A Treatise on Anonymity



You are being watched.

I ‘m an old-fashioned guy. In spite of my penchant (cough, obsession, cough) for technology, I usually prefer handshake deals, opening doors for ladies, a tipping my hat to gentlemen. Maybe it’s my southern heritage, but I’m an old soul, as my mother puts it.

So it may or may not come as a surprise that I have an old fashioned take on public relations.

Our era of instant information and nearly unlimited connectivity allows us to constantly share every whim, idea, or quote that pops into our minds. We share everything, tell everything, and constantly communicate. And, like just about everything, that maximum connectivity has both costs and benefits.

Facebook and Twitter have helped topple dictators in Africa.

They also let you know the very instant that Lance Armstrong admitted to doping or Oscar Pistorius was accused of murder.

As I try to build my career and a personal brand, I try to take a Franklinian approach to my reputation. I nurture it, check on it, and try to maintain it as best I can. But I’m not perfect. I unintentionally mislead or misrepresent things from time to time and have to back track. I never do those things on purpose; I’m always just explaining my imperfect understanding of the situation.

For instance, a friend of mine brought a large deal to my attention that would be a strong candidate for my company to acquire. I told him that we pay up to a 1% finder’s fee. Now, that’s true. My company will pay UP TO a 1% finder’s fee on deals, as far as I know. But this deal was huge and a 1% fee would have been much more than $1,000,000. Also, I have never completed an acquisition for my company (I work in another part of the company and I am helping the Acq Team). So, on presenting the deal to our Director of Acquisitions, he made me go back to my friend and make sure he could live with a substantially smaller fee if the transaction were successful. I felt guilty. I had unintentionally misled a friend and lost a bit of credibility.

Was anything I said untrue? No, but since I’d never done an acquisition before with my company, I could have managed my friend’s expectations better.

Therein lies my lesson and the point of this treatise.

There is no way you can anticipate all problems, complications, black swans, shortcomings, recessions, bankruptcies, defaults, or other problems that arise in commercial real estate. No one can. And, unless your last name happens to be Shakespeare, Thoreau, Whitman, Frost, or Dickens, you are not one of the top 5 wordsmiths of all time.

So here is my advice:

Shut up.

Stay out of the paper. Don’t give quotes, predictions, and opinions that are written down or published. Otherwise, you will eventually look like a fool.

Remember the director of the US Patent Office who, around 1800, declared they should close the office because there was nothing left to invent? Remember the guys who kept talking about “creative financing” in the Business Chronicle 2006 and then filed Ch 11 in 2009?

I know it boosts our ego to see our name in the paper with a canned quote on the multifamily market and a fancy rendering of our new development, but once it fails and we give it back to the lender we lose credibility . . . like I did with my friend, except on an infinitely larger scale.

Do you want to look like that? (***Hint . . . No***)

So don’t worry about self-promotion. Don’t beat you chest. Don’t try to get your name in the ABC. Quoting Roosevelt: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Let some other fool make all the noise while you quietly make millions for your investors. Truly great men don’t need to tell the world how great they are.

Think about it in terms of opportunity cost – every minute you spend self-promoting you are NOT spending on improving yourself and your abilities. If you focus on being spectacularly talented, capable, and efficient, people will know who you are. The people who matter recognize ability not press clippings. As I alluded to above, I have found that the best athletes don’t need to tell everyone how great they are. People know. And people will know your talent if it’s really there.

Also, the sad truth about us humans is that we aren’t all moral, ethical, and upright. There are certain people who will take advantage of your success. As long as there are ambulances there will be ambulance chasers. And you will find that the more often your successful company’s name is in the paper, the more often you will be served with frivolous and unethical law suits. It’s just the sad truth about us: we are jealous of success and want what others have.

So go ahead and beat your chest and boost your ego in the paper if you like, but be prepared to pay extraordinary amounts of legal bills to settle frivolous lawsuits out of court.

Before I leave you, let me clarify one point.

I’m not saying that PR is worthless or that you should never promote your company or any of its projects. My message is simply an admonition to be extremely careful with what gets put into print (and therefore searchable for all eternity). If you want to have a social media campaign to promote your new apartment project, do it. If you think you need to get your company’s name in the paper, go for it. But please understand that the public eye is an extremely critical one and, unless your name is Jesus of Nazareth, you ain’t perfect. When you screw up, misstep, default, over-leverage, and can’t keep your promises, everyone who can read will know about it. And your reputation will never be what it once was.

Food for thought.

– Duke

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