My first job after graduating from university was at a boutique public relations agency called Bird & Hill that had a number of business-to-business (B2B) technology clients in Australia. Based in North Sydney, the two principals, Wendy and Jeff, had a strong reputation for being no-nonsense professionals who just got s**t done.
On my first day, Wendy asked me to call a client’s customer, an IT manager, to interview him and write a press release about the customer implementation – something about Voice over IP (remember when that was the hottest technology of the day?). Armed with a questionnaire, a tape recorder and a bunch of nerves, I stuttered and squeaked through the phone call, thinking “I am doing a terrible job.”
Overwhelmed by the intricacies and acronyms of enterprise technology, and faced with a steep learning curve, I didn’t know what was more intimidating – pitching stories to I’m-only-giving-you-5-seconds-then-I’m-hanging-up-on-you journalists, or devouring everything I could about my clients and their industry to impress my no-bulls**t bosses. In the end the hard work paid off – after Wendy and Jeff decide to part ways two of their clients came with me to the next agency I landed at, and Wendy was my client after she started an in-house gig and I started at Howorth (part of Ogilvy).
The hours were long and the clients could be demanding, but looking back, it was hugely rewarding to work with brands like Intel, Citrix, Telstra and Hitachi Data Systems, nab a few awards along the way, and most importantly, make lifelong friendships (one of my co-workers not only was my bridesmaid at my wedding, but she inadvertently invited me to a party where I met my now husband).
Fast forward to August 2011 and I’m in San Francisco after Ogilvy relocated me to the Bay Area. And I’m still working with enterprise technology clients. Arriving in San Francisco was a huge shock for me – not only because I’d never set foot in the city before moving here, or because I had mistakenly packed for a SoCal summer (every rookie’s mistake). But I’m also in the global heart of tech innovation. This is the land of Facebook and Google. Where company valuations are worth an entire nation’s GDP. Where brands can be unicorns and media darlings one year and at rock bottom the next. And where “fail fast, fail often” is the Valley’s most striking mantra.
It doesn’t take long to be swept up in the hype and the pace of tech here. And just like when I first started working, I initially was overwhelmed. They say the Valley is a bubble and it really is – and the TV show of the same name is more realistic than you may realize. While I wasn’t fazed anymore by reporters or my bosses, the world of venture capital, M&As, IPOs, and startups was a newer world to me. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with brands as they’ve gone through the next step in their corporate evolution – from the IPOs of Proofpoint and Rocket Fuel, to Yammer’s $1.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft, to launching startups and supporting challenger brands nip at the heels of established multinationals. Having worked solely with global brands previously, my stint at Atomic PR (before it was acquired) working along with co-founder Andy Getsey has been a career highlight. It really exposed me to the tech scene, and I personally learned so much during my time working there.
After a decade of working in PR agencies, last year I decided to give in-house corporate comms a go. While the differences between in-house vs. agency life are well documented, and many PR pros aspire for that elusive in-house role to evade the “churn and burn” environment that PR agencies have a reputation for, eventually I realized that in-house was not the right place for me long term. Don’t get me wrong – kicking off brand/PR in-house is awesome, and it can be very rewarding to collaborate across virtually every department of the business and see the fruits of your success with more granularity. Going in-house gave me a lot of breadth as I only focused on one company – whether it’s positioning, branding, content creation/marketing, media relations, analyst relations, social media, customer marketing, thought leadership…. It was great to set up the foundation and see each program grow.
But after being in the Bay Area for the last few years, I’ve learned that if you have an insatiable appetite to build and grow, see a market opportunity that you can capitalize on, and have a strong network of people to guide and support you, then the leap is possible. In the last few months, I’ve mentioned my idea to start my own PR agency to former clients, colleagues and friends – all to be met with positive remarks such as “Go for it!”, “That’s so exciting!”, and more specific pearls of wisdom.
And hence, Gravitate PR was born – a public relations agency focusing on B2B tech companies at all stages. It’s been exciting so far to develop the brand, clarify our points of difference, tap into a team of freelancers to support our clients – and also secure clients already.
I’m not under any pretense that starting up my own business won’t be intimidating in itself. If you’d asked me even a couple of years ago, I would not have believed that I would start Gravitate PR. But being in the Bay Area has helped me take this step forward. I’m looking forward to that feeling of being overwhelmed all over again, and using it to my advantage.