Last month marks my one year anniversary at Gravitate PR and what a journey it has been. A year ago, I never could have imagined that I would be working entirely from home amidst a global pandemic and learning to handle the effects it would have on my work, my life and the world. Needless to say, recent events have changed my view of what it means to work in PR and the responsibilities that I have to my colleagues, clients, and community. However, there is plenty to celebrate and look forward to: we have a new company office in SF (that I’ve missed for its easy access to boba), new exciting clients, an amazing team, and so much more. Things have changed dramatically in just one year and I have no doubt our situation will change again, hopefully for the better this time.
Now one year and ten bylines later, here are some things that I learned from my time at Gravitate:
The word “proactive” has been used more times in one year at this company than I have ever used in my entire life, but it’s the best word to describe the self-driven nature of the team and a lesson that has become ingrained in my head. Whether it’s staying on top of the news, coming up with new story ideas and pitches, being one step ahead of clients and media is an absolute necessity in PR.
Being fresh in the industry, I jumped at every opportunity to try different work assignments that I could get my hands on. Early on, I was disappointed that there were a few things that I couldn’t do because of the lack of experience, but as time went on, I was able to develop a stronger foundation and relationship with my team. I realized that credibility came from proving I was responsible and capable whether through meeting deadlines or doing research. Having that trust from co-workers that have many more years of experience than me, gave me the confidence that my work would benefit our clients.
With so much happening from COVID-19 and the BLM movement, important stories that matter and affect our communities take precedence over whatever possible ideas we can pitch. However, simply respecting the gravity of these events isn’t enough, but finding ways to address them with clients and discuss with colleagues is a vital step of not just corporate responsibility, but basic human decency. PR often has a reputation for being evil and self-serving at the worst times, but I’m glad that everyone I’ve worked with recognized the situation, cared about the problems and encouraged each other to share their thoughts. This leads nicely to the last point.
Despite being physically separated in these turbulent times, I have witnessed the team rise to meet each new challenge with an extraordinary display of resilience and empathy. There’s no doubt that we are all doing the best we can to get by in their lives and continue to deliver great work. It has stuck out to me just how much time is spent giving everyone the space and break needed to maintain good mental health. It’s the little acts of kindness that makes me more proud than ever to be part of the Gravitate team.
*Shoutout to Heather Sliwinski for being a awesome leader and mentor*
Venture capital is set to reach $100 billion of investment for this year alone. With the power to decide which startups will become the next “unicorn”, venture capitalists (VCs) are directly responsible for the rapid growth and success of companies like Uber. At the same time, some high profile startups and their CEOs (also like Uber) have been embroiled in scandals and scrutiny while under the oversight of VCs. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, so how much power and responsibility do VCs really have?
A few months ago, I attended a panel of startup and venture capital reporters: Kate Clark from TechCrunch, Erin Griffith from The New York Times, Lizette Chapman of Bloomberg, and Tomio Geron from The Wall Street Journal. With years of experience covering the tech industry and numerous conversations with VCs, they shared their thoughts on the past, present, and future of the industry. They were also a comedic bunch and didn’t shy away from making jokes about PR folks to an audience full of PR professionals.
Here are some key takeaways from the discussion.
Companies and VCs have made missteps before, but the stakes are higher as more money is invested and as the tech industry has expanded. The panelists noted that as the industry has grown, so too has there been greater scrutiny placed on high-growth startups, since their products affect more people than ever before.
Companies like Uber and Theranos have tried to avoid accountability for their actions, but the response to their scandals had enormous consequences. As Tomio put it, “the stuff happening is the same, [it] just wasn’t uncovered or was acceptable at the time.” Recently, WeWork’s IPO was placed on hold after intense scrutiny from multiple journalists, industry experts, and investors that questioned WeWork’s business model and then-CEO Adam Neumann’s behavior.
Investors want the success and reputation that comes from building a startup into a multi-million company. Being painted as villians isn’t something that they are too happy with, but as the panel points out, VCs fail to properly vet the people that they invest in.
