At the Hambrecht & Quist meeting a few weeks ago, we ran into one of our favorite private company CEOs, who mentioned that his board is pressing him to hire an outside IR/PR firm. He's reluctant to spend the kind of money that would entail, but we suspect his board is concerned with positioning the company for a public equity offering while the market holds up.

Given the improvements in the stock market these days, company CEOs have the comparatively pleasant task of figuring out how to get the attention of investors in a more receptive environment than has prevailed in the past few years.

But that doesn't mean that the lessons of the down cycle should be thrown out with the bear market bath water. To the contrary, it's all the more important to maintain a disciplined focus on achieving true technology and product development milestones that will justify the market's upward momentum, and to forego the temptation to over-sell company stories, which ultimately will send investors fleeing.

This is especially true because this doesn't appear to be a mindlessly optimistic bull market. Thus while the strength of the market is a fairly common theme these days, just about everybody is asking how long it can last and which stocks are overvalued.

Our generic answer tends to the dull but obvious:

"The up market can be sustained for quite some time, give or take some corrections along the way, as long as companies continue to create value, and as long as that value creation is attractive relative to what's going on in other sectors."

Performance vs. positioning

That's a tautology, but at a basic level stock markets aren't rocket science. Investors haven't stopped asking tough questions about the stocks they're buying. In other words, value is still being determined by performance, not by positioning