“Being User-Centric Rather Than You-Centric” — How Strava Works With Global Media to Tell Stories That Help Athletes and Drive Growth

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. 

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Lessons from Strava — Working with Press and Teams to Move the Growth Needle, Foster Inclusion, and Establish a Purpose-Driven Narrative

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Lessons from Strava: Working with Press and Teams to Move the Growth Needle, Foster Inclusion, and Establish a Purpose-Driven Narrative

Every communications professional has seen it: a tweet from a journalist bemoaning the raft of irrelevant pitches they receive on a daily basis. How can companies cut through the noise to place stories that reflect well upon the business, and move the needle when it comes to brand perception and growth? That’s something Strava has navigated while building a purpose-driven narrative for over 90 million athletes across almost 200 countries.

In the latest episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal speak with Andrew Vontz, VP of Communications at TCV company Strava. Andrew also hosts his own podcast – Choose The Hard Way, where he talks with leaders in sports, tech, business, the military and more about peak performance and how to overcome obstacles to do great things. Andrew started his career as a journalist before moving into marketing and communications. He shares his insider perspective into what it takes to place a story that reporters are motivated to tell, and how to prepare internal stakeholders on what that story might look like when it runs. He also talks about how organizations can use earned media to drive growth, and how to conduct crisis communications prep before disaster strikes. Andrew also walks us through Strava’s playbook on establishing its purpose-driven narrative both internally and externally and what it takes to engage a global community. 

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Being user-centric rather than you-centric when working with journalists
  • Why it’s important to educate stakeholders on how press coverage operates
  • Using earned media to drive growth
  • Preparing for a crisis before it happens
  • Effective ways to be known as a mission or purpose driven organization

To hear more on this, settle in and press play.

Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Katja Gagen: Hello everyone, we are excited to have Andrew Vontz today on the podcast. Andrew went from being a journalist for the LA times, Rolling Stone, and others, to joining Strava’s executive team and leading communications.

And for all fitness aficionados listening, Strava is a social platform for athletes and the largest sports community in the world, with over 95 million athletes in 195 countries on the platform. We are excited to hear from Andrew about how communications can help drive business success and how he keeps this incredible community engaged.

Welcome to Growth Hacks, Andrew.

Andrew Vontz: Hey, thanks, Katja. It’s great to be here with you and Kunal.

Kunal Mehta: Well, I know you’re going to bring the heat today, Andrew. I just want to know where does this podcast find you today?

Andrew Vontz: It finds me in rural Maine where the leaves are falling, and there are pumpkins everywhere. We actually have a pumpkin that we grew from throwing a pumpkin into the compost pile last year, it grew into like a three foot in diameter pumpkin, lo and behold.

Kunal Mehta: That’s amazing.

Katja Gagen: That’s awesome. And Andrew, you have a pretty unique background that spans art to journalism, and now heading up comms at Strava. How did you end up where you are?

Andrew Vontz: I think I ended up where I am because I’ve always been a very curious person and I’ve always loved storytelling. And the red thread of my career has really been people, places, and things at the limits of human experience. Whether that was the work that I did as a freelance journalist for over a decade, the work that I did as the head of content at TRX, which is a human performance company that worked to democratize world-class human performance for everyone, or now at Strava. And over time, I eventually joined the executive team and I’m now the Vice President of Communications.

And outside of that, I also have my own podcast, it’s called “Choose the Hard Way”, and it’s about the obstacles people overcome to do great things. So that red thread is still running throughout my career.

Kunal Mehta: Fantastic. Well, Andrew, I know Strava is Swedish for strive, which epitomizes attitude and ambition. How do you bring that to life with the communication strategy at Strava?

Andrew Vontz: Yeah, Kunal. It’s really about always thinking bigger, always in all ways. So that’s, however well things are going, how can we think about what’s the next step? What’s the much bigger version of that? What’s the version of that that makes us feel a little bit anxious, a little bit uncomfortable because it seems so audacious? So that’s really what strive is about in the communications domain.

Kunal Mehta: Andrew, you’ve been a journalist for over a decade. What should companies know about the way journalists think about stories?

Andrew Vontz: When you’re working with media, it can provide the most valuable form of third-party validation that you can get. It’s like going to a party and having your best friend tell you how awesome something is versus you talking about yourself.

