A PR Crisis is a Rite of Passage. Here’s How to Deal With It.

We’re used to living with natural disasters in the Bay Area – and as PR people here, we see our share of PR disasters. Everywhere you look, companies are scrambling to attend to the latest employee misstep, leaked memo, tone deaf Tweet or corporate policy gone Uber wrong.

 

Over the last 15 years, we’ve guided my clients through every imaginable kind of crisis – from Senate inquiries and sexual harassment claims, to defective products, management shuffles and layoffs, leaked acquisition talks, broken product embargoes and even government bans.

 

Every successful business encounters a crisis (or several). If you’re faced with one, you’ll want experts and multiple confidantes to provide guidance through every step. The key to winning in a crisis revolves around a few key steps: preparation, speed of response, empathy towards those impacted by the crisis, transparency and business corrections.

But there’s one thing to make absolutely clear: PR Crisis equals Business Crisis. Whether small or explosive, they’re often simplified by the outside world as ‘PR problems,’ but that’s bullshit. They are business problems that need to be solved with business changes not PR responses.

 

An incredible PR team can definitely help you navigate a crisis, but that doesn’t solve the underlying issue. If the business, company culture or technology don’t evolve or create a more transparent environment, then you’re in for a long road.

So what happens when you do find yourself in one of those crisis scenarios. First, assess the damage….what threat level are you operating at?:

 

Level 1 – A few customer complaints have come through via email and/or social.

 

  • Action: Deal with the issue as quickly as possible. Either remedy the problem, refund the customer, or explain that you’re working on the issue…and then work on it!

    Show contrition. Fix the problem quickly.

Level 2 – The media has started asking questions about a particular problem.

 

  • Action: Assess the situation. Figure out how you will communicate what you are doing to fix the issue or clarify the situation.

    Don’t ignore the press. Ignoring means you have something to hide.

Level 3 – Media is now publishing stories about the issue.

  • Action: Analyze the press coverage. Check into the facts and understand if the problem is real. Deal with the problem – and then deal with the media.

    If the problem is fixed or being fixed, immediately contact the journalist or outlet and explain the situation and what is being done to fix it. If more than two days go by and the journalist or their boss (the editors) don’t respond, leave a comment in the comment section of the article.

Inform your stakeholders and employees. Let them know what’s going on before they tell you.  And tell them what your plan is to solve it.

Level 4– Viral spread of your crisis.

  • Action: Issue an official statement – one from the company to the press, and then a personal one that is distributed across relevant channels.Note that if you are a consumer product, and the crisis is a back-end business issue such as an employee lawsuit, there is no need to inform end consumers via social media. However you should issue a statement to all media covering the situation.

Level 5 – Extreme external pressure from investors, government inquiries and calls for regime change

 

  • Action: Interestingly enough, in the highest pressure situations, there is almost a sense of calm that comes over a good crisis expert. Almost an excitement of knowing what’s about to happen and predict it as it unfolds.It’s a time when I hear the lyrics of Sound of Silence overtake me with the word ‘Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gFnCwVqbWs 

A good Level 5 requires a few things:

  • Daily communication with your Board of Directors and PR counsel
  • Having a positive and welcoming disposition with government bodies or authorities (if they’re involved)The good news: depending on the severity of the issue, after the initial PR splash, governments often move slow. Authorities may make a lot of noise when they investigate an issue, but like a bad health diagnosis – they’ll freak out initially, but then get used to the new reality.
  • External monitoring of velocity of movements like #DeleteUber

Your final step, when the storm has passed, is to learn from your experience and do a post-crisis evaluation. Ask yourself what the company learned from this? What processes could have been put in place to avert or minimize it? How can the company fix its problems to avoid such a crisis in the future. If you expect ongoing crisis as a result of just the business you are in, you must accept the new reality and prepare your stakeholders for this as your business continues to grow.

Some additional resources when faced with a crisis:

 

Your first steps are the most critical

Regardless of the crisis, there are some universal steps to take. Media intelligence company Meltwater includes some of these best practices in their 10 Steps to Managing a PR Crisis:

 

  • Assemble & brief your Crisis Team: these are the execs, PR and social media leads, and customer-facing employees who will be on the front lines. Give them the status along with timelines and next steps on how/if/when they should communicate externally.
  • Get the full story: don’t react until you know those details. Ask a ton of questions. Determine how your response will impact your overall business.
  • Listen and watch: monitor social channels, your online community and the news media. What’s the noise level? You’ll be able to gauge how significant the crisis is by the size of the conversation.
  • Decide on your channels: depending on the situation and messaging you’ve created, figure out which medium(s) will be your best bet for delivery – company blog, social, press release distributed over a newswire, via a select reporter or a group of them, etc.

