Building the Truecaller Brand & How to Choose the Right PR Agency
After all the positive and kind response to my first post “Understanding Truecaller’s Growth Model and how to Launch in New Markets” I’d like to thank everyone who shared their thoughts and feedback with me!
In this post I’ll be covering how we’ve built our brand and how we think about strategic communication, but also our thought process when choosing a PR agency.
Building the Truecaller Story
At the beginning of every year I’d sit down with Alan and Nami to calibrate our goals and objectives for the year to understand what our big priorities are for the year. Having these sit-downs are crucial for us to align our communication priorities, and it’s important to have occasional check-ins to ensure we are building the right stories and headlines that help the company progress.
The vision roadmap above was created in 2016 and has been our North-Star when it comes to building our corporate story. In every interview we’d try to explain how we started, where we are today, and where are we heading. Using this model in the right way can be extremely useful to help the journalist understand the larger picture of your company, which eventually translates to a powerful story about your company. Whenever I get the chance to share my learnings with other startups and entrepreneurs on building their brand I’d go through the PIST-model with them (a cheesy name for a message mapping model.)
Positioning: When we first started to think about our brand in the early days we knew we needed to build a brand that attracted the masses. If you think about it, essentially what Truecaller provides is a reverse number lookup and a community-based spam filter, which means that anyone with a smartphone who receive phone calls would need an app like Truecaller (literally anyone with a phone.) What we did was that instead of comparing ourselves with local white pages service or spam blocking apps we saw our competition as Google Search and Facebook (the media love a good David vs. Goliath story.) So in every briefing we had with the media we’d keep pounding on this message and kept calling out these big players.
Ask yourself this: Who is your audience? What problem is your company solving and why should they care? Why does your solution deserve attention?
Insights: An effective way to sway the media is by giving them insights that they didn’t know about before meeting your company. Bring them insights that they can convert to stories that interest their readers. For instance, we look at a huge problem in society in the form of spam, scam and harassment calls/SMS, which more or less the majority of the people have been a victim of. By providing insights to these calls and SMS it helps validate our existence and helps position us as thought leaders in this field — and the fact that this kind of data is really difficult to come across makes it more attractive to write about. You want people to feel that whatever you’re developing is inevitable.
Another example of how we’ve used our internal data and statistics to build thought leadership is our Truecaller Insights report. Truecaller Insights is a report we release occasionally that covers relevant industry and market trends. The idea derived from a lab day project (credits to the Truecaller analytics team) when there was this huge buzz about Uber and Ola cabs in India, and we wanted to see if there were any correlations with our data and the public data of their market share. We then came up with the clever idea of packaging it into a report with some nice visuals and release it to the public.
Ever since our first Truecaller Insights got published it has gotten us some really amazing coverage and been referenced in a few studies and research. The biggest milestone according to me is when GSMA used our Truecaller Insights in their ‘Women Safety’ study. Link here: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/A-framework-to-understand-women%E2%80%99s-mobile-report_march.pdf
Simplicity: One of the big mistakes we made in the early days was that we tried to “stand-out” too much with what the company was. We called ourselves “the world’s largest verified mobile phone community” — does this make any sense? No, not at all, but we went with this company descriptor for over a year until we had to throw in the towel and rethink the whole thing. It was tough, but we learned it the hard way. The big takeaway is that if your messaging isn’t unbelievably simple, you’re missing the point.
Trust: One of my advisors (Xoogler) once told me that “my job is to build media capital so the company can take bigger risks” — this is something that has been stuck with me ever since and something I think about almost on a daily basis. Trust is the most important asset your company has and it takes forever to build, so whenever you craft your stories, messaging, talking points etc. be very thoughtful on how those help you build trust with the media and the general public. Remember, if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
Choosing a PR agency
Using PR agencies/consultants has been extremely important for us to reach new markets. Depending on which growth stage we are in a market we would prefer having different set ups. We typically would categorize markets into; early growth markets; growth markets; established markets.
Early markets is when we are just about to see a massive change in the growth curve where users are starting to hear about us and the media hasn’t covered us before. In these markets we’d prefer working with boutique agencies or consultants were they would charge much less than a big network agency, and they’d move mountains for you to establish a track record.
Growth markets are markets where there’s a big usage of the app, we are about to reach critical mass and the media is aware of us. In these markets we would look at using a more established agency that could help secure larger stories including TV & radio.
Established markets are markets were we have become a household brand (India for instance.) Here we’d need an agency with a great network (to reach tier 1–2 cities,) super reactive to respond any inquiries, and can be proactive.
Over the years I’ve worked with more than 20 PR agencies and consultants. One thing that I’ve learnt is that you can never guarantee press coverage even when you have a PR agency. What I’ve also learnt is that the more you feed the agency with insights the better they will be able to sell in the story. You also need to be very clear when putting together a brief to them what you want to achieve, and constantly revisit this during the process you are working with them. When I put together a brief I try to be as transparent as possible on what we are looking to achieve and what the deliverables are. I can’t stress this enough, but having clear KPI’s is crucial.
I would typically scan through my network and ask for referrals to good PR agencies when we are launching in new market, but I would also do my own research. Once I’ve shortlisted 4–5 agencies this is what I would do to approach them:
- Ask my contact to make an intro to the agency or send them an email myself giving them a short version of the brief.
- Set up a first 30 min call with them. Goal of this call is to let them ask any questions, and explain in more details what you are after.
- If I find the call good I’d request them to put together a high level strategy as to how they would go about launching Truecaller in their market.
- Based on responses, plans, I’d set up an hour long video call with the top 2–3 agencies. Maybe have someone else from your team on this final round of calls.
Here’s another checklist we go through when we finally pick an agency:
What’s vital for us in an agency relationship:
- The chemistry between the team that’s being assigned to the account. The same people doing the pitching NEED to be in the team. Sometimes agencies throw in their best people in the pitch process and then have other less senior people actually working on the account.
- Their understanding of our service & products and being able to see how we fit into the big picture of the eco-system.
- Having a good structured workflow + great execution skills!
- Transparency of information sharing — Move fast!
Deliverables from the PR agency:
- Their ideas on: what are the obvious things we are missing? Where should we be seen?
- Elaborate how & who we target consumer press vs. business press. What are they key media relations we need to build and cultivate?
- Perspective and strategy on how we can build trust with the media.
- Plan opportunities to engage with important eco-system players.
- Tools and measurement techniques you have to monitor sentiment and conversations on digital/social media
Criteria when selecting an agency:
- Familiarity with the local + international media landscape.
- Understand global + local tech eco-system.
- Excellent relationships across the media landscape.
- Challenge our thinking and taking the extra step to deliver a high quality outcome.
- Most importantly understand Truecaller’s offering and vision, and how it can be communicated to the market.
Ultimately, can the agency help us build trust?
I want to give a special shout out to Bryce Keane, a friend and a person I look up to, who took time out to give me valuable feedback and proofread this post. Thank you!
If you have any thoughts about this post, good or bad, I’d love to hear them: firstname.lastname@example.org