What you want to keep in mind when you’re working with press is: yeah, you would love to have other people telling your story on your behalf and singing your praises, but you really have to be user-centric versus you-centric. There are definitely things that 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 does that outlet need? What’s going to help them sell this story internally and get it placed? And you really have to begin with the end in mind.

I think in addition to that, it’s really important to educate your teammates from across the organization and to really set realistic expectations about how press coverage might roll out.

All great 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 might show up.

Katja Gagen: That’s awesome advice because we sometimes hear from our companies that they think of PR as paid marketing copy, and they just have to pick up the phone and speak to a reporter and out comes a piece that highlights everything you want to say about your company. We know that this is far from the truth.

How can press coverage or media coverage support growth in the business? Can you share some examples?

Andrew Vontz: For sure, Katja. I’ll give you an example that’s worked really well for us. We do an annual Year In Sport press report. And what it really does is aligns our proprietary data insights because Strava really is de facto the record of the world’s athletic activities.

It’s contained everything from people winning medals, to Tour de France stages to, hey, what are the trends that have happened during the pandemic as walking and hiking really took off and more people than ever before were riding bikes. 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.

Going back to providing reporters with ingredients and stories that are useful for them to sell stories internally and also to service their readership. I think that’s just like a really great example of one way you can do it.

Kunal Mehta: Fantastic. Andrew, as I think about Strava, they’re adding 2 million athletes a month during the pandemic, and they’re still growing incredibly fast. I just read an article that says something like 20% of employees will continue to work remotely. How have you overcome the challenges of managing your team working remotely during this hyper-growth period?

Andrew Vontz: I think one of the advantages that we have is prior to the pandemic, and really, since our inception, Strava has been a highly global company. We have athletes in 195 countries, and we have teammates on the ground in seven key geographies around the world, seven different countries on four different continents.

It’s given us the opportunity to really grow and come together as a team and really working on making sure we’re calling all the voices on the team in, that we’re being as inclusive as possible in this remote work environment. And really thinking about what are the systems and processes that do foster that sense of inclusion, that make people able to provide their highest level of contribution? And really thinking through what are the channels that they need to do that?

Because the reality is just adding more meetings is just going to add up to a lot more meetings. You have a finite amount of time that you can get together, so it’s getting people into the right spaces at the right moment.

When you’re in those contexts, invite everybody into the conversation. Going back to what does strive mean within a context of our comms team? Part of what it means is always pushing ourselves to think bigger, to think about how can we do everything better?

Even if things are going really well, what does it look like beyond the horizon to do way, way, way better than we might imagine is possible at the moment? No one has a monopoly on great ideas, and you want everybody to feel included. I try to talk about decisions I’ve made or things that we’ve tried in the org that haven’t gone well, because I also have to model risk taking and that failure is okay, because I certainly am not making perfect decisions all the time.

Katja Gagen: I like, Andrew, how you’re creating an environment that’s both inclusive, but also pushing the team to try new things, even when everything is going well.

Shifting gears for a moment, every organization goes through a phase where there are challenges. What does it take to successfully manage those and how have you done that?

Andrew Vontz: Well, the best advice I can give is you want to plan for rainy days, because honestly, if you have any level of success, at some point you were definitely going to have a storm in your future. And before one happens, you want to be prepared. If you do find yourself managing a crisis, you want to try to find a way to turn that challenge into an opportunity.

Let me tell you about something that happened at Strava back in 2018. We have something called the heat map. It’s really a treasured community resource that our athletes use to discover new places to ride, to run, and really just to enjoy the sports they love. It only contains aggregate de-identified data and athletes can opt out of sharing their information into the heat map at any time.

Back in 2018, someone on Twitter said they had found secret military bases on the heat map. And this took off in the news and we ended up having 2000 media inquiries in about 48 hours. I would just say, first of all, when a crisis happens, you have to say calm. 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.

That’s what we did. We take the privacy of our athletes very seriously. And we really used this incident as an opportunity to build more trust with our athletes and with our community and to educate the world about our simple privacy controls and settings.

At that moment in time, the story ended up on national broadcast and every major newspaper in the U S and around the world online. We managed the crisis to a resolution where the coverage was 90% positive or neutral.

Here’s what you can do if you want to get ready. I definitely recommend getting a steer from advisers or outside experts who can help you think through the full range of crises you might face, and to start preparing for them. A book I recommend is The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.