Your social gameplan

 

Thinking through your social media communication plan specifically is critical. Social monitoring company Hootsuite recommends to:

 

“Outline the exact steps everyone should take on social media—from top executives to the most junior employees. Include a list of who should be contacted at each stage of a potential crisis, and provide guidelines for how all employees are expected to communicate on social media.”

 

And they advise to act fast:

 

“Not using the real-time nature of social media to your advantage is where many companies stumble in a crisis. Social media offers a public forum to immediately acknowledge the situation while you work on fine tuning more in-depth communication… A simple message from a company acknowledging the issue and letting people know that more information is coming soon can help contain the negative sentiment around an issue and prevent it from spiraling out of control.”

 

Another bright light here: social media movements lose steam. They’ll trend for a day and two and then most likely, people will be on to the next crisis. Why? People have short attention spans.

 

This is why two of the most important groups to cater to are your Board and your team. Most companies and leaders understand issues will occur and are more interested in your response and your open line of communication.

 

According to Fortune: “Don’t forget about your employees. In a crisis, it’s common to focus on brand and trying to make sure that not too much external damage is done. But that crisis also has a huge impact on your own people—many of whom have had their faith shaken in their company’s values and are afraid for their own livelihoods.”

 

Meanwhile, be careful what you email your teams. Those memos are often leaked. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want to see published in Techcrunch.

VSC Helps Nearpod Bring Virtual Reality Education Experiences to America’s Schools

Hundreds of startups are vying to reinvent education, competing with tech titans such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft in order to win the $12 billion K-12 U.S. education market.

 

Nearpod enables K-12 teachers to create, find and distribute lesson plans to students on any digital device. The company launched in 2012, and after many years of operating in stealth mode, selected VSC in late 2015 to build awareness in schools and within the greater technology landscape.

 

At a time when the market boasted several other online education and digital learning companies, our goal was to differentiate Nearpod from the competition and drive sales.

Our Strategy

VSC advised Nearpod on a fairly common, but substantial challenge where the media’s conversation around mobile technology in schools was far ahead of on-the-ground school adoption. Despite interesting work being done by Nearpod in the classroom, VSC determined the edtech company should not try to focus on mobile apps, which media considered old-hat, but instead direct the conversation along a new axis.

In our due diligence, we discovered experimental work being pursued in virtual reality, which had largely remained hidden from the public. Given recent developments with high-profile companies in VR such as Oculus Rift, VSC identified an opportunity to not only capitalize on the heightened attention paid to virtual reality, but also push the edtech conversation in a new direction. As such, VSC advised Nearpod to lead with this experimental VR work and scale it in such a way to help the company gain media interest and create a new entry point for its broader mobile application offerings.

 

To ensure Nearpod’s VR education story was more substance than fantasy, VSC relaunched the VR product and advised the company to develop VR education grants, gifting more than $100,000 worth of content, headsets, training and other resources to 50 schools. We also developed messaging around the power of virtual reality to energize education RIGHT NOW with powerful software and low-cost hardware.

 

Nearpod sourced low-cost VR viewers in order to emphasize the accessibility of the product to any school, as compared to other cost-prohibitive solutions such as Oculus Rift. With the VR education grants and the low-cost VR viewers, VSC helped Nearpod put the “reality” in virtual reality in classrooms across the U.S.

The Results

 

VSC understood that the imaginative and visionary nature of Nearpod’s VR-in-the-classroom narrative would require a top-tier feature story that could fully capture the different ways the company is innovating.  As such, VSC secured a Wall Street Journal feature story about VR in classrooms, with Nearpod as the featured company.

From the Wall Street Journal:

“Nearpod Inc., a startup that makes education software used in 10,000 schools across the U.S., is launching virtual-reality lessons on Thursday. Here’s their pitch: instead of requiring schools to invest heavily in headsets and other hardware, Nearpod’s approach relies on students using their own devices or district-supplied electronics.

 

Students already use tablets and netbooks in the classroom, to share text, record and watch videos, and conduct research. Virtual reality – the technology that lets people experience immersive, 360-degree images – would take technology in the classroom to the next level.

 

Virtual-reality proponents argue students engage more with a lesson when it is interactive, such as virtual “field trips” to far places.”

While the WSJ feature would set the vision and tone for the rest of the campaign, VSC planned for immediate follow-on coverage that could demonstrate how other schools can join the VR education revolution.

We secured a feature in Fortune, using two school districts as case studies for how schools could replicate or adopt VR programming in their own classrooms.

 

Additionally, VSC secured regional print and broadcast features on the teachers who received Nearpod grants, reaching new audiences of teachers and students. Sample features include: The Sun in San Bernardino, Bay Area News 9 in Orlando, Florida, Fox 32 in Chicago and News Press in Cape Coral, Florida. Beyond showcasing how teachers were using the technology, we strategically selected and worked with notable education influencers like Teachers with Apps and Instructional Tech Talk to review the Nearpod VR classroom experience.

