Doug Broad, Principal of Three Rings Inc., shares how his agency’s hands-on media relations approach positively affects its employees and clients. Doug also discusses how analyst relations should go beyond simply getting in reports and explains some trends they are seeing in the VC space.
DOUG S: After more than 200 episodes of PRs Top Pros Talk, we couldn’t have done a better job of doubling our Doug guest participants with anyone else, but we’ve got Doug Broad. Thanks so much for joining us.
DOUG B: I appreciate the invite. Great to be here, Doug.
DOUG S: A lot of your clients are in this space where they’ve been funded by venture capital and they’re looking to grow the company. What’s your top tip for them on how they can use media relations to be effective in that process?
DOUG B: It’s a great question. So, I mean, we specialize in B2B tech as think, you know, and so probably like two thirds of our client base are backed by VCs or private equity companies. We typically find there’s sort of two primary times when they’re looking for sort of media relations support. And that’s either they’re starting to think about talking to investors for a round of funding, and so they want to have sort of that presence and market awareness when investors are searching for them online. And then also after they close the funding and obviously want to highlight the investment and talk about or use that as a platform to talk about their technology, their customer momentum, or their strategy. So really, it’s identifying which point in time that they’re in and what is sort of the right media strategy for each of those.
DOUG S: Now you’ve got to create a culture of earned media within your client base itself and also within your own organization. Let’s start with the client. Is that sort of yearning for earned media typically already there, or is it something that you’ve got to help guide them to understand its importance?
DOUG B: No, I’d say it’s definitely there. Usually when the clients are coming and talking to us, they already understand and value media relations and sort of market awareness. And that could be for a number of reasons. Again, it might be for funding and investors, or it could be prospects and customers demand generation. So, they definitely understand the value of it. They don’t always understand the process and sort of what’s involved and the time it takes to sort of achieve the results they’re looking for. So that’s certainly part of the discussion with them, but they certainly, I think everyone values it and is interested in it. And we’re seeing actually quite a bit of demand over the past few months as well for that.
DOUG S: We’ve seen that as well with our satellite media tour business. You know, getting these founders, getting these key people out there in the news has become a much higher priority. You also have to establish that culture within your organization. I know at our team we have some people who do that, love it, live it and breathe it, others on the team, because we try and have everyone experience what everyone else does are like, Oh my God, I can’t believe you do this. So how do you create that culture of earning media within a communications organization, within a corporation’s PR team, or even at an agency like your own?
DOUG B: So, a huge reason we started three rings is because myself and my fellow founders still enjoy doing client work, including media relations. So, on a daily basis, everyone at the firm is doing hands on work, including the principals, all the way down to pitching. So, we think that sort of helps set sort of the establish the benchmark of this is, you know, this is kind of the approach and the culture that we have is being hands on and honestly, to provide good counsel to clients or have sort of in-depth discussions with prospects about me relations. It really helps if people are hands on and not removed from it. It gives everyone a much more detailed and informed view of what’s happening in the market, both in terms of key trends, how reporters are reporting on different stories and more. So that’s really, you know, I think a main way that we do it. And another is, is sort of looking at the skill sets, and I think traditionally, you know, when agencies are looking to hire, they go to other agencies and find people and say, oh, you’ve done media relations, you know, we’d like to hire you. And certainly, that can work. But we kind of look at more of a skill set and understanding what’s required. So, a lot of a lot of people talk about storytelling, which obviously is important, but we think about it around story building and what are the key elements that you need to kind of define and drive a narrative. And, you know, from thoroughly researching the right reporters and creating a telling pitch and aligning it with the right data or analytics or graphics. So, we look for people that are curious, analytical, creative, not afraid to try a new ideas and understand how to kind of build those stories. So of course, yes, we’ve hired people from other agencies, but we’ve also hired people that were, you know, broadcast news producers or in market research, but they had those underlying skills. You know, and kind of could be taught the rest.
