5 Questions on Startups for Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter

Co-founder of Precision Strategies talks disruption and public/private sector partnerships

stephanie cutter headshotIn last week’s agencies of record post, we mentioned a partnership between Washington, D.C. startup incubator/seed fund 1776 and Precision Strategies, a firm founded by veterans of President Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Today, we had the good fortune to speak with Stephanie Cutter, the Precision partner/co-founder who served as Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager, about the project — and related trends in PR for startups.

1. Hi, Stephanie. What can startup founders and firms who represent them take from the new partnership?

We see this as a unique opportunity for several reasons. First, we get to apply the techniques we developed as part of the Obama campaign, which essentially was a $1.2 billion startup. Data-driven messaging and targeted marketing can help propel a startup’s success.

Second, we get to work with some really smart people with big ideas  – ideas that have the potential to change the world. That’s inspiring, and gives us a snapshot of the incredible innovation that’s coming.

But even the best, most innovative ideas risk falling flat if they aren’t tethered to a strategy to market and scale. At the investor stage, you need a well-oiled pitch that demonstrates a strategy for success. At the marketing stage, whether your customer is a medical office or an everyday consumer, you need to understand what motivates them and moves them to take action. I think we can help there.

1776’s startup members are primed and ready for success; 1776 focuses exclusively on startups that disrupt the most broken, entrenched sectors that impact millions of people. So for us, the partnership represented a one-of-a-kind opportunity to lend our expertise to startups we believe in and to collaborate with an organization whose work we respect and trust.

2. What are the primary lessons you bring to Precision from your experience with the Obama campaign?

The importance of understanding your audience and reaching the right audience with the right message on the right platform to persuade and move them to action.

This highly targeted approach is really the only way to break through and engage people in this 24-7 world.

3. How do you see the public and private sectors working together to promote the most innovative businesses?

Many of 1776’s startups are trying to fix problems that the federal government hasn’t been able to address. The public sector wants to do good but is often saddled with a lack of resources, political will, and innovation needed to disrupt the status quo for the greater good. 1776 can help change that: one of the things that separates 1776 from other incubators and seed funds is regulatory hacking — their connections and relationships in Washington and all over the world give them ability to help startups to work within the system to change it and disrupt it.

That accelerates growth and fuels success for these startups. It’s a win win, because startups get access to the people whose influence can be crucial to their company’s success, while government officials get access to the big ideas that can help them move beyond the bureaucratic logjam.

We’ll build on that model by helping startups devise strategies that sing their strengths and market their ideas as valuable opportunities for the public sector.

4. Beyond having a great product, what should startup teams know when attempting to increase awareness of their projects?

You have to start with a strategy always. It’s like a roadmap – without one, you’re immediately offtrack.

What’s your message, who is your audience, how are you going to reach them  — these are all things that your strategies need to address. Startups also have to stay focused on their value proposition: figure out the one thing that moves your target audience, and focus on it like a laser beam.

5. How will you combine digital and traditional media in promoting the clients in your partnership?

First you have to determine who you’re trying to reach, and then figure out the best ways to reach them. It could be “elite media,” advertising on select social networks and digital platforms, or even a banner ad on the side of a building.

There’s no one size fits all.

For most startups, a combination of traditional and digital media will be needed, and it’s critical that they complement one another. If you’re trying to reach Millennials, you’ll do so through a combination of news, entertainment and social platforms. For investors, it may be financial or technology outlets and elite influencers coupled with social media campaigns.

Each audience needs its own strategy and its own message…and that’s what we hope to provide.

(Photo via AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)