Scaling globally is a goal for any growing company, which means that working with press across various markets is an inevitability. But it’s become more challenging than ever to gain the attention of the press, and it often comes with a hefty dose of added scrutiny. How then, can companies begin to tell their brand narrative, much less work with the press in a way that can help foster growth? That’s something that Strava has had to think about on a daily basis, as the world’s top platform for athletes has grown to over 90 countries and more than 76 million users.
In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja are joined by Andrew Vontz, VP of Communications at TCV company Strava. As a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times, Andrew brings his unique insider perspective on what companies can do to tell a story that journalists today would respond to, and how those stories can be used strategically in order to drive brand perception and fuel growth. Andrew also walks us through his blueprints for educating stakeholders on what to expect from press coverage, and the checklist method he uses when it comes to preparing for potential crises before they occur.
- Being user-centric rather than you-centric when working with journalists. While it can be tempting to use press attention as a way to tout your company’s successes, that may not be enough to get your story told. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of a journalist’s readers, says Andrew. “You really have to be user-centric versus you-centric. There are definitely things you would ideally like to get out of press coverage, but you also need to think about, ‘What does that journalist need? What does their readership need? What’s going to help them sell this story internally and get it placed?’ You really have to begin with the end in mind.”
- Why it’s important to educate stakeholders on how press coverage operates. We’ve all experienced it: internal stakeholders with the best of intentions expecting journalists to always see things the way we would like them to be seen with nary a criticism. That’s why it’s imperative to set realistic expectations with teammates about how a specific story may roll out. It’s also a good opportunity to educate teammates about how press coverage operates in general. “All good stories are really high contrast. They’re high tension. They’re definitely going to contain opposing points of view, and you just need to prepare people for that, educate them, and bring them along so that they know what’s going to show up in a story, why it’s going to show up, and how it may show up,” says Andrew.
- Using earned media to drive growth. Given that Strava is the de facto record of the world’s athletic activities, the company produces an annual Year in Sport press report built around the intersection of sport, culture, societal trends and unique data insights about the ways athletes find joy through the activities they love. For Strava, Year in Sport helps them in “finding ways to align stories that only we can tell with moments in time when there’s a high degree of cultural curiosity around specific topics that can enable really large scale brand awareness.”
An additional benefit of Year in Sports is that data is very compelling with readers. Says Andrew, “[It’s] providing reporters with ingredients and stories that enable reporters and editors to be of service to their consumers and provide high utility content that’s motivating and inspirational.”
- Preparing for a crisis before it happens. When Strava faced its own PR crisis in 2018, Andrew’s team saw an inbound of thousands of media inquiries in 48 hours. The tendency to want to react immediately is natural, but you must slow down and operate with a high degree of discernment to be most effective. “It’s important that you move at your own pace and that you work with stakeholders across the organization to understand what’s going on before you do anything,” says Andrew. Doing so allowed Strava to turn the opportunity into one where they were able to educate journalists around the world about their privacy controls, resulting in 90% neutral to positive coverage.
To prepare in advance, Andrew recommends bringing on outside experts or advisors in advance of a crisis, to start preparing before a situation occurs. “Try to think through anything that might potentially pop up and then try to spell out exactly how you’re going to meet that moment.”
- Effective ways to be known as a mission or purpose driven organization. While thought leadership is easy to engage in, at Strava it’s more than showing up to the right panels and conferences. “It starts with the intent to be the world’s best at something,” says Andrew.
Because Strava’s mission is to serve athletes, they’ve focused on ways to do that, whether that’s partnerships that make Strava better for its users, or the Strava Metro data they provide to cities to power safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. “What we aspire to is to be a positive force to help create change in the space, so that everyone has equal access to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure — and more broadly, to create greater equity in sport. And that’s an area where we want to be an even bigger thought leader and a bigger force over time.”