For DTCs, being a challenger brand doesn’t only mean challenging incumbents, but also challenging the way you think about aspects of your business including PR and communications. Similarly, PR agencies must change to adapt to the needs of today’s fast emerging startups. In this piece, Jennifer Meyer and Melissa Conner (both pictured below), partners, Jennifer Bett Communications (JBC), who boast DTC brands including Cuyana, Recess, and Parachute among their clients, explain what’s needed from agencies in order to help brands stand out among the crowded consumer landscape.
How does JBC set itself apart from a traditional communications agency?
JBC is a media relations agency approaching PR in a way that is uniquely suited to the needs of digitally-native, venture-backed startups. What sets us apart is our team of senior-level PR “generalists” who thoroughly understand what it takes to launch, grow, and scale a competitive brand today and are extremely dynamic,always working 10 steps ahead. We’re also investing heavily in content creation and thought leadership departments. While we specialise in media relations and storytelling, we’re deeply integrated into our clients communication efforts and act as strategic partners for other marketing initiatives, such as influencer relations or celebrity PR.
We carefully consider new business as an investment of our team’s resources. We like to work with brands that have found a “white space” in their respective industry and have passionate founders, as well as a clear mission that inspires and motivates us, both personally and professionally.
Why has this model attracted so many direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, and why must DTC brands change their approach to comms from their traditional competitors?
Most PR agencies today are still traditional in their approach, with one-dimensional, cookie-cutter strategies that emphasise endemic media (ex. fashion press for fashion brands). That approach simply doesn’t work for startups that have unique needs, and work at lightning speed to stay ahead of their competitors. They need creativity, senior level talent, and serious storytellers who know how to capture a reporters’ attention across a wide range of media outlets.
We can’t stress enough how important storytelling is to our method, and we carefully curate our roster to ensure that we’re partnering with brands that have something to say that’s different and unique from the competition. With each client, we take a step back and spend significant time on messaging and content before we even send out our first pitch. We identify their differentiators and look at who their consumers are to solidify narratives for product, brand, and founders that will speak directly to the customer and ultimately support business growth.
With so many DTCs being set up all the time, how can a DTC brand use comms to stand out from its competition?
Being a DTC brand used to be novel, but today, we’re looking at incredibly saturated markets across all categories. It’s not enough to just say “we’re DTC” or “we’re the Warby Parker of X.” That’s not a narrative; nearly every brand launching today is direct-to-consumer. If you want a stake in the media conversation and equity in
your industry, there needs to be a clear differentiation from incumbents and competitors, and a comms partner that understands the relationships needed to ensure that differentiation comes through in each story.
What changes must traditional comms agencies make to cater for this new breed of brand?
Hiring is the hardest part of any business, but your team is your most important asset. When we’re hiring, we don’t necessarily look for a “fashion PR person” or “beauty PR person”—we look for communications specialists who understand the ways in which the media landscape is evolving and the differences in how consumers are engaging with brands today, who can view brands holistically and position founders as thought leaders. Fashion brands can’t just be in fashion press and food brands can’t just be in food press. We also can’t rely on traditional media outlets and instead prioritise a wide array of platforms, including podcasts, social media takeovers, Facebook Live tapings—those shouldn’t be underestimated.
We consider ourselves startup owners, as well—JBC is only about six years old, so we know the hustle. In order to keep up, we constantly need to evolve, push forward, and do things differently, even if it’s outside our comfort zone, even if it costs us money. We work with the best in class, so we have to execute as best in class—and you simply can’t do that by walking the same walk that traditional comms agencies have for decades.
As the way consumers consume news changes, what channels do DTC brands have to keep an eye on when looking to build a well-rounded comms approach?
Having a diverse media presence matters more than any one channel. The value of print placements vs. digital placements vs. broadcast has changed so much in the last five years alone, and the reality we live in today is that consumers are everywhere. The woman who buys a beautiful coat she saw in Vogue is also reading Fast Company and listens to career podcasts on her morning commute. Brands need to tap into their consumers, find out where they are and what they like to do, and be willing to take a risk on non-traditional media that might reach them better than an older incumbent.