DOUG S: Yeah. I don’t want to get too much into back in the day when I was walking miles through snow to get to school, but in the past there used to be the thought of you needed sort of a pitch personality when so much of the communication was done over the phone. Now that a lot of that communication is done via email while the phone still has a place, especially for breaking news and getting in-depth conversations, what are some of the skillsets, you’ve mentioned already, but additional ones maybe, when it’s an email pitch kind of personality?
DOUG B: I think a lot of it is, you know, understanding the person that you’re pitching, right, and what they’ve written about what they’re interested in. You know, they’ve clearly, you know, based on the stories they’ve written, their social media posts that they’ve done. They’ve left clues about what they’re interested in and what they’re looking for and how they, you know, and frankly, how they want to be communicated with. So, I think just like, you know, you can be really compelling on a phone call. It’s the same way with the pitch, whether it’s, again, you know, a direct message on social media or you’re emailing someone, it’s a similar process. And it is to your point that we still have people that actually pick up the phone and call reporters.
DOUG S: And often a successful pitch will prompt a conversation. Because they’ll want to go into detail so you have to be prepared to speak at that level. One of the things that you’re a strong believer in, which I found really interesting is the idea that there’s a media relations component to analyst relations.
DOUG B: Yeah. I really, you know, feel strongly about that and think, to be honest, it feels recently that analysts have been somewhat overlooked and I think understandably there’s clients and look at it and say, well, it’s all pay to play if don’t have money to be a subscribed sort of client of the agency shouldn’t even bother talking to them. So, I understand that perspective. But I think, you know, especially in the B2B tech and enterprise world, the analysts are still very influential. They are the original market influencers. And I think too many clients, overlook that they can have and build a relationship with these analysts on an unpaid basis. And then if there becomes a point where it reaches a valuable stage and they want to make that investment, that’s fine. Um, but I’d also argue that a lot of clients are overly focused on just the reports, right? Like they want to be in the wave or the, you know, magic quadrant, which again, those are hugely valuable and very important. But also, just being on the analyst short list that they use to, you know, reference to their enterprise clients is equally as important. And we have a client in the fintech space that really invest heavily in analysts, but they spend a lot of time and they track it very carefully and last year they probably did 1.3 million inches pipeline from direct references from the analysts. So, it really can pay off.
DOUG S: Another key piece for pitching, something that’s important to our team is keeping up to date on the clients sectors and the industry and I would think that would rise to an even higher level with analysts because they understand the area with such a depth. So how do you get your team to become sort of the instant experts on the specific areas that your clients are engaged in?
DOUG B: So, it’s and especially in these days, it’s very hard that the volume of information can be overwhelming for sure. Um, you know, we’re fortunate that we have some really experienced people that we’ve worked in some, you know, sectors like networking and cybersecurity for, you know, decades essentially. So, they’ve seen the trends over a long time, understand the technologies. So, we benefit from that. But also, you know, the upside is, yes, there’s high volume, but there’s also tools now that you can really narrow that down and have sort of digests emailed to you in the morning about key topics in a certain market, on certain companies and things like that. So, I think that’s a huge help along with social media and being able to kind of track different people. So, there are ways think that you can kind of narrow it down. But we also, you know, we spend a lot of time investing in getting people up to speed that are new, maybe new to technology or new to sort of PR and communications and understanding, you know, sort of the functions of how cybersecurity technologies work or networking or things like that. So, it does take some time, but if you invest in that time, there’s, you know, you reap the benefits down the road because people can really understand, you know, important trends or things that are happening in the market.
DOUG S: And as we wrap up this conversation, are there any trends in VC in this space that you work in that might change how, whether it’s your agency or others or other companies should be aware of if they want to try to generate earned media coverage going forward?