In the first six months of our engagement, the earned media campaign reached 36 million people, including decision makers in local schools, technology partners and venture capitalists.

 

Since our partnership kicked off in late 2015, Nearpod has expanded to 1 in 10 US schools, and raised $30M from key investors Insight Venture Partners, Reach Capital, Storm Ventures, Marc Benioff and more. Beyond that, Nearpod successfully reached more than 6 million students through its virtual reality program and separated from other edtech startups through its innovative products, controversial opinions on education technology and regional press.

Congratulations to MightyTV on Their Future with Spotify

We had the pleasure of working with Brian, Alison and their talented team on one of the biggest app launches of 2016.

 

According to a Forbes story on the deal, “The company had received a fair amount of media attention for a project so new.”

 

Read about our work here.

 

Artificial intelligence is a hot space and MightyTV represents the second acquisition in this sector from within our network in the past year.

 

VSC Delivers as Zume Bakes Pizza on the Way

Zume Pizza uses technology to make and deliver pizza from 100% locally sourced ingredients. Co-created by restaurant developer Julia Collins and serial entrepreneur Alex Garden, Zume Pizza is on a quest to make healthier pizza more accessible.

 

Zume engaged VSC to establish the company as a legitimate competitor and healthier alternative to Big Pizza conglomerates by delivering fresh, healthy affordable food in an entirely new way. Additional goals included driving pizza orders and investor awareness.

Our challenge was twofold: breaking into a crowded market with Big Pizza who have a multi-decade advantage and spend billions on broadcast, digital and print advertising, while also educating Americans on the harmful effects their favorite fast food was having on their long-term health.

 

How We Did It

 

Making secret sauce not-so-secret: After conducting market analysis of the Big Four contenders – Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s, Dominos and Pizza Hut – it became clear corporate pizza is pumping their pies with preservatives and artificial ingredients in order to preserve shelf life at the expense of Americans’ health.

 

Our strategy was to set Zume apart from chemical-laden competitors in Big Pizza with the launch of the world’s first Food Delivery Vehicle that bakes pizza en route. It served as our news-driven moment to tell their bigger story.

 

 

The campaign focused on Zume’s key differentiators: commitment to fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, focus on employee wellness and benefits, all made possible by their technology-driven approach to baking and delivering the very best pies.

Food first, tech second: We sought to elevate Zume’s mission of delivering healthier pizza options at a fair price by re-defining the concept of “fresh out of the oven.”

 

While other pizza chains introduced square heat bags that aimed to keep already cooked pizza from getting cold, Zume introduced a GAME CHANGER: the ability to start and finish cooking a pizza in the vehicle, as it arrives to customers’ home using GPS and Uber-like mobile logistics. We coined the term “BOTW” or “Baked on the Way.”

 

Given the technology was unprecedented, we had to educate reporters on the concept of dwell time, or the period of time a pizza is spent outside the oven while en route for delivery. Reducing dwell time enables Zume to make pizza at half the fat and 40 percent fewer calories, without chemicals or preservatives typically used to prolong shelf life.

 

Happy employees make happy meals: In the broader pizza industry, employee health and safety is a serious issue – with pizza delivery one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Part of the strategy was to expose the safety shortcomings of traditional pizza parlors, while showcasing Zume’s innovative use of technology to create a safer work environment.

Show-telling: Instead of telling reporters about Zume, we invited them in to taste the difference. VSC understood that Zume’s mission-driven business were best seen firsthand as opposed to described over the phone or via a startup tech video. That’s why we planned a series of in-person briefings at Zume headquarters to educate food, tech, and business press by showing them the synergistic collaboration between robots and employees, the use of fresh ingredients and superior cooking process. The media witnessed our innovation first-hand and tasted the pizza themselves.

 

 

Results

The relatively small startup is now the hottest innovation in the pizza industry. Through our PR efforts, one single initiative generated more earned media attention from global press (100+ articles across online, print and broadcast) than any one of the Big Pizza chains for any product launch over Q3-Q4 of 2016.

 

The launch reached 500 million people. Among that audience was the CEO of Domino’s, who was forced to respond to Zume in a Reuters article by downplaying if “people want their food out of a machine.”

 

That’s right. The CEO of Domino’s Pizza was compelled to respond to a tiny Silicon Valley startup.

 

The press embraced Zume’s pizza-making robots and mission to improve the way food is sourced, cooked, and delivered, with national media coverage in outlets like NPR and the New York Times, food media like Eater and Vice’s Munchies, and a variety of other top publications. And in February 2017, Zume was named #1 on CNBC’s Upstart 25 List, honoring the fastest growing startups of the year.

 

For example, when Domino’s launched the ability to order via Apple Watch, they only generated five noteworthy stories. Or when Pizza Hut resorted to ‘stunty’ menu offerings like the pizza topped with gold and grilled cheese crust, they earned just seven placements.

