Q&A with 2021 Foggies with Professional of the Year and Small Agency of the Year: Curtis Sparrer & Bospar
We sat down virtually with our 2021 Foggies winners to get to know them better! This year's Professional of the Year went to Curtis Sparrer, and the Small Agency of the Year went to Bospar PR, which Sparrer is the principal and co-founder. Read what Curtis & Bospar had to say!
Tell us more about yourself.
Curtis Sparrer is a principal and co-founder of Bospar PR.
His client work spans B2B, B2C, and every permutation in between. He has delivered stellar results for such clients as PayPal, Unisys, Tetris, and the alien hunters of the SETI Institute.
Business Insider twice listed Curtis in its 50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry. The Los Angeles Times called him a “crisis management expert.” PRovoke named him to its Innovator 25-Americas list. The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) named Curtis its PR Professional of the Year. The PR World Awards named him the Public Relations Executive of the Year, the Public Relations Innovator of the Year, and the Public Relations Professional of the Year. The Bulldog Reporter named him the Leader of the Year, Media Relations Professional of the Year, and the PR Professional Who Makes a Difference.
PRWeek profiled more than a dozen programs led by Curtis as examples of innovative and effective techniques with outstanding results. These examples included convincing Google to change its daily Doodle into the building blocks of Tetris; working with Star Trek legend George Takei; and telling Neil Patrick Harris why it’s not acceptable to say “San Fran.”
In his efforts to make an even broader contribution to PR and society, Curtis is the president of the San Francisco Press Club and is on the board of PRSA Silicon Valley. He is a lifetime member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association and StartOut, a LGBTQ entrepreneurial organization. He is married to Brice Stanek, an interior designer in San Francisco.
Curtis started his career in news as the weekend overnight editor at KEYE-42 while attending the University of Texas at Austin. He worked at WTOL-TV and KHOU-TV, finishing his career in television as the executive producer of San Francisco’s KRON-TV, where he won a regional Emmy for outstanding daily news.
Tell us about your winning campaign/entry. How did it come about, what were the highlights, how much work went into it, results, etc.
Bospar received the Small Agency of the Year award. Curtis was named Professional of the Year. The two go together since Curtis, as Bospar’s chief rainmaker, is supported by the entire Bospar staff, which doubled in size to 81 staff members between January and November 2021.
Curtis exemplifies what a Bospar PR professional does.
For example, Curtis successfully pitched PRWeek on a special first-of-its-kind feature of the top 30 LGBTQIA people in PR. While the report was published throughout June, PRWeek committed publicly to the effort in May, naming Curtis as the architect.
When the first crop of groundbreaking female Eagle Scouts started to graduate, Curtis asked our former client if she would like our help promoting her work for free. O’Dwyer’s reported that the PR campaign caught the attention of Congressman Jared Huffman: “That resulted in the Eagles from Troop 1015 being presented with the Congressional Award for Youth Trailblazers.”
Curtis also spearheaded a charity project for Dr. Priscilla Martinez of the Alcohol Research Group, who wanted to publicize the unreported risk of breast cancer increases as alcohol consumption increases. He secured 20 placements and persuaded Star Trek’s George Takei to share the news with his followers. The Alcohol Research Group secured new funding because of the announcement.
After the murder of George Floyd, Curtis partnered with the Greenlining Institute, a racial and economic justice advocacy group. He encouraged colleague Kourtney Evans to write “Why is PR So White?” and made Juneteenth a company holiday.
Bospar also produced a special webinar with PRSA Silicon Valley which featured Robin Beaman, who led PR for Oprah Winfrey and Black Entertainment Television, before starting one of the few black women-owned PR agencies. As a result of Bospar’s involvement, Robin Beaman connected with a blue-chip technology company.
What does it mean to your team to take home this win? How will you celebrate?
Curtis often says that he wouldn’t be here without the hard work of his colleagues, clients and friends. To be given this recognition by peers is the ultimate compliment. We celebrate awards by attending the physical and virtual awards ceremonies, announcing them in staff meetings, writing a press release about them, and sharing the news with our clients, the media, friends, and colleagues.
What should the Bay Area know about you/your team?
In addition to receiving this honor, PRovoke named Bospar Innovator of the Year and one of the most creative PR agencies for its size. Bospar is the number one agency “pound for pound” in all of North America. PRNEWS selected Bospar for its 2022 list of The Agency Elite Top 100. Bospar also ranked No. 3808 on the Inc. 5000 list. PR Week chose Bospar for its Best Corporate Branding award and the San Francisco Business Times named Bospar the 7th largest LGBTQ business in SF and one of the fastest-growing companies in SF. Ragan selected Bospar as a top place to work.
