The Rachel Sterne Papers


Following the NYU conference, Sterne continued to promote GroundReport within the city’s tech scene. In August 2008, she participated in the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society, which GroundReport broadcast live via Livestream, a company run by Max Haot, now Sterne’s fiancé. In April 2009, Businessweek named Sterne as one of 25 promising social entrepreneurs.

It was around this time that Sterne launched Upward Strategy, a digital strategy consultancy.

“The next incarnation of Rachel’s work was...I don’t know if it was called PR, but it felt like PR,” said Anil Dash, a prominent blogger and partner at the digital strategy consulting firm Activate. GroundReport was “not a successful site,” he added. “People go into PR after a startup because the startup doesn’t become a hit.”

Another acquaintance attributed Sterne’s decision to become “a digital PR consultant” to her realization, after GroundReport’s relative failure, that “she was really best at promoting herself and others.”

As with GroundReport, Sterne exaggerated the extent of Upward’s operations. In a sidebar on the Web site’s home page titled “Who We Are,” Sterne used the plural—“We help organizations chart and execute a powerful, results-driven product, communications and engagement strategy online”—but told Adweek, “I was the only person involved.”

Furthermore, Upward’s list of clients is potentially misleading. According to her LinkedIn profile, Sterne was a marketing and communications consultant at Daylife, a digital media services startup that is listed as one of Upward’s clients, during almost the exact same period of time she was “principal” at Upward. It’s therefore unclear just how much work she did for the other nine clients listed on Upward’s site. Daylife’s COO, Chris Neimeth, praised Sterne’s contributions to the company but said, “It was surprising she had time to do anything outside of Daylife because she was here [almost] full-time.”

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