 

After the launch, Zume experienced record week-over week order volume which not only spiked for the campaign but led to overall higher order volume ongoing. The campaign generated curiosity, interest, demand and repeat customers. A supreme publicity pie, if you will.

 

Here’s what the press had to say:

 

“Meats and produce are sourced locally, like cheese from Cypress Grove and tomatoes from Scott Park Farms, and prepared on site. And, as if one needed more convincing to ditch the chains, Collins says that each slice averages 178 calories, versus 320 calories per slice at Domino’s.” — Eater SF on Zume’s superior ingredients and food first, technology second model

 

“Startups like Zume provide an important modern example of how automation can impact employment in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, or necessarily negative.” — Quartz on Zume’s robots and job creation

 

“The company is committed to using robots for repetitive, mundane tasks to eventually move kitchen staff into the front office, and shift focus to what Zume Pizza considers its marquee innovation, a truck with more than 50 ovens that cooks pizzas while they’re out for delivery using special software.” CBS News on Zume’s commitment to worker safety

 

We also connected reporters with Zume pizza employees directly so that they could tell their story about the company’s commitment to their livelihoods. For example, Christopher Rognstad, Zume Pizza’s kitchen supervisor, spoke with Marisa Kendall, a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News and said: “I think there will always be a place for humans here,” to “We jokingly talk about the robots as if they’re our family and our co-workers,” Rognstad said. “So when they make mistakes we joke and say, ‘Bruno messed up.’”

 

The company received hundreds of inbound inquiries from investors, potential partners and prospective employees.

Launching Soothe: How VSC Helped Bring Deep Tissue to Your Doorstep

Soothe, a mobile service that sends massage therapists to your hotel, home or office in as little as one hour, came to VSC to grow in core markets, attract qualified massage therapists, and drive sales.

 

Through a series of strategic initiatives, we secured more than 50 spotlight stories on Today.com, The Ellen Show, Entrepreneur, Inc, Men’s Fitness, USA Today, Real Simple and the list goes on.

Our PR goal for Soothe was to position them as the premiere on-demand massage service – one that featured licensed and vetted therapists available in multiple markets both in the US and abroad.  We developed two distinct narratives for them, one tailored for consumer audiences, the other for business.

 

Starting with the general public, one who may love the idea of a massage at their doorstep but may feel uneasy about inviting strangers into their homes, VSC created a campaign that put Soothe’s rigorous vetting process at the forefront, ensuring consumers that safety was a top priority, both for them and the therapists.

Soothe’s exceptionally fast service was crucial to driving the consumer messaging, and one which resonated with target publications like Real Simple and The Gloss, which drove new user sign-ups and downloads. Our most lucrative hit was Soothe’s appearance on The Ellen Show’s “Mother’s Day” special, where we promoted the benefits of prenatal massage. With the likes of Mila Kunis and Kristen Davis showing their approval, Soothe was effectively cast as the go-to on-demand massage app for around 17M viewers, resulting in the company’s biggest sales week of all time

For business press, VSC took advantage of the “on-demand apocalypse” that was dominating headlines, as increased scrutiny over the countless startups that failed to deliver on the promise of “Uber for X” placed companies like Soothe under the spotlight.

 

VSC seized this as an opportunity to elevate Soothe, citing their then-recent $35M growth financing and rapid expansion across North America and internationally as proof that investors believed in the business model.  Our narrative positioned Soothe as an outlier among their floundering on-demand contemporaries, not only delivering on the promise of faster massages from their main competitor Zeel, but growing at an unprecedented rate.

Business and trade press were also instrumental in attracting massage therapists to the platform, so our outreach always included details about Soothe’s earning potential, noting that therapists could make 3-4x that of industry standard.

 

Our narratives converged to tell Soothe’s story as the more in-demand, on-demand massage app, resulting in continued growth in both cities and in the number of therapists employed. Since partnering with VSC, Soothe has enjoyed 11 months of double-digit revenue growth and nearly doubled its markets from 23 to 45 cities and 3 countries, hired more than 1,000 licensed and certified massage therapists and emerged as a company to emulate among the countless “Uber for Xs.”

Giving the Right Voice to Speech Tech: the Api.ai Speed Strategy

Speaking is the most natural way to communicate, but until recently there was a major gap between the human voice and technology. With all too many #SiriFails and Amazon Alexa shopping sprees, the process of talking with technology – whether in the home, car or on mobile devices – was broken.

 

Everyone understood the problem, but no one had fundamentally solved it. In the last couple of years, several companies have attempted to improve voice interactions with products and services, creating a noisy market of Siri-like developer tools. Yet none had a clear point of differentiation for not only the developers building the products, but also for the consumers who relied on them.

 

To set itself apart from the plethora of voice-tech developer products, Api.ai selected VSC to achieve three strategic goals: 1) differentiate from competitors, 2) drive developer signups, and 3) draw media attention for new products that appealed to developers.

