East Coast vs West Coast? The Best Tech PR Adventure Combines Both

West Coast vs East Coast Infographic

To successfully navigate the East and West Coast tech scenes, you need to wrap your mind around their differences. Each has always offered different cultures and communities to those seeking new opportunities, and this remains true for their respective tech landscapes.

The East Coast hustle and the West Coast chill seem to swap roles, however, when the topic of conversation is turned to the tech industry. The West Coast tech scene is based on a fast-moving mentality, inspired by a highly competitive industry that’s seeded with venture capital. The East Coast, by contrast, is built on a traditional foundation that stems from its academic environment, creating a more cultivating mindset.

Understanding these differing tech scenes could make or break a startup’s success when choosing which coast to call home.    

Rising in the East: On Boston aka “The Innovation Hub”

The academic focus plays a huge role in Boston’s startup industry to form a unified community. Many universities (such as Harvard’s i-lab) as well as more established companies host accelerator programs to offer space, resources and guidance. The heavy academia influence also leads to a tech scene strongly driven by research.

When discussing GE’s recent HQ relocation, chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said, “We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations. Greater Boston is home to 55 colleges and universities. Massachusetts spends more on research and development than any other region in the world, and Boston attracts a diverse, technologically fluent workforce focused on solving challenges for the world.”

The Boston industry as a whole is less consumer-based than the West Coast, and more focused on products that help enterprises expand and increase efficiency. The Massachusetts tech scene is also infiltrated by the large presence of its medical community, leading to a strong focus on digital health and biotechnology. All these aspects create a cohesive environment with a nurturing mindset, honing in on growth and long-term goals.


Setting Off in the West: On San Francisco and Silicon Valley

As we turn to Silicon Valley, “Pick up the pace” echoes across the country, and the West Coast tech scene is a change of pace in every aspect.

According to NBC News, the West lacks as much of a cohesive community as the East Coast. Instead, the West fuels its fire with passion and speed, leading the Bay Area startup scene to the success it sees today. Driven by young minds and young money, the unique personalities on the West Coast create a short term, fast-paced mentality.

This high-energy environment breeds healthy competition. There is a steady fight to stand out in the crowd and attract a potential investor’s big bucks. There is a larger focus on socializing — which is key to winning big in the Valley. Relationships are the foundation of the industry here. You’ve got to know and find the right people to involve in your business and achieve the highest level of success.


Best of Both Worlds

Recognizing that each coast offers a unique perspective, it seems the most reasonable solution to picking a side in the Bay Area vs. Boston battle is to simply choose both. By merging the mindsets of each coast, one gains a deeper understanding of the tech industry as a whole.

A Chicago Perspective on Branch Offices: How We Make Them Work


When teams try to function across a country or continent, they are bound to face their fair share of challenges. But, in the end, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons. It’s no surprise that regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed, has increased 103 percent since 2005, or that about 3 percent of the workforce now teleworks at least half the time.

Highwire is a perfect example of this trend. Our agency originally broke ground in San Francisco in 2008, and its fast success led to the opening of a Chicago office in 2012, a New York City office in 2015 and, most recently, a presence in Boston in December. We also have senior level employees who work full-time from Seattle and L.A.

Highwire PR_March2016_-2

Our Full Team!

Different Coasts for Different Folks

I’ve been able to experience and witness first-hand how our branch offices operate—both as their own entities and in the larger Highwire ecosystem—given my recent opportunity to spend a week in the Highwire New York office through our Red Rover program, a client meeting that landed me in the Boston office last week, and the fact that I operate permanently out of our Chicago space.

The New York office is as fast-paced as the city itself, with everyone hard at work at their desks if not scrambling to get into a conference room for an important meeting or jetting off to an industry event.

On the other coast, the San Francisco headquarters embodies the laid-back vibe of California while possessing the constant drive of Silicon Valley. Schedules are flexible while client expectations are not, and the office executes accordingly.

Our Chicago Team!

Our Chicago Team!