DOUG B: One of the interesting trends that we’re seeing is there’s seems to be a lot of, you know, private equity investment that’s happening much more so than I’d say ten years ago, especially in the technology space. And a lot of it is, you know, sort of roll ups where companies are. Private equity companies are buying sort of 1 or 2 companies, combining them into a new entity, and then they’re going around the world, you know, kind of growing through acquisition as well as organic growth. It’s an interesting model. You know, it’s been proven obviously done before, but it presents sort of an interesting challenge from your communications perspective because, you know, you can be working with a company that does ten acquisitions in a year and looks totally different in December than it did in January of that year. So, it creates sort of an interesting dynamic of, you know, you’re drinking from a firehose of new products, new people, you know, new strategy, continued growth. So, it’s an interesting sort of trend to watch because think it’s going to be picking up pace going forward.
DOUG S: That obviously prompted a couple more questions. But if this PE trend of growth continues, is there anything that from the communications perspective that can be done to sort of build efficiency and continuity with the multiple companies joining together, any best practices in that space? Obviously, there’s hey, this is this happened that gets news, but going forward are the things communicators need to be aware of to make sure things don’t go off the rails but really actually expand and have a multiplier effect.
DOUG B: Yeah. So, it’s a great question. So, we worked with a company that was, you know, this was sort of a model recently and think know the tip or advice was, you know, you can’t boil the ocean, right? So, we had to sit down with the internal team and really focus on where is the growth for the company coming from and the revenue.
DOUG S: Forgive me, they may differ off the coast of Florida this summer on that question of if you can boil the ocean, but I apologize to that. I’ll let you go back. We keep hearing it’s like 100 degrees down there, but it isn’t Celsius. So that’s a good thing. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
DOUG B: You know, we met with the internal team and really talked about, you know, where is the growth going to come from for the company from a technology and product perspective as well as markets? And let’s focus our efforts on those rather than some of these other products that are going to be sort of end of lifing or they’re just sort of maintaining because it can you know, if it gets if you get overwhelmed, there’s just too much going on. You can’t really focus. But if you know, this is where the company is going to have their growth and make the money going forward, you can really focus your efforts, you know, in that space.
DOUG S: Great advice. And one last thing, because maybe for some not as familiar as some of the difference with the private equity purchase and does that have to be a roll up versus a VC investment, How do they differ in or their different approaches companies take to get those different kinds of money in financing.
DOUG B: Across both venture capitalists and private equity, there’s a whole range of investors. Private equity, increasingly, it looks like they are trying to do these sort of growth roll ups where, you know, the investors are pretty active and involved in sort of the organization and administration and operations because they’re focused on growth, and they want to see growth for 5 or 6 years. And they’re looking in turn to sell the company either to go public or to a, you know, a larger entity. So, there’s different models. And that’s actually another really important thing from a communications perspective is to understand what is the exit strategy. And that should be kind of the first question when you’re talking about whether it’s a funding or private equity is, you know, once that company, your client takes that money, what are they trying to do? What is you know, what is the exit plan? A lot of a lot of companies or executives will outwardly say, well, we’re growing the company. We hope to go public, but in reality. You know, they’ll say, we’re looking to sell this within 18 months. And it’s important to note, because the strategy is going to be totally different.
DOUG S: That’s a fantastic point that you make. And sometimes people don’t even ask or don’t know or have a feel. And that clearly is a key factor in determining how to go forward. Any final thought you’d like to leave with the audience after we finish off this Doug fest?
DOUG B: This has been fun. Doug Palooza. I would just say that that the you know, what we found to be sort of the most beneficial tip or advice is, is exactly what we’re just talking about, is having that sort of honest, candid discussion with the client to understand what is really driving, you’re asking for media relations, market awareness to brand generation. What’s really driving that? What is the business objective? You know, are we are we trying to get acquired or are we trying to go public? You know, we’re trying to get more investment. And if you understand what is really driving the ask, then you can do a better job of building the strategy and executing against that to be successful.
DOUG S: This has been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much for being with us.
DOUG B: Thanks, Doug. I really appreciate it.