 

Our Strategy – Win on Speed

VSC’s recommendation was to beat the Big Four to the punch with developer-centric innovations that demonstrated agility and ease with giving voice to nearly any product or service.

 

We analyzed the market in terms of what already existed and what areas were ripe for innovation. It became clear that developers faced a fragmented ecosystem, one where Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple, made it way too hard to make conversational interfaces worth using. Thus, we focused on a developer-first message that worked for innovation and maximum benefit for consumers.

 

What We Recommended and How We Made it Happen

  • Product: Launch products exclusively for wearables, bots, automobiles, apps and the IoT.
  • Messaging: Talk about the speed at which Api.ai could deploy its AI-powered voice solutions and how easy it was to integrate with any IoT device.
  • Pedigree: Leverage Api.ai’s platform, which was backed by data from over 2 billion voice commands – making it the largest open natural language and intent response platform available.
  • Media: Set up interactive demos, ensuring key journalists could try out the new voice-enabled solutions.


A Voice Technology You Actually Want to Talk To

With speed and developer signs-up at the forefront, we proposed Api.ai launch several solutions aimed at giving what current and potential customers needed. To that end, we launched Api.ai for Slack, Api.ai for Auto, Api.ai for IoT and API.ai for Twilio.

 

It’s rare for companies of Api.ai’s size to be up for the new products we proposed, making it even more satisfying when they launch and the feature stories rolled in. Through exclusive product innovation news placements in top media, myriad briefings with thought leaders and journalists, proactive commentary on issues around diversity and guest posts in elite tech publications, our strategies led to a fast-paced rhythm of coverage in top tier media.

 

Beyond developer-focused media, VSC specializes in up-leveling B2B companies to get mainstream media coverage in unique ways. For example, we tapped into Api.ai’s own data to conduct a pop culture survey on the role of voice assistants called “Virtual Assistant Report” which focused on how consumers use and feel about digital assistants. By polling 12,000 customers, we uncovered that 39% would fall for a voice assistant if it it loved them back. We then worked with major media to cover the news including placements in the Huffington Post, Fusion and iDigital Times.

 

Results

We exceeded brand, product and PR goals, and quickly reached developers. This led to signups and momentum, investment and eventual acquisition by Google in 2016.

 

Here are a handful of the significant features throughout our time with Api.ai:

 

Inc: Meet the Startup That’s Not Afraid to Compete With Apple, Google — and Now, Facebook


“What do you do if you launch a new product, only to have Apple introduce its own version six months later? You don’t let fear get the better of you. You stay the course, and work to make the best product you can. And you start looking for areas of the market that the big boys aren’t serving. That’s the strategy that worked for Api.ai.” – Inc

 

Forbes: Adding Insight To Communications, api.ai Integrates With Twilio To Create Siri-Like Automation


“By developing a conversational interface, and making it seamless for organizations to leverage that platform within their own real-time conversational tools, API.AI will bring a heightened level of customer service and efficiency to the service function within organizations.” – Forbes

 

Programmable Web: api.ai Launches Platform Agnostic Voice Interface for Connected Cars


“The voice interface is highly customizable and capable of working with any head unit operating system. The platform includes pre-built voice interface capabilities and allows developers to build custom voice-enabled applications. api.ai has been working with automotive manufacturers as well as OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to enable intelligent voice assistant capabilities in connected car platforms and applications. The company has also been talking with several automotive OEMs that provide open platforms and APIs for developers. The idea being to voice-enable open automotive platforms providing APIs that developers can use to build head unit applications. – Programmable Web

 

TechCrunch: Api.ai Raises $3M For Its Siri-Like Conversational UI, Makes Developer Usage Free


“The round is being led by SAIC Capital, the U.S.-based venture capital arm of China’s largest automaker, SAIC Motor. That’s noteworthy given that SAIC Capital is another backer with ties to the automotive industry, where voice driven interfaces make a lot of sense. Previous investors Intel Capital, and Alpine Technology Fund also participated, along with Motorola Solutions Venture Capital. However, the biggest news is perhaps that the additional investment is allowing api.ai to drop the fees for developers using its API, as the company switches to a business model based on large enterprise consulting and support, customisation and on-premise or private cloud installation and licensing.” – TechCrunch

 

Huffington Post: Almost Half Of Us Say We Could Fall In Love With Siri


“Siri can tell you what the weather is going to be, it can even help you plan your day but could it eventually be the one you want to spend the rest of your life with? According to research by Api.ai nearly half of us admitted that we could end up falling in love with an AI if it loved us back.” – Huffington Post

 

iDigital Times: Can Artificial Intelligence Give You The Best Wakeup Call


“A new Android only alarm clock app wants to ease the suffering. The alarm clock app – fittingly called Assistant – could change how you wake up and how you process information. Instead of an assistant, you have an app. Instead of a briefing, you peruse info during your morning routine. It streamlines your morning through artificial intelligence and machine learning to give you a curated experience based upon all the information you need for the day.” – iDigital Times

