For Gabriel Stricker, Twitter’s VP of marketing and communications, the decision to keep the PR around its IPO in-house is an extension of a philosophy that underpins the team he’s built.
“I think it makes perfect sense to bring in agencies for extending your reach and that’s why we absolutely use agencies internationally because there are places where we don’t have coverage,” Stricker says. “What I generally don’t believe in is outsourcing core competency.”
Taking that approach, since Stricker took the helm of Twitter’s comms in 2012, its PR team “has grown by an order of magnitude.” Among the team are Jim Prosser and Karen Wickre who played a notable role in the IPO. Stricker declined to cite a figure, but it’s estimated that Twitter’s comms team has about 20 people globally.
“We’re still small and scrappy,” Stricker says. Earlier this year, Twitter’s nascent marketing team was consolidated under Stricker, and while this function is still in its infancy, he calls marketing and comms “totally integrated.”
No doubt, Stricker’s comms track record runs deep — prior to Twitter, he worked at Google, as well as holding senior posts at Weber Shandwick and FTI Consulting. Yet, when it comes to marketing he brings a vision that– like his approach to PR — is intriguingly Zen, in theory, anyway.
“My philosophy has always been one of integrated marketing and comms,” Stricker, who’s penned a book on guerilla marketing tactics in the boardroom, says. “And it so happens Twitter’s ubiquity has always been a consequence of viral growth — and the question is now — are there ways to complement that with consumer marketing?”
In the Q&A below, Stricker breaks down his marketing and communications philosophy — and talks about the thinking behind Twitter’s successful IPO in November. (It should be noted, while Google also largely eschews PR agencies North America, Stricker was not directly involved in that decision.)
Knowing that you were keeping the IPO comms in-house, did you hire in anticipation of this?
Gabriel Stricker: It wasn’t that I was hiring for that event. But I was hiring to create a really professional, global team. And when you do that — and it’s staffed properly — the team can excel at a number of things, including an event like we had in November [Twitter’s IPO].
[When it comes to infusing new ideas into the organization], you should be able to solve for that by hiring intelligently. For example, when people ask me about the risk of hiring inexperienced people, I will often tell them: in hiring people with limited experience, you benefit from a new, creative, beginners’ mind.
How do you scale, especially around the inevitable media frenzy for companies as they hit major milestones, whether that’s a buzzy launch or an IPO?
Stricker: It turns out — and I’ve actually said this before I worked at Twitter — using Twitter for your communications makes media relations extremely efficient. During the process leading up to the IPO, we used Twitter to communicate that we had filed privately and publicly.
Imagine, in the days of yore, for the 100s of media outlets that reported on it, they would have had to write to us for that statement and we would have responded with the statement. But instead, we tweeted it out and they could embed that tweet within their own editorial platform. We’re not sending the same statement to 100s of outlets, and instead, allowing them to have real-time access.
Twitter has been praised for the handling of its IPO announcement — and how it didn’t create the fanfare that, for instance, the Facebook IPO did. What was the comms process?
Stricker: My assessment was immediately shaped by the JOBS Act [Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act that allows startups to file confidential IPOs]. First, it was familiarizing myself with the JOBS Act and how it would change the landscape. And one of the things that became clear was — if we could keep this as private as possible, as long as possible — it would be be beneficial. And I think it’s fair to say when we tweeted [the news], people were genuinely surprised. It really was a well-kept secret.
Do you think communications played any role in the stock being undervalued?
Stricker: I don’t see communications playing a role in what are ultimately market forces at play. The role that communications played was setting a tone – an external tone – consistent with our values within our company. I think sometimes folks speculate that, it’s easy to maintain your values under situation X, but what about in situation Y? That’s not the way to approach marketing or communications.
Describe Twitter’s values.
Stricker: The core values are things like: reaching every person on the planet, growing our business in a way that makes us proud, and defending and respecting the user voice.
Twitter brought a handful of users to the New York Stock Exchange podium to ring the bell upon the start of trading. CEO Dick Costolo has publicly credited you for coming up with this idea. What was your thought process?