Chicago (my home base) lies between the two—both geographically and culturally. Our smaller size lends itself to a more casual and carefree atmosphere, but the quieter environment is also conducive to high-level productivity.

And Boston, our newest and smallest office to-date, possesses the scrappiness that’s only found in up-and-comers. The Boston crew is all about balance: exceeding client expectations while continually seeking out new opportunities for growth, relying upon one another along the way.

Communication Barriers Breed Collaboration

Ultimately, how these different offices come together and collaborate for the success of our clients is key — And given the fact that account teams often have members from more than one office, effective communication practices are crucial.

It’s true that internal communication can be sub-optimal when co-workers operate in separate offices. For instance, when water cooler chat turns into an important work discussion, that information is at risk of not being disseminated to the entire team. However, this is a problem even companies housed in one building may face, and Highwire uses multiple methods of inter-office communication to negate common obstacles.

For example, in addition to the obvious phone calls and emails that circulate internally in every company, everyone at Highwire is constantly available on Skype regardless of location. We take advantage of both the instant messaging and video chat functions on a regular basis (read: all day) in order to check in with colleagues across the country or across the office.

Additionally, almost every week there is a company-wide meeting over video—whether it’s an opportunity for professional development training or an all-hands announcement. These meetings give us the opportunity to come together virtually, from coast to coast and everywhere in-between.

The other obvious issue we run into when working with teammates across the country is the time difference, which can cause a bit of a wrinkle when it comes to scheduling these aforementioned meetings. After all, there are only five consecutive hours in the work day when all employees everywhere are at their desks, despite the eight hours of work we all put in.

But this apparent obstacle also affords certain benefits. The three-hour time difference from New York to San Francisco means that, as a whole, our company is officially operating 12 hours every day. This allows us to shift responsibilities strategically and rely on teamwork; i.e. East coast workers can get a jump on early announcements or breaking news while those on the West coast can help handle any requests that come in late in the day.

In the end, working for and managing a company with coast-to-coast offices that are intertwined in everyday work comes with its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh any setbacks—especially at Highwire.

Our Boston Office is Now Open

boston-1775870_1280Boston vs. San Francisco. Since I started in the PR industry in the late 1990s, a regular debate topic has pitted the so-called capital of New England with Silicon Valley, asking which was the better market for tech innovation.

For someone living in Boston, doubt—perhaps even jealousy—shrouded the debate; often it followed news that tipped the scales west. As one example chronicled in the popular film “Social Network,” Facebook started in the Boston area, only to flee to the other coast.

In reality, Boston and San Francisco share a spirit of entrepreneurship buttressed by similar characteristics. In both regions, ideas are born from numerous colleges and universities. Business networks usher those ideas and bring them to market, and marketing and PR disciplines have innovated to best connect them to target audiences.

Perhaps it is not a surprise then that Highwire PR is opening a Boston office, with a presence downtown, led by PR talent deeply rooted in the region. We see an opportunity for a PR approach that is based on creativity and deep technology insight. The firm will apply the best PR strategies and tactics from our work in all regions to drive visibility efforts. And in cooperation with Highwire’s office in New York City, we can now more readily support any company in the Northeast and along the east coast.

It’s also perhaps not a surprise that an early 2016 ranking by Bloomberg of the most innovative U.S. states placed Massachusetts and California in a virtual tie at the top. Innovation is not the exclusive province of either state—and it is, therefore, more than appropriate that Highwire’s PR services are now fully available in both, and the many states in-between.

Actually, it looks like Massachusetts came out ahead of California in that Bloomberg ranking (albeit just barely). As one of the Boston PR pros helping to grow the new Highwire presence, I am biased; but how about that?

From Internet Porn to Online Shopping: What Top Journalists are Saying About VR

The future of virtual reality looks bright, but it’s still unclear

Imagine being front row at New York  Fashion Week as Tom Ford  debuts its latest spring line without worrying about the hassles associated with travel, cost or crowds. In fact, you’re sitting front row to the catwalk with the runway spanning the length of your living room.

But how?