 

International Business Times: Tech Diversity: These Startups Are Breaking the Brogrammer Mold


“Api.ai, which makes conversational voice interface software that third-party developers can integrate into their apps, is one of the startups that has a Rooney Rule-like policy in place. Every time api.ai has an opening, the company includes female and ethnically diverse individuals in its pool of candidates. This is accomplished by giving serious consideration to candidates from schools that don’t typically feed into Silicon Valley. Additionally, api.ai works with TenXList, an organization that identifies top female software engineers and recommends them to tech companies when they are hiring.” – IBTimes

 

re/Code: Siri and Alexa Were Never Cut Out to Be Homemakers


“Viva la voice-enabled home! Well, not so fast. As reviews of voice-enabled technology surface, from first-party products like the Echo to third-party products integrated with HomeKit, a central point resounds: That voice enabled tech is, in fact, “quite stupid.” — original bylined article in re/Code

Making news, not faking news

These are uncertain times, but we’re intent on doing what we always do – help entrepreneurs break out and tell their stories.

With that in mind, we’ve chosen a few principles to guide us.

  • In business as in life, diversity is a competitive advantage.
  • Immigration fuels innovation.
  • Despite our social feeds, it’s a historically good time to be alive.

Regardless of global trends, we’re grateful to our companies and recognize their work including eight exits in the past year.

WE JUST HIRED SEAN SPICER

Ok that’s fake news…but we did hire two execs that actually know what they’re doing.

We boosted our team with the addition of marketing and communication pros Archie Chattha and Julia Konstantinovsky.

Check out the PR Week story here.

RANKED TOP PLACES TO WORK

According to CareerCast, PR was rated as the 6th most stressful job. Yes, it may all look like fun and games, but Silicon Valley is a competitive place and the stakes are high.

This is why we take culture seriously and we’re proud that PRNews recognized us as one of the top places to work in our industry.

WARENESS

In 2013, we debuted Wareness, a marketing studio and seed investment fund devoted to helping entrepreneurs in hardware and connected devices. We’re proud to report that we have successfully launched 18 companies, including Navdy, Moov, goTenna, Osmo and Teforia – with a combined $120M in sales.
Now our doors are open to companies specializing in AI, robotics and computer vision.  Read more about it in TechCrunch.

We are already building brands in these focus areas – with clients like H2O.ai (open source machine learning), Nanit (computer vision & AI-enabled baby monitor), Zume Pizza (automating pie creation, shown above), and API.ai (speech AI interface, acquired by Google). And we’re making strides in the New Year, as three of our clients have made it to the CB Insights AI100 list.

GIVING BACK

We continue to dedicate ourselves to important organizations and causes that serve our community, locally and internationally.

Here’s a list of organizations we supported last year:

FREESTYLE

Interesting people who sat down with us:

MORE AWESOMENESS

Osmo was recognized as one of the most innovative toys for early school-aged kids

On demand massage app Soothe was featured as one of Ellen’s coveted Mother’s Day Giveaways

Leading fashion marketplace Poshmark expanded into men’s and kid’s categories

b8ta’s expansion spurred the question: Can Technology Save Brick and Mortar?

Lego-drone Flybrix was cited as one of the 14 Coolest Toys for the Holiday Season

Candy-bar-size goTenna turns phones into walkie-talkies and is featured as a must-have in any modern explorer’s survival kit

Legacy Republic named one of the “5 Modern Ways to Save Your Mementos

Spotify-backed Soundtrack Your Brand brings music to McDonalds in global partnership

Nanit was featured as a nursery must-have, and named by Business Insider as one of the top 27 startups of 2016

Nearpod’s education software, used in 10,000 US schools, launched virtual reality lessons

E-commerce fraud protector Signifyd was named to the Forbes Fintech50 for 2016

Mobile payments tech company Ezetap was named as one of the top 50 Disruptors of 2016

Case Study: MightyTV was one of the biggest app launches of 2016

Flywheel wins Best Travel and Hospitality PR Campaign of the Year.

Since no one actually reads any full article, we are rewarding the first five people who email here. You are entitled to a complimentary bottle of VSC Liquid Courage Wine.

Innovation with impact: Two of Our Clients Named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative List

Congratulations are in order for our clients Osmo and SirionLabs, which were selected for Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2017.

This annual list is assembled by Fast Company writers and editors, who surveyed thousands of enterprises around the world and identified the companies with the most impact on the broader business world, industry and culture.