Typically, investors need at least 7-10 years before they could profit from their investments- yet the direction of the company and returns can change dramatically as many startup CEOs are still in their formative 20s. The panel also described how investors might be aware of flawed executives, but refrain from being critical if the company is successful since it would impact the bottom line.
VCs have taken more action against unscrupulous executives, but they are mostly reactive and driven by fears of a PR crisis rather than a moral reason, according to the panel. “They probably feel like victims because they’re being called out for the first time,” said Erin. Kate added, “they make a lot of money, they should have thicker skin.” Investors feel victimized, but they lack the drive to be critical unless it’s damage control, so is it fair for them to be labelled as villains?
Softbank’s CEO Masayoshi Son is quoted as “embarrassed and impatient” after his investments into both WeWork and Uber led to over $5 billion in potential losses. Softbank, along with WeWork board members pressured Adam into stepping down and pausing the IPO, but only after general opinion turned against WeWork – a perfect demonstration of reactive behavior.
The panelists did share one point of optimism over the potential of new funds stepping away from the practices of the old guard and place more emphasis on ethics, morals and diversity. These changes would be slow, but the panel noted how funds have hired more women and people of color (albeit initially to fulfill requirements). If these diverse hires can make good investments and stay onboard, then it can create a trickle down effect.
This is particularly important with startups since, according to Kate, “the culture gets cemented in early, so you need to hire diversely from the start.” As it relates to journalism, the panel expressed more skepticism and a need to ask more detailed questions. “Triple check every single thing. In this political era, it’s clear that people are ready to lie to the media,” said Erin.
Stories on funding announcements are also becoming less interesting since more companies have big funding rounds and huge valuations. The reporters noted that a $100 million funding announcement is the minimum to grab their attention, but exceptions could be made if the company had an interesting story or technology. One audience member asked, “what if your client have neither?” To which the panel responded, “well, tough luck.”
So there you have it. VCs have yet to take responsibility for the companies and executives that they empower with their money. Fresh faces might make a difference in the future, but it will be a slow process and journalists have gotten more skeptical of the tech industry.
The discussion left me feeling grateful for reporters that keep the VCs and the tech industry accountable. They embodied the phrase, with great power comes great responsibility; after all, Peter Parker was a photojournalist rather than an investor.
For college students aspiring to be PR professionals, internships are vital for getting hands-on experience and connecting with professionals in the industry. Recently, I’ve had the chance to intern at Gravitate PR and I have learned more in a few weeks than I did in a college semester.
With the internship season starting again, I want to share some advice and lessons from my internship, for my fellow eager newcomers to PR.
Whether it’s creating media lists, pitches, or blog posts; doing proper research is imperative to your work. This means scanning through news coverage, social media, blogs, etc to get a proper understanding of your clients and their industries. There’s nothing more embarrassing than attending meetings unprepared or using incorrect information in your writing. So do the reading, learn about your client’s products, their competitors, which reporters cover their industry and you’ll be better equipped to take on an active role in your internship.
It’s a good idea to take the initiative in your internship and even more important when working with clients. For example, as you’re reading through news articles, identify industry trends and opportunities for pitching stories to your clients. This turns the act of researching from a reactive process to proactive brainstorming. There are plenty of ways to be more proactive in your internship by asking more questions, giving suggestions and checking in with your boss regularly.
One benefit of an internship is working in a professional environment alongside PR professionals. It’s intimidating at first, but taking an active role in working with a professional team gives you valuable experience you rarely get in college. Furthermore, interacting with a great team makes work much more enjoyable and gives you the chance to network with more professionals.
The most common mistake for interns is failing to double-check their work before submitting it. A simple typo can cause the demise of a pitch in the eyes of journalists and lead to an embarrassing memory that’ll haunt you throughout the internship. The solution? Review your work carefully.
A PR internship is usually fast-paced and you will be busy working, learning and having fun. But as a young professional, you should always leave some time to reflect on your experiences and future goals. You might find that you need more experience in certain tasks or that you prefer to work in certain industries. Recapping with your boss to communicate what you’ve learned can benefit your resume and LinkedIn profile when you apply for other internships or jobs.