Stricker: I believe that a picture is worth a thousand words and that visual storytelling is an unfortunately neglected part of the world of communications. I did an image search on the web of IPOs and the majority of images made me cringe because they were very self-congratulatory. They lacked humility on a day when humility should be on display. I thought, what would be the gesture that would be most expressive of gratitude? And the best way to show, not tell, would be to have a handful of users there. They themselves tell the story, the promise of Twitter, better than we can.
Why were those three chosen: Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame, Cheryl Fiandaca, the spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department and Vivienne Harr, a nine-year-old who started a lemonade stand to help end child slavery and then used Twitter to raise more than $100,000.
Stricker: If you think about the impact Twitter can have in the world, Vivienne, Cheryl — and Sir Patrick too — are so articulate about that. Cheryl in a life-saving capacity and Vivienne in a changing the world capacity.
Were you concerned Patrick Stewart’s presence would dominate the headlines?
Stricker: No, that didn’t figure in. He’s so incredible on the platform. And in selecting those three people, if one was more immediately identifiable, at the very least, people would ask – who are those other folks up there? And that’s exactly what happened. The New York Times just did an article on Vivienne’s startup and how they are changing the world. The piece was in DealBook and lead was about our users.
After the IPO, Dick Costolo and many other executives took the New York City subway to Twitter’s Midtown office. Was this a communications decision?
Stricker: There’s a simple explanation. I lived for almost 10 years in New York and someone asked me the fastest way to get from the NYSE to Twitter’s offices. We were on a time crunch, we had to get on a flight back to San Francisco, but wanted to spend as much time in our New York office as possible. It was purely a question of speed.
From a communications perspective, there was considerable access to Twitter’s executive team after a very high-profile event. What about the practical implications of this?
Stricker: The most practical implication was I needed to have multiple Metrocards because we had a number of people with us and you can only swipe a finite number of times. It wasn’t a communications thing.
From a communications perspective, it’s not about controlling the entire world around you. When you start exploring these questions about, what are the implications of taking the subway where anything can happen, it’s the world of the serenity prayer.
Was there a symbolic gesture in having the executive team go back to San Francisco so quickly, demonstrating that — even though you’re now traded on Wall Street — you’re still a Silicon Valley company?
Stricker: It’s not a gesture, it’s reality. The day started with a moment for the investor and analyst community — “the street” — and we took that very seriously. [Dick Costolo] took the the time to build bridges with that community, CNBC, Bloomberg. Once we had acknowledged that, once we had put that time in, it was back to work. And where work is, is part in New York City and part in San Francisco.
Since the SEC has clarified the guidelines — and cleared the way — for companies to use social media for earnings announcements, many companies have done this. How will Twitter use Twitter for earnings?
Stricker: Stay tuned. But we have the benefit to see some of the amazing ways other companies have used our platform. In that context, it’s an amazing position to be able to learn from other’s use.
What would you say to marketers or PR folks concerned about fake followers?
Stricker: That activity is against our rules, it’s against our rules for spam and abuse — and that it can result in a user’s account being suspended. And we have taken legal action to shut down spammers, and in April 2012, filed suit against a number of the most aggressive outfits. At the same time, we have a number of controls in place to detect and flag it.
The New York Times just did a story on the widening gap between rich and poor in San Francisco, pointing specifically to the ripple effects of Twitter’s IPO. What can the communications, the engagement arm of a high-profile tech company do to assuage this tension that is increasingly getting a lot of attention.
Stricker: For a long time, well before we were in our mid-market office, we have been dedicated to being good citizens of the city, and in many cases, this involves serving people immediately around us. We have had, for quite some time, a practice of volunteering and interacting with residents of our neighborhoods. We have often thought the best way to be good corporate citizens is to be good citizens. In the long-term, that is what can make the biggest impact.
[When it comes to Silicon Valley’s image], I have spent zero hours focused on that and dozens actually doing service. It’s another one of these cases, if companies will just do the right thing within the community they live — if everyone behaves in such a way– it will make the world a better place.
Whenever we’ve been able to, we’ve tried to shine the light on other organizations, in particular non-profits, to help them get exposure on our platforms.