We have to agree – these companies have had tremendous impact on their respective fields. And for us, it’s awesome validation of our work in AI, automation and computer vision through our Wareness studio

Topping the Education list is Osmo, an award-winning game system that uses augmented reality (AR) and computer vision to change how kids interact with their iPads, opening it up to hands-on play. Co-founders Pramod Sharma and Jérôme Scholler, and Head of Marketing & Community Karen O’Dell, have been instrumental in building the “new play movement,” one that introduces a dimension of digital play where kids use their hands to draw and play, boosting fine motor skills and creativity. Fascinating and fun for kids, and a sigh of relief for parents concerned with mindless screentime zombifying their kids.

SirionLabs, a SaaS platform that automates the fulfillment of complex contracts, was named as one of India’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies.

Founded in 2012, our clients Ajay Agrawal (CEO), Claude Marais (President), and Indus Khaitan (CMO) have built SirionLabs into a company now recognized for reinventing the way enterprises increase the value of their complex services agreements, while reducing risk and slashing inefficiencies. SirionLabs’ technology combines contract management with performance, financial, risk, and relationship management in order to drive higher value in strategic relationships for enterprises. Sirion tracks contracts with over $3 billion in total value and has delivered hard savings of over $44.2M for its customers over the period of a year.

Congrats to Osmo and SirionLabs – we are excited to watch your innovations impact the world.

VSC Swipes Right for the Biggest Startup App Launch of 2016 for MightyTV

We live in a platinum age of television: never before have there been so many high-quality TV shows to choose from. With abundance, however, comes the paradox of choice, and today’s viewers are more overwhelmed and frustrated than ever. The process of discovery is an especially huge problem for a new generation of cord cutters and cord nevers who have no way to get quality recommendations and find something good across all their favorite streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, and iTunes. “Netflix and chill” has increasingly become “Netflix, Hulu, HBO overkill.”

 

Everyone understands the problem but no one has fundamentally solved it. In the past few years, there have been hundreds of attempts at video discovery from recommendation and video services, creating a crowded market of more than 20 apps in the category, with little to no differentiation between products.

 

Oversaturation of video discovery apps has created fatigue for journalists who cover the space, resulting in scant media coverage and low awareness among consumers, with recent video discovery app launches averaging roughly 2.3 original earned media placements per launch.

 

In order to rise above a sea of mediocre discovery apps, MightyTV partnered with VSC to launch the company and achieve two strategic goals: 1) differentiate from competitors, and 2) draw media awareness to help drive downloads and user engagement.

 

Strategy

VSC determined that any new product in the space needed to stand out from anything that came before it.

 

With this in mind, VSC immediately embarked on an audit of the industry, where we recognized that competitive apps weren’t great at solving for individual discovery, and those that focused around discovery weren’t good at solving for social.

 

VSC therefore recommended a launch strategy that MightyTV should wait until it had some aspects of social figured out that we could showcase to press, which would allow us to carefully craft product messaging that addressed two notable market deficiencies.

 

With sights set on a mid-April launch date, VSC conducted an aggressive national outreach campaign to pre-brief media to demonstrate why the app is truly a must-have for anyone who loves watching TV and movies.

Tactics

1. Brand Association – We advised the team to capitalize on heightened media attention and the popularity of social and dating app, Tinder, where MightyTV uses a similar swipe interface to hook you up with videos you’ll love, fast.

 

2. Product Messaging – Focus messaging around a new type of AI app for video that delivers hyper-personalized and intelligent recommendations based on you and your friends’ tastes so you’ll never have to waste time again trying to find something good to watch.

 

3. Pedigree – Leverage founder’s background as a technologist and entrepreneur who sold his last startup to Google for $400M and is now launching a startup that aims to put an end to your search for what to binge watch next.

 

4. Media Relations – Set up ‘sneak peek’ in-person product demos in SF and NY where key members of the press had a chance to try out the product first-hand to see how the service is approaching discovery in a way that has never been attempted before.

Execution

We overachieved all coverage goals, with 50+ pieces of coverage worldwide in top-tier outlets.

 

Here are a few of the major placements:

 

Wired: MightyTV Is Like Tinder, Only It Sets You Up With Movies: A new app called MightyTV (iOS-only for now, Android soon) aims to solve this problem using a unique concoction of Tinder-style swiping, machine learning, and a collaborative personalization mechanism that can not only find something for you to watch right now, but can account for the tastes of everyone on the couch and find something you’ll all love. The app is out today, it’s super slick, and it might have a chance to do what so many have tried and failed to pull off.

 

MightyTV is the invention of a team led by Brian Adams, an entrepreneur who spent much of his career working in ads. He sold his company, AdMeld, to Google in 2011, and then spent the next few years working on Google’s money-printing Doubleclick ad system. In February of 2015, he quit his job and started poking around things like local search before landing on video.

 

TechCrunch: MightyTV uses a Tinder-style interface to offer personal tips on what to watch next: To determine that taste, MightyTV presents users with a stack of movie recommendations that you can go through quickly, Tinder-style, saying whether you like, love or dislike each one — or if you just want to add it to your watch list. Over time, the recommendations should get smarter, based on what the app learns about your taste and about the taste of similar users.

