. The feature writer got to

tell what people did want known. Which is the essence of public relations."

Hotchkiss grew up in Cedar Rapids, where her father worked for Collins

Radio, makers of communications equipment. She graduated in 1980 with

a journalism and mass communications major from the University of

Iowa and worked at a PR and advertising agency in Cedar Rapids before

starting her own agency in 1983. When she and her husband, an instrumental

music teacher, moved east in 2000, she went to work for a technology-oriented

agency. "The tech implosion closed their doors in 2001, and I

went back into business for myself," says Hotchkiss.

The practice of public relations in New York is not as strategy driven

as it is in Iowa, she claims. "Here they tend to focus on what

they can do — talk, write, and get media exposure. Where I come

from, we start with what people need to know about your company, and

then how do we communicate that."

Take I-Chen Mei, the friend with whom she swapped services (see

story above). Mei understood exactly what her value was — training

— and that this is a good time to do it, but more important than

a press release she needed to establish certain business connections,

so Hotchkiss went with her to some meetings.

Hotchkiss’s other technology and business services clients include

a human capital management company, a technology analyst firm, and

a gold mining operation on the west coast (Ellsworth Kaye Inc., 36

Pierson Avenue, Princeton 08540. 609-987-1013 (877-HITEC-PR). E-mail:

Working with small businesses can be a challenge, says Hotchkiss.

"Sometimes clients think they don’t have competitors. But if nobody

else is in your business, why not? Have others tried to do it and

failed?" She has these suggestions for entrepreneurs.

Recognize your corporate reputation is an important part

of your corporate worth. Use public relations to build it and protect


Require your public relations counselor to have a thorough

understanding of business, not just of public relations.

Demand strategic thinking. Ask why and how, not just what,

when evaluating public relations recommendations.

Expect your PR practitioner to look at your business, its

products and its services, through the eyes of customers, vendors,

employees and the media. "Entrepreneurs think everyone should

be excited about the same thing that they are excited about. They

have to take a step back and look at the value of what they are doing

through the eyes of the customer."

Consider your public relations counselor a trusted advisor,

like the company accountant or attorney.

Don’t confuse advertising with public relations. If you

want full control over what’s said about you or your company, buy

an ad.

Don’t limit your public relations activities to news releases

or newsletters. They are two of the least effective means of building

your business.

Don’t think PR can "spin" your company to great

success. No one is fooled by grandiose claims for very long. Got a

problem with a product or service? Fix the problem by changing company

actions, then use public relations to communicate the changes.

Don’t measure the value of public relations by increased

sales. Selling belongs to the sales team, not the communications


Don’t hide information from your public relations counselor.

She can’t give you sound advice if she doesn’t know all the facts.

Hotchkiss found her "straight talk and speak your mind"

approach played much better in Manhattan than it did in Iowa. That

approach is key to her business. "One client said I had the best

bullshit detector of anybody in the business," says Hotchkiss.

"If clients pontificate about how great they are, I stop them

in their tracks. If all they want to do is tell me how good they are,

they need to find someone else. I don’t need them to tell me my job.

My job is to communicate what is newsworthy about them to the people

who need to hear it. Sometimes things that people need to know are

painful to talk about or less than perfect. But if everything is perfect,

it’s not believable."

— Barbara Fox

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Computer School Startup Lesson

I-Chen Mei tells the quintessential story how helping

someone else can prove helpful to yourself. She and a church friend,

D’Anne Hotchkiss, were working side by side at a Habitat for Humanity

project. Hotchkiss was in the process of setting up her own PR business,

Ellsworth Kaye Inc.

"I was helping D’Anne volunteer when she told me she had a computer

problem," says Mei. "I said I could help her set up her local

area network and that I was starting a computer school — could

she help me?" Hotchkiss obliged by doing Mei’s public relations

materials and helping her establish some business relations. "She

has been a great resource," says Mei.

Mei is setting up her school, ICM IT Consulting and Training, to teach

corporate training classes, job-seekers, and those who want to change

or advance in their careers. She offers day, evening, and weekend

classes in computer software development and programming at locations

in Princeton and Philadelphia (ICM IT Consulting and Training, 55

Marion East, Princeton 08540, 609-252-1703; fax, 609-252-1703,

These classes, which she says can count towards a bachelor of science

degree at Drexel, include test preparation for certification by such

companies as Sun, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, and others. Among the

courses are data warehousing, data modeling, network management, programming,

systems, security, relational database technology, eBusiness, web

development, and application server development, as well as OLAP and

Ad-Hoc reporting technology. Placement assistance is available for

some of the programs. Mei has applied for approval as a private vocational

school, which would enable participants to take her classes under

the New Jersey Workforce Development Program.

"Teaching was something I always thought was fun," says Mei,

whose mother was a teacher in Taiwan. "Students would come to

our house and help with the housework and I saw that they gave her

great respect. I didn’t become a full-time teacher because I wanted

the challenge of the computer industry, but I always did teaching

anytime I could. I thought, why not start my own school and give myself

teaching time?"

Mei went to Tunghai University, earned her master’s degree in computer

science from Central Michigan University, and worked at Citibank on

Wall Street. She was a member of the technical staff at Bell Labs

from 1984 to 1992, then became a consultant and taught at Drexel and

Rutgers, where she established the Microsoft Academic Authorized Training

Program (AATP) at Rutgers University Internet Institution (ITI). "Rutgers

outsourced to my firm, and I set up the program and the classroom

and hired the instructors, including myself," says Mei. Her husband,

WeiChi Chen, is a senior architect at the Hillier Group, and they

have three school-aged children.

Known for her technical skills and ability to communicate in clear

and practical ways, Mei has published two papers and has a design

patent for a computer product. "I enjoy teaching and wanted to

give myself the opportunity to help people be successful in their

careers," she says. "So I have obtained the best instructors.

I want people to know they can come to my school and gain satisfaction."

The faculty members have graduate degrees in computer science and

related fields from such leading universities as Stanford and Harvard.

Executives from various business disciplines will advise students

in strategic planning, finance, human resources, career counseling,

and marketing.

"I would like to run the school as if it were a non-profit and

reinvest the profit into the school," says Mei. "I want to

provide the best education and learning opportunity I can to our communities

and industry professionals."

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