Vanessa Boynton was first drawn to the world of public relations in high school. She spent two years in a marketing course, where she fell in love with the discipline for how it blended art and psychology.
From there, she went to school for integrated marketing communications, where she became particularly drawn to storytelling through PR. She was fascinated by the puzzle and practice of identifying exactly the right words to get a message across.
Now, Vanessa is a PR Director at Matter Communications, where she designs and executes public relations programs. In addition to working with both larger brands as well as small businesses at Matter, Vanessa is a PR Mentor for MassChallenge, a renowned accelerator program. And, she is a featured speaker at Startup Boston Week 2019.
We caught up with Vanessa to learn more about her work at Matter Communications and her experience leading public relations programs for startups.
Steph: How is working with startups different than working with larger companies in the PR world?
Vanessa: I’ve learned that many startups need a lot of education around what PR is and how they can use it for growth. We spend a lot of time educating them on what they should expect from it depending on which stage their company is in, where they are located, and what they are trying to do.
In fact, I’ve also found that a lot of big, well-established brands need a great deal of education as well, so there are a lot of similarities in working with both big brand names and smaller companies.
What’s most exciting to me about working with startups is that they’re in a continuous state of flux. They’re scaling up, taking on new partners, talking about new products, exploring taglines, and sometimes they’re pivoting away from their initial idea entirely. Startups force you to stay on your toes, learn and try out new things, and come up with new strategies.
S: Do you find that it is challenging to work with companies that are changing so quickly?
V: Yes, and as an agency we really enjoy this challenge. We realized, in doing this work, that that we should really offer something different for startups, so we launched a program called Matter’s Open Door.
Startups may not be in a position where they can take on another partner or even hire a dedicated marketing employee, so Open Door sessions are always free, and the purpose is to provide small and medium sized businesses with tips, insights, and a few ideas they can execute on their own. We’ll be sharing many of these industry secrets at Startup Boston Week during our session — How to Earn Media Coverage for Your Startup.
S: Can I tempt you to share a startup PR tip as we await Matter’s session during Startup Boston Week 2019?
V: It’s important for startups to remember that good PR work is a continuous effort.
I know as a founder or startup employee you’re often forced to think in the short term, and there are limited hours in the day. But, with PR, it’s best if you build rapport with journalists on a continuous basis. The trick to PR is continuously nourishing those relationships and thinking of new ways for journalists to view you as a valuable resource.
S: What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments so far?
V: Matter’s Open Door is way up there; I’m very proud of the team members who have lent their time and we’ve received lots of wonderful feedback from attendees. I love watching startups – and even some established brands – walk away having learned something that can positively impact their business.
I’m also really proud of growing up as a professional at Matter. I started here as an entry-level account coordinator with no PR experience whatsoever, and I’ve earned every single advancement I’ve received.
S: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career to-date?
V: The hardest thing I’ve faced is not being on the same page as a client. The key here is to remember what the other person is up against. Sometimes what we do and what they need just aren’t as much of a fit as we thought they were. It’s on us to point them in the direction that is right for them.
S: What have you learned from this experience?
We are always better when we remember that the clients we serve have bosses to whom they have to justify their work and their budget. If something doesn’t go well, it’s not just our problem — it is very much their problem too. We’re a lot better at being helpful, thoughtful, and resourceful when we remember what our point people are facing day-to-day.
S: I’m struck by your insight, because I think it can be applied to startups, as well, as they begin to grow their customer bases.
S: What is one thing you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
V: That I should be measuring myself by growth and not rate of growth. Stop comparing yourself to others; it’s not productive or helpful in any way. Your only job is to be a better professional today than you were yesterday. I think someone very influential said that, haha.
S: Another great tidbit for startups to keep in mind as they continue to scale.
S: What is one piece of advice that you have for startups?
V: Give it time.
Many startups think they need to see the results of their efforts in days, but some of the biggest payoffs will come after you’ve worked on it for a long time. It’s important to ask yourself if you want to be the next fad, or if you want to transcend all the fads.
The people that are just trying make lots of money in a short period of time, but haven’t planned for years down the road, aren’t building a sustainable business. That will bite them eventually..
S: What is your favorite thing about Boston’s startup scene?
V: The collaboration amongst startups. It’s something that you don’t often see among larger companies.
While there is fierce competition in the startup world, and everyone is fighting tooth and nail to break through the noise, you’ll find a lot of startups in Boston are willing to help their fellows. There’s this feeling of, “We’re all in this together.” It’s what makes Boston’s startup scene so precious and why people are drawn to it.
Rapid Fire Questions
What is one PR myth you wish you could dispel?
I wish more people understood that PR isn’t about deception, masking conflict or hiding from negativity. It’s solution-oriented. But it’s only as good as the brand or the individual it’s serving. If you want good PR, start by being good.
Favorite thing to do in Boston?
If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?
Choose a movie title for the story of your life.
The Boynton Method
Want to learn more from Vanessa about the world of PR? She’s speaking at Startup Boston Week on Monday, September 16. Join her to to learn how to earn media coverage for your startup.
- Larissa Rocha from Brex on Bringing a Startup from Beta to Unicorn in Six Months
- Advice on Scaling Startup Sales Teams from Brian Christiansen at Salesforce