Virtual reality is slowly entering the world, connecting people  in ways that we thought were only possible in movies — and it’s much more than gaming. Interestingly, it has been leveraged to tackle (and sometimes spur) dialogue on issues like racial and sexual discrimination. 

For example, Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is using virtual reality for diversity training scenarios. The research has caught the attention of companies including the NFL, who is looking to the technology as way to train the league on understanding bias through custom-built diversity sessions.

But Stanford is just one example of how VR is slowing becoming adopted outside of gaming. The technology is  trickling into our everyday lives as the future of music videos, sporting events and even “vacations.”

In order to uncover what the future really holds for this seemingly fledgling technology, Highwire spoke with reporters Daniel Terdiman at Fast Company, Kurt Wagner at Recode and Marco della Cava at USA Today. What follows are insights from these insiders on where virtual reality is headed and the potential hotbed verticals emerging VR companies should avoid.

Q: What VR companies are on your radar?

Wagner: Beyond the obvious big players, like Oculus, HTC Vive and Google VR — Felix & Paul Studios, Penrose Studios, Lucid Sight, Inc., Vivid Vision.

della Cava: I’ve done a few stories about content companies like Penrose Studios, Jaunt — just keeping tabs on where the content’s going because the tech is sophisticated and will continue to get more sophisticated, more streamlined and less expensive.

Q: Are there any trends in virtual reality you expect to be big by 2017? In the next five years?

Wagner: I think shopping in VR could be relevant in the next five years—taking a tour of a home or a car from your living room. Also, I imagine VR porn will be big.

della Cava: I would say mobile is the thing to keep an eye on. Who can figure out just how good VR and AR can be on the smartphone? That’s something we all own right now, and if someone can find a way to give even a halfway-decent VR experience through the smartphone, that’s going to be powerful because we already own it. It really promises the short burst of a VR experience.

Q: What problems lie ahead for virtual reality companies?

Terdiman: The biggest problem is consumer adoption. Consumers must understand that not only is VR cool, but that there is a lot for them to do with it. Right now, there’s a big wow factor, but then people often wonder, “What’s next?” Until people get past that hang-up, there will not be mass adoption of hardware that is necessary for mass consumption of software.

Wagner: VR is a pretty individual activity. You put on the headset and really have to keep to yourself. I imagine it will be tough to get people on board with the idea when it truly requires total separation from the real world in order to enjoy VR. At least when you use your phone, you can still pay attention (kind of) to the people and things going on around you.

della Cava: It’s going to be a timing thing. There’s tremendous potential but I’m just not sure where it’s going to go now. There may an experimental period for the next five years, but it’s exciting especially in the enterprise space where you can see a lot more practical applications, especially with AR. Imagine getting instructions remotely on fixing an engine. That’s more real right now.

Q: In what sectors do you see virtual reality serving the most purpose?

Terdiman: I think it will be great for social experiences and for entertainment. People will be able to use VR to preview travel they might want to do. They’ll be able to learn things they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Ultimately, though, I see it as a major entertainment medium, both for games and for music, sports and scripted stories.

Wagner: I think it’ll be important for mental health reasons—folks who have depression or anxiety or a fear. I could see it really making an impact there.

della Cava: It’s got strong potential—if it’s rolled out the right way—for sports and entertainment. That’s the way VR could trump AR, because you really want to commit fully to that experience.

Want to keep up with the latest trends in virtual reality? Follow us on Twitter @HighwirePR.

Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at Fast Company covering emerging technology. Follow him on Twitter @GreeterDan.

Kurt Wagner is a social media reporter at Recode. Follow him on Twitter @KurtWagner8.

Marco della Cava is a technology and culture reporter at USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @MarcodellaCava.


How to Create Buzz Around a User Conference Show

Prepping for a Big Event













User conferences are a great way for technology companies to engage with their customers, partners and the broader IT ecosystem, as it provides a forum for exchanging ideas, sharing best practices and having fun together. They are also great venues for engaging with analysts, bloggers and journalists following a market. But all the activity means nothing without inciting the right kind of interest and maximizing its impact.