It covers how professionals in high stress, high consequence environments, like medical doctors performing surgery, or how pilots flying commercial airlines use checklists for everything that they do. Use these checklists to boil down complex operations, to really the simplest, clearest set of decisions possible, trying to make everything binary and really make communication across the team as frictionless, simple, direct as possible.

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. And if you do that, you’ll be as prepared as you possibly can be when your rainy day comes.

Katja Gagen: That’s super helpful. We talked a little bit earlier about Strava meaning to strive. A lot of companies today want to be known for a specific mission or purpose. What are the most effective ways you have made that happen at Strava?

Andrew Vontz: I think when it comes to thought leadership, some people think about thought leadership as, hey, we just need to like stick our leaders on the right stages at the right conferences. And then miraculously, we’re going to be known as the world’s leading authority on X.

Thought leadership starts with the intent to be the world’s best at something, and that’s a very worthy endeavor. Equally, you need to be really honest about where are you at today? Where do you want to be in the future? How credible are you on this topic? And what commitment do you have to action? And I’ll just give you an example.

At Strava, we serve athletes. And we say that what’s awesome for athletes is awesome for our business and in turn, that can be awesome for the world at large. We say that athlete awesome equals business awesome.

We are the platform at the center of connected fitness. We have over 400 partners whose apps, hardware, experiences, connect into Strava where they can be extended, and people can enjoy them. And we’re a place where every effort counts. We have something called Strava Metro. And Metro takes aggregate de-identified data, and we provide a really easy to use tool to vetted municipalities and urban planners, so that they can create better and safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in cities so that people can get around under their own power as safely and effectively as possible in cities. Because really humans are the original autonomous vehicle, and they are the future of cities.

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.

We know where we are at today. And we know the gap that we want to close, and we have to be really honest about where we’re at and what we want to do.

Kunal Mehta: I love that approach towards DEI, and I’m sure we could spend the entire podcast talking about that.

We typically end with some rapid-fire questions. I just wanted to start with, we have a wide range of listeners, Andrew, and many of them are younger as well. Perhaps you can tell us something you wish your younger self knew.

Andrew Vontz: I’d say, my podcast is called “Choose the Hard Way” for a reason, because for better or worse, that’s something I’ve done many times in my life. And it’s really about the idea that you are what you overcome. I think that’s what I’d tell my younger self that it’s about the power of marginal gains.

Every obstacle you might run into in your life is really an opportunity to move towards your next success. And all of the knowledge that you’ve accrued, that’s just insight that you can take into whatever you do next.

It goes back to this agile development mentality, that comes from software engineering and business development, but you can really apply it to anything. Keep what works, throw away what doesn’t and test new hypotheses and keep growing.

Kunal Mehta: Awesome. Keep growing for sure. I also want to ask you, what’s a convention that you wish did not hold true today?

Andrew Vontz: Something I’ve been thinking about a lot because of a guest I had on my podcast recently, his name’s Hector Guadalupe and he’s the founder of an organization called A Second U Foundation.

He works with formerly incarcerated individuals. And provides training and education for them to start their own fitness businesses. And it’s really foregrounded for me, the importance of second chances. I think that that’s something that I would like to see transformed in society.

Katja Gagen: That’s wonderful, thanks Andrew. One other question is who do you follow on social media?

Andrew Vontz: One of my favorite people to follow on social media is Rahsaan Bahati. He’s a multi-time national champion and one of my favorite cyclists of all time. I lived in LA for over 15 years, and he used to be out on a lot of group rides that I was on. I always looked up to him, his accomplishments as an athlete.

Rahsaan has something called the Bahati Foundation. Its mission is to support inner city youth and underserved communities through cycling outreach. I think the work that he’s doing to bridge the equity and access gap in cycling is incredibly powerful.

Katja Gagen: That’s awesome, and if I were to summarize our conversation – hard work and rapid learning are the ultimate Growth Hacks. One more question, how do you energize and instill rapid learning at Strava?

Andrew Vontz: I think one of the ways that I try to do that is by modeling vulnerability. And trying to float big, risky ideas and trying to push myself beyond what feels safe. Because when I’m starting to feel anxious about something that we’re trying to do, because it feels overly ambitious, anxiety metabolized a different way is excitement. And that’s when I know I’m in the right territory because we’re about to break through. And that’s really what I want the team to get to experience, because I want everybody to have that feeling of autonomy, of growth, of really operating at the edge of their ability, because I know that that’s where we can do our very best work.

