From Boom to Bust and Back: How PR Pros Can Weather the Cycles

Late last spring, I turned to a coworker, mouth agape, and remarked, “It’s happening.”

“It,” in this case, was the height of the current tech boom, when two companies only a few years old raised mega-rounds in succeeding days (Zenefits and Affirm, if you’re wondering). Anyone who’s been through a boom and bust can tell you that working in tech is kind of like living in gravity: what goes up inevitably comes down. In PR, that pattern not only plays out in the form of money funneled through the companies we represent, but in the narratives told by the media.

Over the last months and even weeks, we’ve seen these narratives shift. Reporters are poking holes, and some companies are finding themselves playing defense.

Boom to Bust and Back Tech PR Careers Panel

This boom and bust cycle also impacts the careers of those who make a living telling stories about tech — and this was the topic for Bateman Group’s most recent event, co-hosted by the wonderful team at PRSA San Francisco. On February 26, we gathered in the Hamm’s Building penthouse to discuss From Boom to Bust and Back: How PR Pros Can Weather the Cycles.

Sam Whitmore, a longtime friend of Bateman Group and creator of the Media Survey newsletter, made the trek from his home in Maine to moderate a thoughtful discussion among local tech PR leaders, including:

  • Sarah Cain, head of communications at Bateman Group client Prosper Marketplace;
  • Netta Conyers-Haynes, board member at large, PRSA San Francisco and head of internal communications, North America at Facebook; and
  • Larry Yu, marketing partner at Accel Partners.

I rounded out the panel as someone who has experienced first hand the ins and outs of working at agencies and startups over the last decade.

Some major takeaways from the discussion:

  • Act like the market will always be shifting. This is something Netta Conyers-Haynes emphasized, and it’s good advice not just for tech PR pros, but for anyone. There are no constants in business, so complacency is your enemy. Go to events (StartupDigest has a great newsletter), build your network in PR and beyond, and focus on making your strengths even stronger, as Larry Wu suggested. This attitude will help you weather any storm, big or small.
  • We grow the most in the harder times. Challenging situations force us to take risks and learn just how capable we are. I was particularly inspired by an audience member’s story. She’d weathered several tech cycles as a PR pro in SF, and is now using those experiences to form a new business focused on female leadership.
  • Don’t be scared. Ultimately, none of us are soothsayers. As Sarah Cain mentioned, you have to trust your company to make the right decisions, and in the meantime stay focused on doing good work. If you’re talented, there will always be a place for you. A more productive approach than fear is to be aware of what’s happening — in your industry and in the macro climate. The packed house at the event proved many San Francisco PR pros are being realistic and responsible about the current market dynamics. I find that incredibly encouraging.

Thanks to everyone who was able to make it out! Special gratitude goes to Bilen Mesfin at PRSA San Francisco and Bateman Group’s Paula Cavagnaro, Stephanie Leal, Alexis Meisels, Jennifer Steinle and Shannon Osthimer for making the evening happen.

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