This interview is part of a series featuring the presenters participating in this year's Core77 Conference, "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business" , a one-day event aimed to equip attendees with tangible skills and toolkits to help produce and promote their products or services.
What began as an opportunity to assist a colleague in launching their crowdfunding campaign not only ended up leading Alex Daly into a new career, but also helped her carve out a job title that was previously completely unheard of. As the founder of Vann Alexandra, a firm that helps people interested in running crowdfunding campaigns meet their financial goals and get noticed, Daly stands out as a vanguard in the crowdfunding space with a wealth of knowledge on not only how to get people's eyes on a product, but also have them enthusiastically open their wallets. After years of successful campaigns and over $20 million raised for clients on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Daly decided to do something new once again by starting DalyPR, a firm that would help these companies get attention even past their crowdfunding launch.
In a recent chat with Daly, who will be leading a workshop titled "Life After Launch: How to Keep Your Audience Excited & Engaged" at the 2018 Core77 Conference, we talked about her qualms with the standard public relations model and tips for anyone interested in getting attention from audiences and journalists alike.
What was your initial drive for wanting to transition into not only running Vann Alexandra, but also DalyPR?
To start, DalyPR was born organically: after managing dozens of successful crowdfunding campaigns, clients soon began asking us to handle their publicity after their campaigns ended. At first I was averse to the idea—I was not a huge fan of PR agencies and didn't want to call ourselves one. We had worked with agencies for our campaigns with not a lot of success and had also heard horror stories from clients. I felt like PR firms were a smoke and mirrors industry with too big of a price tag.
On the other hand, at Vann Alexandra, we had to be results-driven. We needed to constantly hustle—we couldn't wait around for a "news cycle," we had to lock stories for our campaigns, otherwise how would people find them? That said, I was advised to always say yes to new business, so I thought, "What if we did PR differently?"
So, we decided to apply our crowdfunding services on a longer-term basis. Just like crowdfunding campaigns, which are essentially launching a brand into the world, we don't think PR is just getting an article mention—it's branding, strategy, copywriting, events, and most importantly, connecting with your community.
And can you talk to me a little bit more about what that learning curve was like in terms of how these two industries between crowdfunding promotion and general PR differ?
I think that the big difference is this idea of the news cycle. We try to position a lot of our crowdfunding campaigns around an important moment that connects to that campaign. But [in a typical PR situation] a lot of the time brands are looking for awareness immediately. We can't leverage the immediacy of a launch the same way we do with crowdfunding campaigns, so we have to sort of create that urgency, even if a news cycle doesn't exist. We're always trying to create a sort of relevance to what we're launching, no matter when we're launching it.
Another big differentiator with our firm is we only believe in online press. Because that's where everybody is reading these days. So we barely ever go out for print media, because we think that all the conversations are happening online.
One of Daly's clients is Standards Manual, who's first Kickstarter campaign raised almost $1 million dollars to publish Massimo Vignelli's famous NYC MTA Graphic Standards Manual.
I think another differentiator is, we are good at finding other communities as well. What we learned from crowdfunding was that there are always so many crowds out there who will probably be interested in what you're doing, right? There are the obvious ones— if we're doing a design project, we look for design crowds. But then there's also, branching out and finding the business stories, an art story, a lifestyle story, a leadership story. And so it's also going out there and finding other communities, outside of your existing one.
You were talking earlier about the qualms you have with the old structure of PR. Can you talk about what the typical cycle of PR used to be, and maybe how that's changing now based on the internet and other technological innovations?
The old PR model is building relationships and going out and trying to find the right story that fits in the right news cycle, and all you are trying to do is get that piece of press in the newspaper, or in a magazine. Once you did that, then everybody would read it and would be talking about it.
So it started with just this one piece of press that would trickle down to many different people finding out about this story. But I think that sort of PR model flipped. Now it's about getting it in front of the online community, getting it in front of bloggers, influencers, social media, having tons of people talking about it. Then it sort of trickles up to that big explosive one big piece maybe, in print media, or a big profile or something like that.
Now it's about targeting the individuals, the bloggers— the 'micro-influencers' if you will— to tell stories so that there's a lot of chatter and conversation about it online. And then it can kind of explode into this big thing.
I do feel like the PR world is a very obscure industry. Like, "oh, our work is about going and having a drink with a journalist, and we're talking to the journalist, and we'll see when they can write a story about it'. We never had that luxury from crowdfunding, we always had to create a story even if it wasn't there, but we've had to find a way to make it fit.
We are much more data-driven. Because if we got press that didn't convert into funding or money, we had failed. We have to find another way to get those conversions. So I think that's just the way that our brains are wired when it comes to PR. That we can't wait for a news cycle, when we're always under pressure on a daily basis, we've had to hit these numbers. We're always asking, how are we going to get awareness that converts into something tangible?