Katja Gagen: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much, Andrew, for sharing your insights with us from being a journalist to an athlete, and also the head of communications. Thanks for being on the show today.

Andrew Vontz: Yeah, thanks so much. It’s great to be here.

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Making Community Building More Than a Catchphrase to Unlock Growth – Jonathan Mildenhall Shares Lessons from Airbnb and More for Companies of All Sizes

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Brands like Airbnb and Peloton that have been able to build a loyal community around their products, may seem to have cultivated that community size through an alchemical mix of marketing spend, timing, and luck. But it doesn’t have to be so opaque — especially not for businesses that make community building an essential part of their blueprint to growth, even from the early days. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja talk to Jonathan Mildenhall, former CMO of Airbnb and founder and Chairman of strategic branding firm, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, about ways to articulate the narrative of a modern brand – with community building as a key element. Jonathan walks us through a four-pillar process for creating strategic blueprints to build brand narrative, and tips for B2B brands to elicit the sort of emotional resonance that B2C brands have found with customers. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The four pillars of a modern 21st century brand that’s built to scale. Community isn’t just something that comes once a brand has been built. In fact, having a vocal, loyal community is one of the four core pillars of building a modern-day company. In addition to community building, the other three pillars for twenty-first century brands are being purpose driven, making sure your technology is well-designed and human, and focusing on storytelling.
  • How to perform a deep analysis on your own company and create a strategic blueprint to activate on each pillar. One of the first things Jonathan and his team at TwentyFirstCenturyBrand do when building out a new brand is to sit down with the founders and leaders of the company to do what they call a deep extraction. The purpose is to get a better understanding of the brand’s potential size and aspirations. “I don’t just mean in total numbers and size of revenue, but in terms of its cultural impact. We like to say we’re revealing the soul and purpose of the company back to the founding team,” Jonathan says.
  • Specific strategies on building a community that can meaningfully drive growth and brand perception. When Jonathan was the CMO of Airbnb, they had to get creative about how to use their marketing spend, which was a fraction of their competitors’ budgets. Jonathan’s team decided to activate Airbnb’s community of hosts to tell stories, by providing them photographers to take photos of their rentals and turn that into marketing collateral. Those community stories helped drive Airbnb’s initial brand narrative and turned those same hosts into vocal advocates for Airbnb with cities and potential users. Per Jonathan, “if you get community right, you can reduce acquisition costs, content creation costs, and you can drive referrals, word of mouth, and the brand narrative in ways that are unprecedented for marketers.” 
  • Why strategic community building has to come from the C-suite. Community building is an ongoing process and a two-way conversation; not just when a brand needs the community to telegraph its approval. It’s why Jonathan believes that community engagement should come from company leadership, who can maintain that dialog with followers of the brand and the wider community: “The chief executive’s voice and presence needs to be heard.”
  • Lessons B2B marketers can take from B2C campaigns when it comes to eliciting an emotional connection. Whether you’re a B2B company or a B2C company, Jonathan urges marketing teams to think about more than selling a product, and instead focus on the human being receiving the message, and whether that message moves them emotionally. His advice for B2B marketers? “I would love it if B2B businesses made a greater effort to move audiences emotionally and treat them as human beings, as opposed to somebody on the other side of a business transaction,” says Jonathan.


To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Elevating Community Building to Drive Meaningful Growth

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Elevating Community Building to Drive Meaningful Growth

Community building is the type of phrase that gets thrown around growth marketing so often it can seem like a box to check, rather than a strategic part of a comprehensive growth strategy. Still, there is a growing stable of modern brands that have created unique, vocal, loyal communities, and leveraged the power of those communities for incredible growth and success. Companies like Airbnb, Glossier, Peloton, and Twitter have all fostered community, and done so in different ways, without sacrificing on the primary goal of scaling a business. 

In the latest episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal speak with Jonathan Mildenhall, the founder and Chairman of the strategic branding firm, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, and former CMO of Airbnb. Jonathan recounts his experience with building modern brands that resonate with the communities they serve and explains how to build a strategic blueprint that allows companies to unlock growth in the areas they want to activate. He also gives us his playbook for building communities that can meaningfully drive growth, and why he believes community building has to come from the very top to be truly effective. 

Here’s what you’ll learn: 

  • The four pillars of a modern 21st century brand that’s built to scale
  • How to perform a deep analysis on your own company and create a strategic blueprint to activate on each pillar
  • Specific strategies on building a community that can meaningfully drive growth and brand perception
  • Why strategic community building has to come from the C-suite
  • Lessons B2B marketers can take from B2C campaigns when it comes to eliciting an emotional connection

To hear more on this, settle in and press play.

