Catapult Celebrates 20 Years: 20 PR Lessons Learned


Twenty years ago today Terri Douglas and I took our own good advice and started our PR firm — Catapult PR.

Since 9/9/99, there’s been a lot of hard work, an awesome group of employees past and present, many great clients, and a whole lot to be grateful for.

There are also many lessons learned along the way on this wild and crazy ride.

This year is especially significant because it marks the big “2-0” serving B2B tech companies from the PR trenches.

Looking back, we’ve seen a lot of transformation within the PR industry itself. We’ve had to pivot a time or two and change the way we do a lot of things. 

While there are more than could fit in one article, here are 20 lessons learned since Catapult launched in 1999: 

  1.  “Why” is more important than “what.”
    This concept applies to all aspects of the business – but especially for PR and content marketing — it’s easier to say “what” you do (and sound like everyone else) than “why” your offering matters in a changing, shifting world.
  1. Trust is a two-way street.
    Our clients expect and deserve trust. But those of us working on the PR service side also need clients to be transparent and secure enough to empower us to succeed.
  1.  Obsessing about competitors is an energy suck.
    Sure, it’s important to know what your competitors are up to and how they are positioning themselves in the market. But obsessing too much about competitors leads to lost energy and veering away from authenticity. Companies that are secure and confident march to their own drumbeat, not that of others.
  1.  Chasing the shiny object rarely pays off.
    It’s easy to get sucked into the latest industry buzz and trendy tactics, and subsequently losing your focus along the way. When a company gets sucked down the shiny-object rabbit hole, they often send the PR firm off to chase every ‘opportunity’ with little reason, and typically, not a lot of success.
  1. CEO support is vital to PR success.
    It goes without saying that CEO support is vital to the success of any initiative. Companies where CEOs provide solid support typically gain the most value. Not just in terms of results, but in motivating and empowering PR teams to be assertive, not fear making a mistake and ensuring that the company’s vision is clearly articulated.
  1. Toxic clients aren’t worth it.
    Losing a client is always hard, and oftentimes we hold on when we know, in the long run, it’s best to let go of a bad situation. I never understand how or why people act like jerks when they know full-well it only hurts performance and the company’s investment.
  1.  PR is a long game.
    Immediate results and instant recognition are rarely achievable in any marketing endeavor. People who think issuing one news release, or doing PR piecemeal, will be a “gamechanger,” are typically disappointed. Market winners are always the ones that consistently hammer their messaging into the market over a long period of time.
  1. Being the category champion is gold.
    We love positioning our clients as category winners. They are the ones that get acquired or make it to IPO. Every hot startup that comes to mind is the category champ. Good PR, from positioning and messaging to program strategy and execution, is an essential element in establishing the top spot in the market.
  1. Messaging matters more than ever.
    Messaging is hard to get right. And today more than ever what you say and stand for is super important. Straight up, it can make or break how you are positioned in your industry. Take the time to build a lasting narrative.
  1. PR is a team sport.
    PR agencies kept at arms distance and treated as an extra expense struggle to deliver desired results. When we are treated as a true partner we’re more vested, passionate and impactful. Clients that provide little input and stand back waiting for good things to happen are rarely pleased.
  1.  Leadership is giving.
    Companies who lead don’t keep industry knowledge and ideas for change to themselves. They share their best thinking openly – even with the competition because leaders don’t fear being copied. In fact, they are flattered by it.
  1.  News releases still matter.
    When social media became the hot “new thing” we often heard startups say that news releases were useless and had no value. In a self-publishing world, it’s amazing how many news announcements issued via a wire service are published verbatim today. Plus, news coverage is repurposed via social media, helps with SEO and becomes fodder for internal and customer communication.
  1.  All CEO jokes are funny.
    Having sat in on countless company meetings and conference calls I love to hear the roar of laughter whenever the CEO makes a joke. Funny or not, we all laugh!
  1.  Industry analysts are marketing agents.
    If you build a good standing with the industry analysts, they’ll talk about you. And when they talk about you, important industry eyes start to turn in your direction.
  1. Pay-to-play is no longer the kiss-of-death.
    It seems like everything is pay-to-play these days. Back when I started my career (over 30 years ago!), any publication that went down this slippery slope lost all credibility. Today that’s not the case, as companies are willing to pay for placements and awards that seem to pop up like weeds.
  1. The phone is still the killer app.
    It’s still harder to say no to a human than an email. There are fewer people who call and you certainly stand out if you can reach a reporter on the phone. In fact, if any job seeker actually calls me — automatic interview.
  1.   We live in a self-publishing world.
    With fewer journalists and so many digital publications today, the opportunity to write your own narrative is great. Everybody has a blog, everybody is doing content and social media now serves as a content distribution channel. Market winners are the ones who write and share meaningful content!
  1.   PR is about value, not time and tactics.
    Every good agency spends a great deal of time and effort to run a PR program, but that’s not its greatest benefit. Clients ultimately want results, not endless reporting on time and tactics that show “effort.”
  1.  Good PR transports companies from point A to point B.
    Every company we have ever engaged with has a vision for where they want to go — and PR is a great vehicle to make that happen. When it becomes more than clicks and views, strategic PR helps position a company properly, effectively delivers company vision and messaging, and builds the awareness required to facilitate movement into a desired market space.
  1. PR ain’t Dead Yet!
    I’ve heard many times over the years that “PR is Dead.” Bullarky! Think about it — everything looks like PR now. Content marketing, social media and even advertising are all trying to “engage” audiences with stories. The best, most credible media is “earned media.” Nothing beats the credibility and industry buzz of good PR. While the PR game has changed, the result of having third-party validation and credibility is the foundation upon which industry leaders are built!

I can honestly think of 100 other lessons I’ve learned over the past 20 years.  As we continue to partner with companies who face constant change and disruption, we are constantly taking away valuable lessons that help us set our eyes on the true benefits of PR and educate our clients on how they can get the most value out of our partnership.

I am thankful and grateful for this ride with Catapult and my career in PR.

Both Terri and I look forward to more lessons and opportunities in the years to come — and we hope you found some nuggets of useful info in this blog. 

Want to chat about PR or catch up? Call me anytime: 303-581-7760 or email: [email protected].