Do you feel like you had a leg up on PR because of your experience with Kickstarter?
Definitely. There's a lot more that goes into PR these days, it's not just publicity and getting stories. I think it's also branding, it's copywriting, it's the messages on your website, I think it's having a great website. All those things create a really strong awareness of the company. Those are things that we also learned from Kickstarter. We had to have a strong video, we had to tell a really strong story, we had to get people on social media, tweeting about this, posting about it on Instagram. And we learned that PR is not just publicity, it's so much more now. You have to have all these pieces in place, to tell your story in the best way possible. And we definitely learned that from crowdfunding.
DalyPR was also behind the Kickstarter campaign for the Netflix Joan Didion documentary, "The Center Will Not Hold"
Your firm seems to focus a lot on developing personal relationships with everyone that you work with. And I was hoping you could talk about how that's helped you, in terms of getting stories, finding clients, all that. What's the importance of connecting with communities?
Oh yeah, totally. In general, we believe that community is power—now especially, because of the Internet. So community could be described as how you talk to people on social media about what you're doing, that can be the relationship you're building with journalists. We try to make sure that community is at the center of what all of our clients are doing because that's so important nowadays.
"Funding is important, but that crowd that will show up when the product is done, that has a longer-term value. That's what creates longevity."
What I learned from crowdfunding was that the funding was important, obviously, but the crowd was even more important in the long-term. So a simple example of this is: say you want to raise money for a movie. One option is, you can go and do that and get three people to write a check for you. Or you can get a thousand people to put in a smaller amount of money. And then you can expect that when that film comes out, a good percentage of those thousand people will go to the movie theaters to go see the film. So the funding is important, but that crowd that will show up when the product is done, that has a longer-term value. That's what creates longevity, that's how you get repeat sales, that's how you get people coming back, and championing for you as well; it's having that community. And that's how you create a sustainable company.
And so how have you personally gone about making your connections with media?
I've learned it's definitely a longer-term gain. There needs to be a level of trust. You know, when we started with our Kickstarter campaigns, we had no experience in PR, none of us had traditional experience, so we all sort of had to learn from scratch how to do that. On my first campaign, I had to google how to write a press release! I didn't learn that in school. What I did know is that people like great stories, and so we really tried to pick the best products with really strong stories. And over time, the more pitches that we do that are interesting, the more journalists are going to open the emails and read them.
So the connections that we made didn't really start with taking journalists out to drinks. All of ours started online, by just pitching all the time, products that were interesting. But also products that were successful in the long-term; that when they were made, they were great products, that people actually wanted to have in their homes.
DalyPR represents organizations both commercial and civic, including the design initiative and public benefit company For All Womankind.
We've honed relationships by pitching products in a really exciting way. And sort of making sure that these products have a follow-through. I mean, you can never predict if a product or company is going to fail, but I think that we always do our due diligence, making sure that these products we work with are not throwaway products, ones that will have a long life and actually do something good for the world in whatever way. And I think that is beneficial for the writer too because they end up writing stories about companies, and businesses, and products that end up having a long life.
Then at one point, after we started pitching the same people, and getting these stories out, I was like, "Oh, I have to meet this person, they've written some great stuff about our clients, and I like how they write, I like their work, so I'll just ask them out for a drink or something". It was very organic, and I think that is clear on the other side too.
"When I'm pitching [a product] I always try to ask myself, 'Would I want to read this whole email?'"
So basically what you're saying is, if you're someone who actually has a company that you're trying to get money or press for, it's imperative when you're creating a product that you're thinking about that story and who it's marketed to, right?
Yeah. Exactly. Making it super targeted for sure, and making sure that the story is told in the most accessible, clear way. When I'm pitching I always try to ask myself, "Would I want to read this whole email? No? Then I need to cut this in half." It's always good to think about what somebody on the other side would be interested in.
You have experience in journalism too right?
Yes, and I think that that helps. I did some writing, but I also was a fact checker, so attention to detail, that was really important to me.
Okay, last question: if you're talking to someone who wants to do their own press, their own Kickstarter launch, what are your biggest pieces of advice for trying to do it on your own? Is it reaching out to other people to help? Is it honing in on your own skills?
I think it's both of those things. It's really, knowing what your strengths are, and if you are really good with design and you're not a good writer, find someone to help you with that who is. Collaborate together and use all of your individual strengths to make the best possible pitch.
I also think that targeted promotion is the way to go. it's much better to pitch 20 really targeted super strong journalists who you've done a ton of research on and know they're the right people for the story versus pitching like a thousand on a mass mailer, that's not going to convert at all. You'll find so much more success with a targeted approach.