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Product, People, and Employee Engagement: How Zillow’s Path to Growth Eschewed the Traditional Marketing Playbook

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Nowadays, growth minded leaders know that a strong corporate culture and engaged employees are a central part of any company’s growth playbook. Yet when Zillow first launched, placing people on the same level as product innovation was an audacious move. Still, Zillow took the time to invest in improving its employee engagement, knowing that engaged employees were the bedrock for a company’s long-term success.

On this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja talk to TCV Venture Partner and former CMO, COO, and current Zillow board member, Amy Bohutinsky. We discuss Amy’s perspective on C-suite leadership and bucking the traditional marketing and operational playbooks in order to drive growth and create better company cohesion. As board member of various technology companies, Amy also walks us through what boards are discussing now more than ever.

Key Takeaways

  • Why Zillow focused on product over marketing to drive early growth. When Zillow launched in 2004, they’d seen many of their startup peers spend lots of money on brand marketing without a proven revenue model. Rather than tread the same path, Amy says the Zillow team “saw an opportunity to build a company in a really different way, which was to focus deeply on product. Product was absolutely the best marketing we could have.” By adopting a no budget marketing budget, the team was further incentivized to create products, like Zillow’s Zestimate, that customers would truly love using.
  • Strategies for successfully merging companies post-acquisition. As Zillow has grown, it’s acquired companies of all sizes, including its $2.5 billion acquisition of fellow real estate juggernaut Trulia. To navigate a smoother post-acquisition merger after she became COO, Amy took a page from her former CMO playbook when considering how to best scale Zillow’s employee base while retaining what was special about its culture. During the Trulia acquisition, the companies combined their individual sets of values to create a new shared set of driving core values. “That gave a nod to what was great about both, but also showed that we were bridging two companies together and two different cultures together and creating something new,” says Amy.
  • How shared values in a shared language build connective tissue between disparate teams. One of Amy’s goals during her time as Zillow’s COO was to drive better cohesion between sales, marketing, and product. Though each team had its own values in addition to Zillow’s shared corporate values, everyone across the company bought into what Zillow called its “product personas” — mental sketches of the people they built for. “They had names, they had photos, they had a whole life…And these are individual personas that everyone across every department at the company understands deeply,” says Amy.
  • The most important metrics all C-suite leaders should be paying attention to. When Amy shifted her role from CMO to COO, she viewed Zillow employees the same way she did end consumers; what did they have to say, what were their concerns, and what could Zillow do to make sure they retained the workforce that made them successful. Even now, Amy says all C-suite leaders should be paying attention to a key metric: employee engagement. “If you get that right, it’s a whole lot easier to meet all of the business-related metrics you need.”
  • What corporate boards are most concerned with currently. In addition to the board of Zillow, Amy sits on the boards of Modsy and Duolingo, and has sat on the boards of companies including Gap and HotelTonight. She says that in the last seven to ten years, the conversation on boards has shifted away from growth at all costs to an emphasis on people and how to keep and retain a healthy workforce.

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Treating Employees Like End Consumers: How Zillow Scaled Successfully While Reinventing the Traditional Growth Playbook

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Building the Brand Reputation Playbook: Aligning Business Objectives to Drive Perception and Growth

Communications and marketing teams are often siloed yet need to work hand in hand to build and scale the brand perception that can hypercharge growth. In the inaugural episode of “Growth Hacks,” Kunal and Katja are joined by Gabrielle Ferree, head of public relations at OneTrust, the leading privacy, security, and data governance platform. Gabrielle reveals how she pulled in stakeholders across the company when planning a five-year anniversary campaign that celebrated the startup’s early successes, and how she aligns PR objectives with business objectives. The conversation also serves up strategy for successfully simplifying your company story, along with smart ways to work with the media. Here’s what you will learn:

  • How partnering with stakeholders throughout the organization can organically expand your campaign reach
  • How to create a PR playbook from scratch
  • The importance of aligning with C-suite business goals and marketing teams
  • Understanding the changing rhythms of newsrooms and working with media in 2021
  • Expanding the definition of communications into other arenas, including sales and HR 

For all this and much more, settle back and press play.

Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Katja: Today, Kunal and I are joined by Gabrielle Ferree, head of public relations at OneTrust, a widely used privacy, security, and data governance technology platform. We learn from Gabrielle how her team collaborated with stakeholders across the organization to execute OneTrust’s five-year anniversary campaign, what she prioritizes when setting her communications strategy, and how she aligns with marketing and business strategy on her PR efforts.

Welcome to Growth Hacks, Gabrielle.

Gabrielle: Thanks, Katja. Thanks for having me.

Katja: Awesome. So where does this podcast find you today? Where are you?

Gabrielle: Very specifically, I’m in my daughter’s closet. I’ve learned from my favorite podcasters, when they go on vacation, they’d go in a closet for the best sound. So I’m here in Phoenix, Arizona, which is where I moved mid-pandemic, back home to be close to my family.

Katja: That’s awesome. And talking about your employer OneTrust, which is one of our portfolio companies and a leader in the trust space. How did you end up at OneTrust? What does the company do? And what do you do?

Gabrielle: Yeah. Absolutely. So OneTrust is actually the number one fastest-growing company on the Inc. 500 this year. We create a suite of technology products that help companies build trust with their customers, their employees, and the community of people who work around them. We were founded about five years ago and today have 10,000 customers, 2,000 employees, and a group of incredible investors, including TCV. Myself personally, I have a deep background in technology, PR, and communications. I worked with a lot of the OneTrust leadership team on a previous company called AirWatch, which was acquired by VMware in 2014. And now I’m leading communications, public relations, content marketing, social media and our community marketing at OneTrust.

Katja: So Gabrielle, you lead a strong team that’s working remotely. How do you drive collaboration with your team members?

Gabrielle: Yeah. First off, I think it’s important to remember that, yes, we are remote, but we still have always been a global team and have had people in a number of different offices. But one of the things I like to share with anyone who is a people manager or trying to engage and inspire a team is not to forget that these are still people. So how can you make it not just about work, but a little bit of fun? So there’s a couple of things that we do on our team. We do what we call work-from-home wins, where we talk about something what we’ve done for our mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional wellbeing that last day, just to make sure that we’re doing something besides working in our work-from-home life. Then we’ll also have a question-of-the-day, which I’ll randomly assign to someone. And we all have to sort of give our answer. Yesterday’s question was, “What is something that you used to believe for many years and then found out was not true?” which I got a lot of fun responses. And then the third is I do something called Friday fun. So we have meetings on Fridays where we do a little bit of business, but then the second part is just something completely fun, not related to work. We’ve played Scattergories. We’ve had someone make pizza virtually for us. And there’s just a lot of impact you can make when you’re giving those fun opportunities that you get in the office in a virtual sense. And I recommend any manager to try and implement some fun into their virtual meetings.

Katja: Well, thanks for the insights, Gabrielle. It looks like you got to put to the test a lot of your recommendations most recently when OneTrust celebrated its fifth-year anniversary, and you led a large campaign to celebrate that. Tell us a little bit more how you designed that campaign. Who were the stakeholders? How did you get everyone on board? And how did you think beyond communications to make this a success?

Gabrielle: One of the most incredible things about working at OneTrust is that we’ve had so many opportunities even in the last year to do a big announcement that really rallies our employees from being named the number one fastest-growing company on the Inc. 500 to our massive Series C that was spearheaded by TCV to this five-year announcement. In startup world, we think five years is a pretty big deal, and I hope that we get to 50 years. But for now, we’re very proud of our five-year milestone and didn’t look at it from just a marketing lens. We wanted to see, how is this an opportunity to thank our customers, those who’ve been there from the very beginning and those who had just joined us? How to thank our community, people within the privacy, security, and governance industry that have helped us along the way. How do we engage our employees? How do we help with recruiting? How do we say thanks to our investors?

So we brought together people from all those teams to sort of execute and hash out a plan. And what we did from the marketing communications side was build really consistent branding throughout. So we had this five-years-of-trust logo. It was included on our infographics and on our videos and on our swag that we sent to employees and community members and investors. And I think we were able to have some really great results across sales, customer acquisition, across excitement on social media and participation with our community online, as well as with our employees, and a big moment of camaraderie and in coming together, even in virtual world.

Kunal: Yeah. I love that Gabrielle. And I can tell you from a PR perspective, when Katja and I get pulled in, there’s just a lot of common myths we see where folks like yourself and Katja, and you just need to deliver really pragmatic advice. If PR were a sport, maybe you can walk us through your playbook for getting started in PR.