Bospar continues to make a difference that matters to PR professionals. Most recently, Curtis took on the State of Texas’ abortion ban by spearheading a virtual job fair with nine other agencies including the Bateman Agency, BOCA Communications, EvolveMKD, Highwire PR, Manhattan Strategies, Redwood Climate Communications and Trier and Company. In addition to providing Texas PR professionals with job options in other states, Bospar offered its Texas employees who want to remain in control of their reproductive rights up to $10,000 in relocation reimbursement. More than 50 news outlets covered the news including PRWeek, PRvoke, and San Francisco’s ABC, CBS and FOX stations.
In the last year under Curtis’ leadership, Bospar won 72 accounts and took companies dLocal and Sema4 public. Revenue climbed 63% to more than $10 million for the year, though since June, the agency’s run rate has increased to $1 million per month. Meanwhile, Bospar’s staff nearly tripled, from 32 to 81 people.
Recently, Curtis recruited CNBC’s on-air reporter Eric Chemi to become Bospar’s SVP of its broadcast strategies department. Curtis is producing Eric’s webcast, “Politely Pushy with Eric Chemi.”
Bospar has also launched a variety of initiatives to make the agency more enjoyable, launching a Fun+Wellness Committee to look after the staff’s mental health with yoga, meditation, book and bike clubs. The agency’s summer Friday now extends to the end of the year, allowing staffers call it a day at 3pm. Bospar also expanded its company holidays to 17 days, including Juneteenth. Company time can now be used to volunteer at a 501C non-profit organization. Staff now get a bonus on their anniversary with the company. In fact, when Forbes awarded Bospar its Five Star Distinction, everyone received $1,000.
How has the pandemic affected your approach to communications?
The pandemic hasn’t impacted our approach as Bospar has been a 100% virtual agency since we launched in 2015. We use Slack, email and Zoom to communicate with clients and internal stakeholders.
Beginning in 2020, we were able to help clients and peers adopt remote work best practices.
Instead of grouping team members by geographies like many agencies do, even when they’re working remotely, we organize our teams by skills and experience so we can provide clients with the focused attention of a small PR firm and the footprint of a large agency.
What advice do you have for handling PR during the COVID-19 pandemic?
First, don’t avoid it. Bospar commissioned research and wrote about the need for PR during COVID because PR needed its own publicity. Our intuition told us, and our research confirmed, that while communications is always a necessity, it becomes even more important when a global crisis disrupts how people live and work.
Forbes cited Bospar’s research along with Edelman, the largest PR company on the planet: “Two additional 2020 studies provide hard numbers on the trust earned media secures, which a 30-second ad cannot. The Edelman survey showing 44% of consumers were influenced by positive press to choose a brand. Bospar, a tech PR firm, found positive press drove 19% of consumers to a company’s site after just one mention, and drove 85% of people after 10 [mentions].”
ClickZ published our byline: “Why PR and marketing are more important than ever.” MediaPost reported, “Almost all Americans say COVID-19 has changed the way they purchase, including 86% who say it has changed for B2B offerings and 80% for B2C.” Finally, YouGov reported: “92% of Americans would purchase products showcased in stories placed through PR activity.”
Second, if you have expertise that can help others, share it. Bospar rolled out its COVID Communications Toolkit when the pandemic hit. It’s a crisis communications offering which helps clients communicate with employees, partners, investors, customers and journalists.
We also retooled our broadcast media training service because the pandemic required executives to communicate via Zoom and WebEx more than ever before. That training service became so popular that we penned an article for Enterpreneur.com about best practices. We also led a webinar for the San Francisco PRSA chapter that presented the best ways to make webcasting work for executives.
Finally, don’t just look for coverage opportunities, create them. Bospar’s “politely pushy” style is more than a tagline. In addition to being a mindset and integral to Bospar’s culture, Curtis created the “Politely Pushy with Eric Chemi” video podcast series so that executives can tell their stories in a safe environment. This new series provides executives with important media training and the final podcast can be used to secure mainstream broadcast coverage.
Anything else you want to share?
Agencies are often so busy trying to advance their clients’ positioning that they often neglect their own. It’s important to have a culture that helps differentiate the organization, and that culture needs to be 100% authentic or it won’t work. For example, at Bospar, we value diversity, equity and inclusion far beyond making a statement about it on our website, so we appointed Sana Jain head of DEI to conduct anti-bias training and diversify Bospar’s hiring.
Also, it’s not enough to win an award for being one of the “best places to work,” if your employees disagree. An agency needs to be a great place to work. That means valuing the knowledge and skills individual employees bring and providing fertile ground for their future growth. At Bospar this means co-creating individual growth plans and providing opportunities for staff members to share their expertise, such as leading an agency-wide training session and writing blogs for our website. We’ve also established standards of excellence for every position so that individual employees understand what criteria they must meet to achieve their next promotion.
Finally, Bospar believes in leading by example, which begins with agency leadership. We demonstrate the best practices we want our employees to use while remaining open to suggestions. We find that openness and authenticity help us attract and retain top talent.