Q&A with 2020 Foggies Professional of the Year: Curtis Sparrer
February 8, 2021
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PRSA-SF is taking you 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' Professional of the Year winner, Curtis Sparrer.
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.” The PR industry trade publication PRovoke named him to its Innovator 25-Americas list, which included an elite group of innovators from Ben & Jerry’s, Flexport, Goldman Sachs, Morning Consult, Peloton, Prudential Financial, and The Wendy’s Group. 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 , 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.”
Curtis keeps abreast of the dynamic media landscape with columns in Adweek, Entrepreneur, and the Forbes Communications Council. He has placed articles about the importance of PR and marketing for brands that wanted to elevate their profiles in ClickZ, MediaPost, O’Dwyer’s, and PRWeek.
Before moving into PR, Curtis was executive producer for KRON-TV, the nation’s largest independent television station. His work there earned him an Emmy.
Curtis employs his unparalleled TV training skills to prepare each of Bospar’s client spokespersons to shine during their many moments in the spotlight. Having appeared on TV and online to talk about why public relations and branding matters in our everyday lives, Curtis knows exactly what his clients are experiencing. He has written in Forbes about how these experiences have sharpened his media training.
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.
Ask Curtis for his favorite mantra, and he will respond: “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken was involved. The pig was committed.”
Tell us about your winning campaign/entry. How did it come about, what were the highlights, how much work went into it, results, etc.
I was nominated for the work our entire agency did for 2020. I led a massive outreach campaign that brought in over 30 clients in 2020. Bospar grew 16% in 2020 and was able to hire 10 new people. All this occurred during the height of the pandemic.
What does it mean to your team to take home this win? How will you celebrate?
I really want to say something clever and smart-alecky, but, frankly, I wouldn’t be here without the hard work of my colleagues, clients and friends. To be given this recognition by my peers is the ultimate compliment. I am so incredibly lucky to be working in a profession that I love, with people I admire and respect and can call my friends. I have to keep pinching myself that this is real.
What should the Bay Area know about you/your team?
In addition to this most recent honor, Sparrer was named to the 2020 PRovoke Innovator 25 list. Bospar has been selected to Forbes’ list of America’s Best PR Agencies 2020 and PRNews inaugural Agency Elite Top 100; earned four MarCom Awards, including three platinum; was named a PR World Award Grand winner; and was honored with a PRovoke’s 2020 North America Boutique Agency of the Year Award, a Gold 2020 MUSE Creative Award, and two Innovation SABRE awards. In its most recent ranking, the San Francisco Business Times named Bospar as the eighth largest Bay Area LGBT-owned business.
How has the pandemic affected your approach to communications?
When PRovoke named us its boutique agency of the year for 2020, its editorial board noted: “In the age of coronavirus, Bospar’s operating model is proving to be remarkably prescient.”
While other agencies were being rightfully applauded for their transition to a remote workforce model, we were busy teaching our clients and our peers the best practices of remote work based on our five years of living it.
We’re not a virtual version of the typical agency, organized by city offices. Instead, our teams are freed from geographies and are organized by skills and experience, giving clients the focus of a small PR firm with the footprint of a large agency.
What advice do you have for handling PR during the COVID-19 pandemic?
When COVID-19 hit, Bospar rolled out its COVID Communications Toolkit, a crisis communications offering to assist clients with communicating to employees, partners, investors, customers, and journalists.
The resulting lockdown from COVID-19 created a new need: more executives were communicating on video than ever before – either on Zoom or in webinars. Bospar retooled its broadcast media training service for this new niche market. It became so popular that we penned an article for Entrepreneur.com on our best practices and even led a webinar for the San Francisco PRSA chapter on the best ways to make webcasting work for executives.
Bospar also launched a new positioning program to help clients differentiate their brands. This is important in tech PR since positioning isn’t just about how the media perceive you but also how investors determine whether you are an appropriate company for more funding or an acquisition.
Many companies choose to validate their positioning and messaging with “friendly” thought leaders and analysts. This can lead to positioning that is milquetoast and unchallenged. Bospar’s offering is different in that we can drive the validation process via personal interviews and summarize messaging implications for the team so it resonates with potential customers, investors, employees, and peers.
Bospar’s messaging process begins with a review of company goals, current positioning feedback and previous messaging. Discussions with management and stakeholders add extra dimensions and insight to the industry and message must-haves. Finally, we lead a moderated workshop with key executives and stakeholders to discuss and gain agreement to our takeaways and insights and the implications for positioning.
Bospar’s positioning program has been instrumental in helping many companies crystalize their message, refresh their positioning and help investors understand a company’s unique brand value.
Anything else you want to share?
In the tech community there is a video conference called the “lunch hour.” It’s meant to dispense high-level advice to industry disruptors.
It was also one of the earliest purveyors of the notion that all PR spending should be cut during the COVID-19 crisis.
Our clients warned us that many companies would have knee-jerk reactions to this advice.
We had to counter.
First, we provided our clients with research and talking points demonstrating the need for PR during economic downturns. The research was compelling, showing a near majority of Americans can trace their purchase decisions to PR.
We decided we couldn’t simply sit on that information. We knew our peers could use it, and we also knew that it would be more compelling if we practiced what we preached and placed it in important publications.
ClickZ, for example, 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.”
In May, Bospar joined Aetna, Amazon and Lyft to help the NYC COVID-19 Rapid Response Coalition (CRRC). The CRRC is a network of companies working to lessen the strain on New York City’s overburdened hospital emergency departments and intensive care units. Bospar volunteered to lead CRRC's social media program.