Gabrielle: Yeah. That’s a really great question. When it comes to a playbook, this is something at OneTrust we’re really good at mastering. When you’re growing as fast as we are, we have to create these scalable, repeatable processes that anyone can take and execute on. So the way that I would go to anyone who is starting up a PR program, a startup technology company would first be, “Where are your people? Where is your public?” Right? They may not all be reading the traditional news magazines, even though your CEO may think that’s what PR is. Your people may be on TikTok. Your people may be on Reddit. Your people may be on LinkedIn. Where are your people? And then build programs around that. I think too common people associate PR with press release. And the fact of the matter is PR is about, what do people feel when they hear your brand? What is your corporate reputation? And are you managing both the proactive and reactive communications that come with your company?

So first, find out where your people are. And then second, make sure that you are aligned with what your executive’s requirements are. Too often you’ll have a new hire or someone come in that runs in one direction, but it doesn’t align with the business goals. I think one of the biggest pieces of success I’ve had in my program at OneTrust is aligning public relations and communications efforts to marketing goals. Marketing has the budget. Marketing has the direct report into the CEO. And so when you can align your communications efforts to marketing outcomes, you are able to show even more value than the intrinsic value of, what do people think about with your brand? So then third is make a process. So write down what you’re doing, and write down how you do it. And it actually is harder than you think. If you think about your day and you’re typing out everything it is that you do to craft a pitch, find media, build a social campaign or whatever it is you’re doing, it will take you a lot of time to write it down. But as soon as you can get a process set up, then you can scale. You can bring people onto your team. You can have them replicate the way that you like to do things. And then when you get more people doing those sorts of things, then you get to think about the next challenge to tackle. And then the people you bring on to sort of follow your process may come up with new and innovative ideas to do what you were doing and improve what you’re doing even better.

Kunal: I love that. And Gabrielle, as you look back over the last 5 or 10 years, what effect has technology had on PR from your perspective?

Gabrielle: I think the best thing that has happened to PR is the ability to track the efforts a little bit better. I don’t think that it’s gotten perfect yet where you can say, “This prospect looked at this article,” or, “Interacted with this piece of content that you put out and made a business decision based off of that.” But there are certain things that you can put in place into your efforts now that can help you a little bit better understand how you’re helping build into the marketing pipeline. One of the other trends that I think is important for PR professionals to understand is just the consistently changing reality of the newsroom and how much pressure reporters are under to cover such a wide swath of type of coverage areas and how you can be even a better partner with them to deliver them really good, interesting information, really great spokespeople that help them do their job better.

Kunal: So that is a huge challenge, and I completely agree with you. Maybe you can share a story on how you tackle that.

Gabrielle: Yeah. Absolutely. One of the ways to tackle it is trying to help the reporter understand if this is a type of story that has demonstrated success. So if it’s about a topic that has already shown that it can be shared widely on social media, if you can let the reporter know that this type of topic or this type of trend has already performed well, they may be more likely to write about it since one of the metrics that they’re measured by is the amount of views or traffic that a certain article generates. That was something that I think can be a little counterintuitive. Right? If this type of concept or story has already been shared, why would anyone else want to write about it? But it’s something that works. So if you can show that this type of topic or story has good legs, then a reporter may be more willing to work with it.

Katja: Awesome. And speaking of pitching, what’s your favorite pitch?

Gabrielle: One or two sentences. My favorite pitch is the short pitch. My favorite pitch is like a good dating app intro. You want to leave them wanting more. And you want to not give everything away so they can respond.

Katja: And you don’t want to lead with, “I like your article,” because it’s pretty lame.

Kunal: I got to tell you, Gabrielle, to me, I think crafting the story is so critically important. How did you think about getting so ruthlessly simple with telling people what OneTrust does?

Gabrielle: I seem to have an opposite problem of many communicators in the sense that brevity is my magic. I have less time, but still can manage to write a shorter letter, as they say. And I think it really just goes with trying to talk with more and more people about what you do in your regular life so you can try and understand what is actually resonating. If I went up to my friends and I said, “OneTrust is the fastest-growing and most widely-used enterprise technology software to operationalize privacy, security, and data governance,” they would just look at me cross-eyed and not have any idea what I was saying.

