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Q&A with 2020 Foggies PR's Midsize Agency of the Year: Highwire PR

PRSA-SF continues our Q&A's with another exceptional 2020 Foggies winner. Join us as we go deeper inside our chapter awards program to learn more about each winner – what makes them tick, how their winning entry came about, how much work went into it, and more. 

We are excited to introduce you to the 2020 Foggies' Midsize Agency of the Year winner, Highwire PR. We went in-depth with Kathleen Gratehouse, Principal at Highwire PR, to learn more about their win. 


Tell us more about yourself

I am one of the principals at Highwire working on both enterprise and consumer clients from established brands to young challenger startups. I like to work with bold companies that drive innovation because they require creative approaches to campaigns and narratives that align with ambitious business goals. Our roots in journalism and Silicon Valley give us the drive, imagination and experience to create meaningful business results through smart communications programs.


Tell us about your winning campaign/entry. How did it come about, what were the highlights, how much work went into it, results, etc.

The Midsize Agency award came about from hard work and dedication to our employees and clients. 2020 was a tumultuous year. Despite uncertainty and change, Highwire PR outlined a strategy at the beginning of the pandemic that saw us through the entire year. Our first priority was the people at our agency-- putting people first and understanding our role as counselors helping our clients navigate disruption with strong counsel and swift action creating an environment where our teams and work had real impact. 

The pandemic and recent societal issues have triggered a moment of accelerated disruption. Businesses are struggling to survive and compete, and more importantly, many are completely re-inventing their businesses models, services and products overnight. We helped clients by quickly offering new services and by integrating digital offerings into all of our programs. We’ve expanded our digital team beyond copywriting and graphic design to virtual events and experiential marketing. By combining our PR expertise and digital ingenuity we’ve been able to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape and find new ways to deliver value. In 2020 our digital revenues increased by 100%. Growth across the business has continued as well; by the end of 2020, we grew by 24% and added 15 people to the agency, four of them in San Francisco. 

We also put new strength behind our DEI efforts with the creation of the DIBs Task Force, following the discussions of D&I that escalated in June. This task force was designed to educate and foster awareness, reflect and build up our community, and nurture a culture of inclusion and belonging. Since June, the agency has heard straight talk on diversity in the industry from Charlene Wheeless and taken trainings that covered topics such as Unconscious Bias, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, and Communicating Across Cultures.


What does it mean to your team to take home this win? How will you celebrate?

It’s definitely rewarding and a testament to the exceptional work of our people over the course of this past year. Highwire not only adapted to its new circumstances but also continued growing doing work we’re proud of. Teams across the agency from security to frontier tech to enterprise showcased our core values: thinking critically and executing with tenacity and agility. 2020 was filled with uncertainty — and we’re really not out of it yet — so it means a lot to us to be recognized for our work over the past year. We leaned on one another, found new ways to bring value to our clients, and continued to grow our practice, all while operating the agency in a way we never had before. There’s definitely a Zoom happy hour in our future celebrations. 


What should the Bay Area know about you/your team?

We’re resilient. Throughout 2020, the Highwire team had to constantly learn, adapt, and change amid external forces and events while still remaining laser-focused on maintaining strong communication and a supportive culture. Our emphasis on collaboration, balance, and passion, ensures that we’re not only producing quality work for our clients, but also finding thoughtful and interesting ways to stay connected as a team through the pandemic. From D&I and affinity-focused Slack channels to our internal newsletter, to a weekly personal email from each of the Principals, the team has maintained relationships and stayed in-sync. Our agency brings a lot of different personalities with unique approaches to their work under the same roof and now that roof is spread out to homes across the country. It’s amazing to see the success we’ve had and the hard work these creative, curious, and dedicated individuals have brought to the table. Oh, and we love dogs. 

How has the pandemic affected your approach to communications?

It challenged us to find new ways to bring our clients value and expand our practice to contend with the new demands of the pandemic. With conferences canceled, industry narratives changing constantly and companies looking for alternate ways to communicate their message, we grew our digital team and designed strategies that made a difference. Highwire’s digital services now expand beyond owned social media programs into sophisticated amplification across multiple channels. Our integrated approach allows us to reach clients’ audiences where they’re already congregating and ripple out into leads and awareness for our clients. Online marketing has gotten noisier than ever in the past year, our integrated approach ensures we rise with the volume. 


What advice do you have for handling PR during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Integrate, integrate, integrate. Audiences connect across more channels than ever. To breakthrough audiences need to be reached with authenticity, clear value and purpose. Successfully pulling an integrated campaign off begins with thinking audience first and channel-native. Spread content across channels and optimize content for the channel it's on. Optimize videos so they’re feed friendly for Facebook and Twitter and share first person recaps of third person blogs on LinkedIn. Curating content for the channel it’s reaching its audience on, ensures better engagement, and will mark your team as digital pros. Pair this with paid awareness and you’ve got the makings of a successfully integrated campaign. As everything goes digital, integration is key to meeting audiences where they are: online. 


Anything else to share?

I’m very proud and very grateful for all the work that’s been done in the past year — especially when you really consider just what kind of a year it has been.