Carrie Laudie | News Editor | @carrielaudie
Jonathan Johnson, chairman of Overstock.com, spoke to students from various universities at the regional Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) conference held at UVU, Wednesday, Feb. 25. He spoke about public relations trends to watch in 2015.
He shared his dos and don’ts of business and public relations with conference attendees. Do be factual, accessible, knowledgeable, interesting and a storyteller. Johnson called the list of don’ts – the five deadly sins. Don’t be vain, it’s important to be able to accept feedback especially when it is critical. Don’t pretend to have authority on a subject. Don’t be insincere, don’t use gimmickry and don’t use puffery.
Overstock.com started 15 years ago as a liquidating website, selling last year’s products for companies on their website at a discounted price. Today, that only makes up 10- 15 percent of their sales and the products purchased most often on Overstock.com are home goods (i.e. comforters, couches, beds).
When Overstock.com started there were 18 employees, today there are 1,700 employees, and the company is based exclusively in Utah.
“I think it’s important as a Utah company that we participate in Utah events. We’re recruiting a lot of people and we want folks at Utah Valley University to know that we are here. We are trying to be a trendsetting company and a fun place to work,” said Johnson, “I think there’s something about letting students know what we are seeing out in business, and how the trends are changing.”
Johnson is planning on running for governor of Utah in the 2016 election and is championing two pieces of legislation this year.
“Worst kept secret in the state. I’m not officially announced but I have every intention of running,” said Johnson, “Our current Governor has been in there for two full terms and I think that change is good. I was the president of Overstock for five years and then CEO and I think Overstock has benefited from having new leadership and new sets of eyes and I think Utah will do the same. I think we’re a well-managed state, and I think we can continue being a well-managed state under new leadership.”
One of the bills Johnson is involved in is HB 94, the right to try bill. This bill gives patients who are terminally ill the opportunity to use experimental drugs and devices that have passed the first round of FDA trial.
“About a month or so ago the Tribune came out and endorsed the bill, but said that this was really a rich man’s solution to a rich man’s problem,” said Johnson.
The bill requires that pharmaceutical companies provide experimental drugs at cost, but even that could still be prohibitive to some patients having access to the drugs, because health insurance companies don’t usually pay for experimental drugs.
“I thought if they were expensive there’s got to be a way we can solve that problem in a private sector way. So I called a few of my friends and we’ve set up a foundation called The Right to Try Foundation. If the bill passes and there are people trying to access the experimental devices or drugs, the foundation will pitch in,” said Johnson
The other bill Johnson is interested in seeing pass this legislative term is regarding civics education. This bill would require public high school students to pass same test immigrants have to pass to become US citizens. The purpose of the bill would be to try and help those graduating from high school have an interest in being involved in government and being informed voters.
“I think education does more to change people’s behavior than anything else,” said Johnson.