“A press release alone won’t cut it,” says Steve O’Hear, a former TechCrunch journalist and co-founder of O’Hear & Co (OHC) , a new strategy and communications firm.
In 2021, O’Hear left TechCrunch to join grocery startup Zapp as its VP of strategy. He had briefly left TechCrunch in 2011 to run his own startup called Beepl.
Now, the veteran tech journalist is back at running another firm and one that wants to tackle strategic communications with a startup approach.
Strategy and communications support for digital companies
While running out of cash and no market need top the list of reasons startups fail, failure to communicate the mission can make it difficult for them to get a headstart.
With OHC, Steve O’Hear wants to help scaleups and digital-first companies hone their strategic communications.
Co-founded with Rachael Brown , a former senior communications manager at Zapp and previously a corporate communications executive at Google, O’Hear & Co wants to bring an “outside-in” approach to strategic communications.
Europe has seen an unprecedented growth in the number of privately held, VC-backed companies in recent years. Data from Pitchbook shows that the number of unicorns in Europe has been steadily growing in the past decade.
As the ecosystem matures in Europe , O’Hear argues that founders increasingly “understand the importance of communicating their vision to the media and other stakeholders.”
But, communicating this vision remains a challenge and with his new firm, O’Hear wants to help these companies to not only get their message out but “ensure it’s the right message.”
He says, “There’s still a misconception that PR is a magic bullet for business growth and even for future fund raising, when the reality is that PR is a waste of time if it doesn’t carry the right message to actually ladder up to business goals.”
An EQ for tech companies
With the new strategic communications firm, O’Hear is following an approach that is not common in this industry.
He calls it “outside-in” and is more akin to the embedded approach that we have seen from startups like Troi in the recruitment industry.
“Our prevailing view is that strategic comms is often best done in-house because no one understands a company better than the people that run it,” O’Hear says.
He says it is extremely hard for a company to build a strong in-house team for strategic communication. With the outside-in approach, OHC will be the outside agency acting as extension of the company’s in-house team.
Apple, the most valuable tech company, does not rely on agency and has an in-house communications team whereas companies like Google and Microsoft do use agencies.
The biggest difference that OHC aims to provide to fast-growing tech companies is by being a counsel to business decisions.
“As companies scale fast, they often struggle to balance short term thinking with building a business for the long term,” says O’Hear.
In essence, O’Hear is envisioning the role of communications advisor to “provide checks and balances and make sure businesses consider how the decisions they take and the way they are communicated.”
An 18-month action plan
OHC made its debut last month with what O’Hear calls a “modest amount of funding” to cover its own startup costs and launch with a founding team of four communications specialists.
It counts quick commerce scaleup Zapp , Gen Z-focussed fintech Cleo , and seed-stage VC firm Hoxton Ventures as its debut clients. Zapp co-founder and CEO Navid Hadzaad will serve as the firm’s non-executive chair.
O’Hear has also put in motion an action plan to bring “our unique offering to more startups, scaleups and VCs.”
The remote-first strategic communications firm aims to double its headcount over the next 12 to 18 months and is currently hiring for junior, mid-level, and senior comms roles.
The launch of O’Hear & Co comes amidst a wave of tech journalists leaving media organisations for communications roles. O’Hear says “journalists understand comms probably as well as anybody” and “certainly have an unfair advantage understanding other journalists.”
However, he cautions that there is a lot more to communications than just PR. “The ability to think in a holistic way and consider the needs of different stakeholders is probably the core defining skill of great comms above anything else,” he adds.
Author Catherine Pulsifer calls communication one of the most important skills for a successful life and with OHC, O’Hear wants to make it unique and important for new age digital companies.
In the past, Steve O’Hear has shown an acumen for making moves that are unique and career defining. With OHC, he wants to do so for fellow communication specialists, venture capitalists, and fast-growing tech companies.
Only time will tell how OHC redefines communications for a changing technology industry.