But instead if I told them, “Look, there are certain companies on the Internet that you trust. You have no problem putting in your information on their website, buying a product from them. You think they’re doing good things for the environment. Right? My company is trying to build software that helps companies understand whether or not they’re trusted.” So how can you become more simple and speak like a human? And I think the more you practice, the more you talk to people, the more you write, the more you edit, the more likely you’ll be able to get those shorter pitches. The average reporter gets something between 50 to 500 pitches in their inbox every single day. They don’t have time to read really complicated pitches. They want to understand, “How is this relevant to my readers? And why is this an interesting story that I should cover?”

Kunal: Awesome. I would just say the other thing that Katja and I run into. So maybe I’ll ask you first, and then I’ll have Katja comment on it. But there’s just a lot of misconceptions people have about PR in general. I’m just wondering, what’s your biggest pet peeve misconception?

Gabrielle: That PR means press release. I think we as communicators do so much more than draft a press release. And the more people can realize the value that communications brings to all areas of the business and see how much of everything that we touch finds its way into what our salespeople are saying and how our support people are implementing our product and even how recruiters are trying to get more employees on, the more value that they’ll see that communications can bring.

Kunal: Awesome. Katja, I’m just curious about yours. what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Katja: Yeah. I agree with Gabrielle. One of my biggest pet peeves is that preparation for a good media interview goes a long way, and not everyone does that. And I hear a lot from reporters that they get to hear the 50th version of the same messaging that they’ve read in The Wall Street Journal. And they get on the phone with someone who gives them the same answer and make it sound like it’s new. So my biggest thing is prep for an interview. And on top of that, don’t oversell yourself. There’s nothing more off-putting when you’re trying to sell, sell, sell, but have nothing else to say.

Kunal: Got it. As we work with companies on PR, they always start strong and they have a lot of gusto and they talk about playing bigger. But it’s kind of like watching an ice cube melt. It starts strong. And then by the end, there’s nothing going on. What do you think the secret is to sustaining success in PR?

Gabrielle: You have to stay aligned with the business and understand what’s going on. The business is likely not a melting ice cube. The business is likely growing and booming and doing new and innovative things. What maybe is melting is your grasp on the innovation that’s happening or getting a seat at the table to really understand what’s going on. So I have always found, you, as a PR person, has such an incredible opportunity and that you get to work with the spokes people that’s most likely executive leadership and C-suite. Maintain and keep that relationship, continue to find ways to have a seat at the table, and the stories will be there. You just may have to look a little harder.

Katja: That sounds good. We’re going to do a quick lightning round… so Gabrielle, night out or night in?

Gabrielle: Night out. Except for all my nights are now in because I have a daughter.

Kunal: I was going to say Star Wars or Star Trek?

Gabrielle: Star Wars.

Katja: Awesome. Weekend lie-in or running for a quick 5K?

Gabrielle: No. Weekend lie-in for sure.

Katja: Okay. And how about watching a movie or watching the big game?

Gabrielle: Oh, big game. All day. Big sports fan.

Katja: Well, thanks so much, Gabrielle, for all your insights on how to play the PR game really well, but also how to create campaigns that involve many more functions and leaders across the organization. It was so nice to have you on Growth Hacks today. So thank you so much for joining us.

Gabrielle: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

***

Katja: It’s been fun talking to Gabrielle in this first episode of Growth Hacks. We discussed:

  • How OneTrust collaborates remotely with a team of 2,000 employees
  • How to plan for a Five Year Anniversary campaign
  • What it takes to create an impactful PR Playbook
  • What it takes to align PR and marketing with C suite goals
  • Working with the press in 2021

Thanks for joining us and stay tuned for our next episode of Growth Hacks.

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Brands with a Purpose

Even the most hardened left-brain investor can recognize the genius of Jonathan Mildenhall. While leading the marketing organizations at Coca-Cola and Airbnb, Jonathan focused each of these brands on an authentic and emotive purpose that cut through the cynicism of modern consumerism to create connection and change human behavior based on shared values. Jonathan was kind enough to share with TCV GP David Yuan his stories and experiences leading Coca-Cola and Airbnb marketing, as well as his new venture, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand.

Key takeaways from this wide-ranging conversation include:

  • Energizing an icon, helping Coca-Cola reclaim and extend its emotional core
  • Authenticity as an enduring and compounding competitive advantage
  • How aligning brands with core human needs can change consumer behavior

For this and a lot more from one of the most creative and successful marketers of this century, settle back and click play.

 

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The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.