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Scott Allison: At the Heart of Every Great Company is a (Potentially) Great Story

You hear it every day. It's a mantra in the startup world: "Timing is everything."

Like most old proverbs, this often proves to be true, until of course the time that it doesn't. And that's when things begin to get interesting, from my point of view.

The story of one of the city's most active mid-size PR firms in the technology sector, Allison & Partners, is illustrative.

Scott W. Allison launched his company here in the city in early September 2001, just days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When it comes to starting a new venture in a field that is highly dependent on clients who can pay, his timing couldn't have been worse.

For a long time after 9/11, as he explained to me the other day, he earned no salary and had to pay his mortgage with a credit card. For those too young, or not yet here in that era, I can attest that what happened is our local economy came to a standstill, and it took about two years for any sense of business-as-usual to recover.

But Allison persisted and ultimately succeeded. Last year his agency was acquired by a holding company, MDC Partners, and today his bustling Sansome Street headquarters counts 33 employees locally with many other offices around the country plus one recently opened in London.

Although like most PR, marketing, and strategic communications firms, A&P works with a wide variety of clients in different sectors, I know of their work in the technology field, which is why I wanted to get their take on the tech boom centered in San Francisco that we've been documenting here this year at 7x7.com.

So I sat down with Zach Colvin, VP in charge of A&P's tech accounts, who told me his company has seen a serious uptick in entrepreneurial clients over the past year, especially in the past six months.

"Our work sits at the cutting edge of macro-economic trends, and is highly sensitive to fluctuations in market forces," he said. "When more money is flowing in from the VCs and angels, we're going to be among the first ones to see that."

Colvin said the company represents about 13-16 technology clients at a time, and among their list of startups right now are Soundtracking, which my colleague Laura Mason recently profiled, Dropbox, Formspring, and Inkling.

Colvin says the new companies seeking help in getting their stories told fall into one or more of a number of familiar buckets -- mobile apps, social, local, data-driven, and gaming. The latter, he speculates, has been under-estimated in its significance going forward.

"It seems as if we have this inherent competitiveness, that people are hard-wired to play and try to win, even if it is only for a virtual or symbolic reward."

Gamification -- using gaming techniques to engage users and therefore promote interactivity -- is worth keeping an eye on. Given the proclivities of the next generation of consumers, it also probably represents a key as to which of the thousands of startups currently competing for attention will survive for Act Two as their corporate stories unfold.

And since we're speaking of stories, it's worth noting that founder Scott Allison recently blogged about how his firm helps its clients deal with the media, which is the main point of PR.

"(A)t the heart of every company is a message and every great message has the chance to be transformed into a great story. Today’s media training needs to be less about just robotically sticking to a message and more about passionate story telling."

This September, as the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks rolls around, Allison & Partners has its own compelling story to tell, perhaps one about the importance of resiliency, among other things, and bouncing back after a rough start.

In fact, maybe timing isn't eveything after all.