This spring we experienced this first hand as we worked with Confluent on the inaugural Kafka Summit and with Twilio on the fifth annual SIGNAL conference. Below are some of our key lessons learned and best practices around creating buzz before, during and after an event.

Before the Big Day

Planning and prepping for user conferences like Kafka Summit and SIGNAL should always begin with strategic thinking and an end goal in mind. Our approach typically begins by thinking about what we can do to track back to the business goals of our clients. For example, are we trying to help drive enterprise sales or downloads, strengthen and cultivate partnership relationships or raise awareness to help recruit top talent? Having a clear understanding of the team’s goals means that we can map out specific ways to support those desired outcomes.  

The Elements

In helping reach those goals, the following elements are crucial to the game plan:

1. Engagement: A conference brings together a unique community and it’s important that you communicate with all audiences. Here are a few ideas:

  • Capture Presentations, Insights and Interviews on Camera: Live streaming keynote presentations and other talks is a great way to broaden the reach for both your event and the experts on stage. If you can’t execute on that, at least capturing all the presentations on camera provides shareable content to use after the event. Further, we recommend hiring a separate video team (or two) in order to also record show floor interviews with customers, partners and other experts onsite. It’s an economical way to secure a large volume of interviews and also provides an interesting backdrop for B-roll footage you will need down the line. Don’t forget to bring video release waivers to get signed on the spot to help expedite approval for posting videos online.
  • Create an Event App: Offering participants an app to help them navigate your event and provide real-time feedback will keep them engaged. Solicit input on speakers, sessions, the food, the venue, registration process, and associated events like a hackathon or after party. Best of all you will receive immediate input on what resonated with your community and areas to improve on next time. The app also makes it simple to recap the event and share insights each day or at the close of the event.
  • Host a Party: Bringing everyone together after a day of sessions offers participants the opportunity to network in a casual environment. At Twilio’s SIGNAL, the two-day conference ended with a carnival-style bash where attendees could partake in coding challenges

    Twilio SIGNAL $Bash attendees playing robot Jenga.

    turned into games. Winners collected points that could be turned in for a variety of prizes. Additionally, participants were playing for the opportunity to join an elite group of Twilio developers that would get the first opportunity at hacking the technology behind Magic Leap.




2. Social Media: Social media is one of the best ways to keep the buzz going during the event. Having dedicated staff scheduled to attend specific sessions and to live tweet during the presentations is a great wTweetay to share key insights with your broader community. To do so effectively, define a strategy for what you want to achieve through social media and establish rules of engagement to help orchestrate a nice conversation flow. Also assign other team members to retweet, respond to questions and engage in the conversation. This approach worked well during Kafka Summit and the show became a sustained trending topic on Twitter —impressive for an inaugural event!

3. Press and Analysts: Last but certainly not least, is the important role journalists play in making a conference a success. A conference is an opportunity to highlight the excitement around your company, from new partners to new products, and journalists play a crucial role in amplifying these messages. With press, the key is to start by building relationships months in advance to build familiarity. Once you get closer to the date, inviting press to attend the event, asking them to moderate sessions and sharing the news under embargo will help to drive awareness and give you the opportunity to highlight specific information. Another important element is to make sure your press collateral is in order—do you have spokespeople ready for impromptu conversations, have you connected with partners and customers about their interest in connecting with press and do you have images and stats ready to be shared? Finally, don’t forget about the visual stories and feel good stories you can tell both during and after. At Twilio SIGNAL, the children of employees using code to sell Lemonade was a huge attraction.

In all, by following our recommendations (and working with an awesome PR firm) you’ll be set up for success. To learn more about the success that comes through careful planning, you can read this InformationWeek article by Jessica Davis highlighting Kafka Summit’s success.

Share your story. What have you seen that’s worked well?

*This blog was written with help from Andrea Torres, senior account executive in Highwire’s San Francisco office.

Waiting for the IPO Window to Open? What to do While You Wait.

