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.


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