 

Even better, if you’re watching with someone else, MightyTV can recommend programming that sits at the overlap between your taste and that of your friend/spouse/family member/whomever.

 

Mashable: Tinder-esque app Mighty TV wants to find your perfect streaming match: Now there’s a way to swipe right on what to stream. MightyTV — a new app launched by an ex-Google employee on Wednesday —  is a personalized video discovery app that gives consumers the ability to “swipe away the frustration of what to watch next.”

 

Using algorithms, the app helps users match with new content to stream based on their personal taste, as well as their friends’ tastes.

Evaluation

The launch of MightyTV was an instant success and one of the biggest startup app launches in 2016 based on media coverage and total audience reach.

 

After the press launch, MightyTV was twice featured in Apple’s app store, in the ‘Best News Apps Section’ on April 22, as well as ‘Apps That We Love’ in the Entertainment section on May 6th.

 

The launch was a global success appearing in 50+ publications and resulting in downloads in 60+ countries and the active users averaging 290 swipes per session.

Within the first two days of launch, MightyTV reached 290.9K accounts on Twitter and made 373.7K impressions.

 

The total reach of the earned media campaign within the first month including written, video, and broadcast coverage was 573M people.

 

Coverage included a wide range of business, entertainment / tech, and consumer / lifestyle press like Fox TV-New York, NY1, the front page of Wired.com, App of the week for GeekWire, E! Online, WSJ, Yahoo, MSN, Seventeen, Self, Mashable, TechCrunch, Engadget, TechHive / PCWorld, Lifehacker, NY Post / Decider, Daily Mail, Slate, Thrillist, Refinery29, Motherboard, Brit & Co, Consumer Affairs and a host of other influential media outlets and blogs.

Best Crash Ever? The Launch of the Lego-Based Drone Flybrix

LEGO®  have come a long way over the last 80+ years, but it wasn’t until this September that they’d take flight in drone form. Enter Wareness.io partner, Flybrix.

 

Introduced to us by Eric Klein of the hardware accelerator Lemnos Labs, Flybrix was co-founded by a former Nike and Adidas brand marketer and two legit Legomaniacs whose obsession for building started at MIT and Caltech, where getting creative with Lego blocks has a history.

 

LEGO®  are a century-old way for kids to learn fundamental skills like collaborative play, problem solving and planning by construction. But how could Flybrix differentiate from existing Lego-branded products, drive sales and build brand awareness in the ever-growing consumer drone market?

 

Recognizing the need for an impactful launch, Flybrix engaged Wareness.io to develop and execute the company’s go-to market communications strategy. We recognized the need to build a bold narrative that would be unlike other drone companies who conservatively messaged their stability and anti-crash features.

The data showed that drones were expected to be the go-to gift this upcoming holiday season. If we could offer the market a lower-cost drone experience than the major brands like DJI and Parrot, we had an opening.

 

With that in mind, we reverse-engineered our messaging and positioned the company as the first crash-friendly rebuildable drone made of LEGO®  bricks. We also advised Flybrix against any pre-sales or crowdfunding approaches and wait until the drones would be readily available to ship in time for the holidays.

 

The launch execution was designed to drive sales and engagement among our core constituents: hobbyists, prosumers and kids/classroom interested in STEM education. We strategically engaged the influencers and enthusiasts at global media publications with the company’s origin narrative and why Flybrix presented a major market opportunity, as well a great multi-generational bonding experience, much like our other VSC and Wareness.io partner Osmo.

 

The Flybrix™ publicity took flight and hasn’t landed since the publication of this post.

 

The launch has appeared in global media with an estimated reach of 400 million consumers, achieved 3,500+ tweets and 750k+ video views across the Flybrix™ YouTube channel and the publications that posted videos during the launch campaign.

Here’s what people love about Flybrix:

 

“But this might be the one drone toy you’ll actually look forward to crashing, since it means you get to design and build a whole new craft, and play with Lego.”

Gizmodo

 

“The best part, aside from getting to build your own drone, is probably the incredible crashability of these things… There’s never been a better time to be a good Lego-builder and a sub-par drone pilot.”

Popular Mechanics

 

“The goal is to teach pilots how to build and fly their own aerial vehicle. Or, more precisely: Build, crash, repeat.”

NBC News

Flybrix COO Holly Kasun discussing trends in the consumer drone market with Maria Bartiromo of FOX’s Mornings with Maria Live in New York City.

VSC and Wareness.io is proud to have helped Flybrix with one of the biggest consumer hardware and drone PR launches of 2016 from a publicity and sales perspective.

 

To learn more about Flybrix and enjoy Legos taking flight, go to: flybrix.com

Flybrix recently featured in AdWeek