Now is a good time for tech companies to build out their comms programs in advance of an offering

2015 saw a slow down in IPOs, with IPO guru Renaissance Capital reporting that the number of companies completing an IPO in 2015 dropped 40 percent from 2014. The tech sector in particular took a big hit.

Despite the weakness, there were some tech IPOs in 2015, including Atlassian, FitBit and security SaaS company Mimecast (NASDAQ: MIME). Highwire was privileged to provide IPO communications support for Mimecast’s November 2015 offering, including managing global media relations, developing messaging and positioning as well as helping media train the company’s CEO in preparation for the day.

Mimecast IPO


Will 2016 see a resurgence of tech IPOs? At this point, it’s hard to tell. Many experts are saying “Don’t Hold Your Breath for a 2016 Tech IPO Boom”. For some startups, that could actually be a blessing in disguise.

Why would a slowdown in IPOs be a good thing for tech companies? Because IPO preparation should start far in advance of a possible filing, and that’s too often not the case. In fact, once a company is actively involved in the IPO process, it’s probably too late to launch a heavy media relations campaign due to the quiet period restrictions.

So if you are one of those tech companies waiting in the wings for the IPO window to open again, what can you do to prepare?

Get out there and tell your story.

Develop a clear and compelling way to communicate and then develop strong relationships with your beat reporters at the major media. As in all relationships, it should be a two-way street where you serve as a resource for the media when they need you. As a result, when listing day finally does come, they’ll be much more likely to cover you and much more educated on your value proposition. This is even more important for those B2B tech companies that don’t have the high levels of awareness that consumer companies command.

No one knows when the IPO window will open again, but in the meantime, there’s plenty tech companies can do with their comms programs to prepare.

What do you think 2016 will bring for the tech IPO market? Share your thoughts below.


Top Of Their Game: Entrepreneurs And Their Startup Stories” Reminds Us that Inside Every ‘Impossible’ is ‘I’m Possible’

IMG_1246IMG_1225IMG_1229                   This month, Chicago Ideas hosted their fifth annual Chicago Ideas Week. From flying lessons to a behind-the-scenes look at Chipotle , the event pulled out all the stops to cultivate innovation in the Windy City. Our Chicago team attended “Top Of Their Game: Entrepreneurs And Their Startup Stories,” which featured conversations with some of the most successful women in the country.First up was designer Cynthia Rowley who, like a true Chicago-native, arrived on stage in a custom Cubs jersey. Rowley is a great storyteller who, frankly, doesn’t give a crap about what other people think. For example, when someone told her she couldn’t design wetsuits, Rowley immediately decided she “was definitely gonna do it.” Rowley embodies her message for budding entrepreneurs: fearless optimism.To foster that sense of fearless optimism in her company, Rowley started an internal incubator fund for employees to start their own ventures. Rowley is so dedicated to entrepreneurship that she’s willing to risk her own talented workers to nurture innovation in the fashion world.

Next up was Martine Rothblatt, the creator of Sirius XM Radio and the founder and CEO of United Therapeutics. She is also transgender and the highest-paid female executive in the United States. She lives by four commandments: be curious, question authority, act lovingly and practice practicality. It was these commandments that guided Rothblatt when her daughter Jenesis was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension at only seven years old. Rothblatt dived into the life science sector with no prior experience, founded a biotech firm, United Therapeutics, and discovered a cure that saved her daughter and countless others. Martine Rothblatt is the type of person who makes impossible things seem possible (she emphasized that the word ‘impossible’ includes the phrase ‘I’m Possible’). Currently, Rothblatt has her sights set on manufactured organs and uploading human minds to computers. If anyone can pull that off, it’s going to be Martine Rothblatt.

Last but not least was domestic goddess Martha Stewart. Before Stewart flew to Chicago to speak at Chicago Ideas Week, she picked fresh apples out of her garden and made the “most lovely” pink applesauce (naturally). The epitome of practice what you preach, Stewart became her own most loyal customer in her quest to make beautiful things accessible to everyone. By learning and teaching each day, Stewart built a domestic empire and an extremely successful career.Though Stewart’s brand is based on the simple things in life, she’s embracing technology in work and life. Obsessed with Twitter, Stewart joked that her number of followers could “rival that of Jesus.”

