In 2010, government contracting firm Vistronix was doing a tidy business. Earning about $45 million annually 22 years after opening its doors, it had established itself as a respected technology player.
But founder and CEO Deepak Hathiramani wanted to do more. Vistronix’s growth had plateaued in response to market shifts like emerging cloud technology and data analytics, so Hathiramani spent two years expanding his executive team. After the team was in place, Vistronix began a multi-phased strategy to establish itself as a mid-tier national security specialty firm. The company dramatically increased revenue during the rebrand and was acquired in 2016.
“We took several steps to change our brand in the eyes of clients, prospects, and potential buyers,” Hathiramani told me. “The first phase was to expand our core competencies and customer base through national security acquisitions. Second, we established industry buzz and market credibility by building relationships with key industry leaders through white papers, speaking engagements and events like webinars and conferences. Lastly, we invested in marketing to create buzz around our messaging through media coverage and an expanded social media presence.”
Hathiramani and his team knew that acquisitions could only do so much to launch their new brand into orbit. They also had to prove they were real national security experts, not just buyers in the space. Then, they had to leverage media coverage and marketing to reach industry influencers, corporate leaders and other critical stakeholders who may not have known about their other activities.
Without acquisitions, Vistronix’s rebranding wouldn’t had a rocket to even get off the ground—never mind into orbit. Building relationships with key leaders gave the company thrust to get off the ground. And media coverage and marketing gave that rocket the fuel to break orbit. It was the whole package that created a surround-sound marketing and branding campaign to build an audience that watched the rocket take off, overcome gravity, and reach outer space.
How media coverage launches you into the atmosphere
For Hathiramani and the Vistronix team, the most difficult part of their rebranding journey was building credibility with their target markets. Media coverage was the first way they got the word out about their corporate strategy, new hires, acquisitions and expanded technology competencies.
Stacey Sumereau knows all about how the right media coverage creates thrust for a rebrand. Seven years ago, she was a Broadway singer coming off of her second nationwide tour. She had sung in 70 cities and in front of 200,000 people, but she wasn’t sure what to do next. “When I left Broadway, I found myself being paid for acting and event hosting,” Sumereau said. “I was also considering becoming a nun! There were so many possible paths—and that was the problem.”
Sumereau’s personal rebrand came when LifeTime asked her to participate in “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” a reality TV show about five women who were considering joining convents. The mini-series was covered by media outlets like The Washington Post and HuffPost, and landed Sumereau on national TV shows like “The Today Show,” “Fox and Friends” and “Access Hollywood.”
“The Sisterhood became the launching pad for my TV appearances, and those appearances immediately led to paid speaking opportunities, including at America’s largest Catholic youth conference,” said Sumereau. “They were a shortcut to instant credibility with a Catholic market that launched my brand almost on its own. Four years later, I started my podcast, and today, I interview top Catholic leaders, make money through my online shop and sponsorships and, in 2020, I organized two virtual conferences which were attended by 20,000 people.”
How is your rocket built?
Sumereau and Hathiramani both used media thrust to get their brands off the ground. However, getting in the press is only useful if there is substance behind it—a well-built rocket that meets what your target audiences are seeking.
For Hathiramani, that substance was national security-related thought leadership supported by investing in people, technologies and national security acquisitions. Sumereau’s substance was a speaker series on the daily challenges of living a healthy Catholic life, and today it is a podcast where she interviews people with solutions to those challenges.
Without substance, you have a hollow shell that is just waiting to be exposed. A poorly-built rocket is going to crash soon after liftoff, wasting money, time and other resources. The same is true of a shallow or immature brand.
Break orbit with marketing
A well-built rocket with the right thrust is well on its way to an awe-filled launch and even the ability to be seen across the sky. But the final step to breaking orbit is to fuel it with effective marketing. Vistronix and Sumereau have vastly different target markets, yet they used some of the same tools—like social media platforms and e-mail newsletters—to break free.
Many substantive brands go viral in the press, but they don’t advantage of the opportunity by turning media coverage into e-mail newsletters, social media posts and new website content. Instead of engaging current clients and targeted prospects to break orbit, they crash and burn. Their virality becomes a mere blip on the radar instead of a success story; and a month, a year or five years later, they’re back where they were before going viral.
Tony Piloseno is a young entrepreneur whose story went viral in 2020 after he told TikTok followers that he had been fired from a paint store. He was a pretty normal college student, mixing paint on video for fun while attending school and working part-time at the store. Then, within days of his firing going public, Piloseno became the biggest star in his industry.
“It was crazy,” said Piloseno, who now runs an online paint store called Tonester Paints and markets the company by mixing paint on-camera. “I was getting calls from all over the country to do interviews, which then led to all of the major paint manufacturers sending me job offers.”
Piloseno used his short-term fame to introduce a new audience to his unique paint-mixing brand. His videos were watched 100 million times last year, and his social media following ballooned: His Instagram following grew from 29,000 to 173,000, his YouTube channel went from zero followers to more than 700,00 and 1.8 million people now follow him on TikTok.
“I’ve had paint manufacturers and even Verizon sponsor my videos,” Piloseno told me. “In July, the Orlando Magic asked me to do a confab with them. The media blitz I got in 2020 launched my brand off the ground; now I have to keep that momentum going by engaging my audience.”
Reach your moon with the right plan
Whether you sell paint, religious insights or technology solutions, media coverage can position your brand to rocket to success. But thrust is only part of the equation; you must also have a well-designed rocket and a marketing plan to fuel departure from Earth’s gravity. That’s the only way to reach the moon.
Dustin Siggins is CEO of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions and a business columnist. He was previously Director of Communications for a national trade association.