The key takeaways from “Top Of Their Game: Entrepreneurs And Their Startup Stories” are quite simple: be fearlessly optimistic, act lovingly and make the world more beautiful. These principles may seem elementary, but living by them led the above visionaries to huge success. The future entrepreneurs in the audience, our Chicago team members included, couldn’t help but be inspired.When it comes to producing startups, Chicago is somewhat of an underdog. Events like Chicago Ideas Week bring together the city’s brightest and most ambitious young people to work towards a common goal: enrich the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.Don’t forget to connect with us on social @HighwirePR and catch up with @chicagoideas speakers @Cynthia_Rowley, @KayKoplovitz, @marthastewart, @LBDesmond, @shr4dha and @bradkeywell for even more inspiration.


Written by Brenna Hogan, an intern in Highwire PR’s Chicago office.

Inside the Hogwarts Incubator

Here at Highwire we spend a lot of time talking about entrepreneurship and chasing the hype on the tech industry’s latest hot startups. Our clients expect fresh ideas from us and we spend a lot of time brainstorming on both a planned and ad-hoc basis.Hogwarts-castle-harry-potter-166431

A successful brainstorm requires focus, but sometimes the best ideas come from letting your brain off-leash for a while (hey, reporters on Twitter talk about their clever Slack chats with colleagues…why can’t we?).

Stemming from a conversation about startups’ propensity for picking the most vowel-deficient names possible, we thought: What if Hogwarts Academy was actually a startup incubator—a Hog Combinator of sorts? What kinds of companies could we expect to see?

Look no further. We give you the Hogwarts Incubator! (Note: best read while listening to this.)

Weez.ly: A smart app for asthmatics. Ten percent of each app purchase goes to an organization that advocates for air pollution control.

Siri-US: A next-generation digital black box for use in transportation systems. Pitch: “Every time a transportation disaster happens, rescue teams spend weeks digging for the black box. Our next-generation private cloud ‘black box’ allows officials to begin conducting an investigation immediately so they can get to the root of the problem faster.” Our logo is just a black box.

black-box-you-quantifiableMugg.ly: The first-ever canine facial recognition software. Foolishly backed by Carmelo Anthony’s VC firm.

Lum.os: An operating system for smart lighting technology with built in biometric detection systems.

VoldemoRT: A bot platform that automatically RT’s haters of your brand, enabling you to embrace irony and attract savvy hipster millennial customers.

Hufflepuffs: A venture-backed gourmet cream puff chain. Guy Fieri sits on the Board.

Patron.us: A reverse CRM play that lets customers get big data about the businesses they frequent. Run up by CEO Edward Snowden.

Storage Hat: A sorting hat for storage. NEXT.

HaGRID: A “smart grid” solution for homes that exist entirely off the grid. Sensors monitor the amount of solar/wind energy which has been generated, battery back-up systems, water levels in your cisterns, even pH levels in your compost pile.

Mal-foyl: A next-generation proprietary “malware foiling” technology

Expecto-Patronum: An on-demand Tequila delivery service that partners with Pitbull for one-off marketing promotions. No wand required.


9 ¾: A platform that leverages disused freight rail cars and rents space in them to modern mobile-enabled persons of nomadic disposure. Essentially, it’s Uber for rail-riding techie hobos.

QuidDITCH: A personal finance/automated savings app based out of the UK, in London’s trendy Shoreditch neighborhood.

Snaype: A critically misunderstood consumer social app that somehow raises over 5 billion dollars in funding, forcing tech journalists to think “What comes after ‘decacorn’?”  Despite global popularity that turns “snip” into a verb, CEO Dick Costolo gets massive heat from investors along the ride, but saves the company from peril at the 23rd hour, finally bringing him Silicon Valley vindication. Also, Dick Costolo starts wearing all black.

Written by Pete Johnson, Margaret Farrell and Bill Bode, account directors/managers in San Francisco, who all know way too much about Harry Potter