Sleep on it – how mattresses became the hot new commodity

No matter what city you live in or even how old you are, I’d bet anyone could tell me about their local mattress company. It’s always having a sale, its ad jingle comes on the radio at least once an hour and it doesn’t take more than a frame or two for you to recognize its familiar TV commercial.

It seemed to be the sleepy, stable industry – unchanging, unaffected by technology, consistent in its sales model, dependent on consumer needs. And yet, just as folks are swaying from Target to Jet, Safeway to Amazon, their optometrist to Warby Parker, in the past couple years, companies have started to take the mattress industry by the horns to offer consumers an instant gratification option.

Tuft & Needle was founded in 2012 after its founder and his new wife ventured out to make their first big purchase together: a $3,300 mattress that wasn’t comfortable, and wasn’t returnable. Casper was founded in 2013, and went live on April 22, 2014, cutting out overhead and salespeople, selling mattresses directly to consumers. Leesa also launched in 2014 to help people sleep better. Lull came in 2015. So did Loom and Leaf. And the list goes on.

What these new companies seem to have in common:

  • Easy, compact delivery – these mattresses are delivered to your doorstep in a compact box that you can lift yourself. No need for Sears to send two men and a truck – this is DIY!
  • Free shipping – though I’d argue free shipping is so regularly offered, it’s a must-have for any company relying on delivery.
  • Low price – this is where these “mattress-in-a-box” companies are killing the competition. They start at $500, which is far below most you would find on a mattress showroom floor.
  • Social good – these companies have an eye on the altruistic millennial and they give back; Leesa donates a mattress for every 10 sold.
  • Material options – whether it’s plant-based foam, organic cotton, a hybrid latex/memory foam, these companies know that personalization is key for the new millennial consumer.
  • Flexibility – you can keep the mattress for an insanely long trial period, and return it hassle-free if you’re unhappy with it at the end. But really, who’s going to try to pack that California King back into that little box?
  • Review-reliance – because these sales are made online usually without the option to test the mattress in-person, consumer reviews are so important. You need 4-5 star ratings to convince that next customer, and those 4-5 stars are more compelling than any in-store salesman could be.

When an industry is old, slow, sleepy and comfortable – don’t consider it stable. It might just mean that the pain points have yet to be solved. And in the case of the mattress industry, it just needed the democracy of technology, a focus on customer services and a refreshed sales model to turn it on its head.

How To Survive and Succeed at CES

CES – the annual Consumer Electronics Show that takes place in Vegas – celebrated its 50th year this year. It brought more than 165,000 people to Sin City to be amazed by the latest and greatest in technology, from self driving cars to the largest drone in existence.

As a PR company, each year we’re tasked with supporting our clients at CES and getting them the biggest bang for their buck. CES is a huge press event with more than 7,545 media members attending in 2016, so there is a major opportunity to garner tons of news mentions and coverage. When you’re fishing in a pool that large and competing with so many other companies trying to make waves, you need to stand out and bring reporters truly interesting and compelling stories.

Having a killer product to show off at CES is often not enough to get the undivided attention of a reporter. They’re being pitched from every angle and, with more than 3,800 exhibitor booths, distraction is literally only a step away.

So, how do you get press coverage? In honor of CES’s 50th anniversary, we’ll be providing 1 tip for every 10 years CES has been in existence to help you decide if it’s an event for you!

You need news. This means having a brand new product, a game-changing new set of product features or a new partner – basically something that has never been seen or heard before. Why? Because it gives your presence value and a degree of exclusivity – reporters won’t want to miss out! A reporter won’t feel a sense of urgency if you’re selling the same old product and the same old story. That’s the easiest way to get bumped from a reporter’s crammed calendar.

You need to hustle on the floor. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is forgetting to have a PR representative on the floor to hustle for media. Your staff in the booth can’t entertain general attendees AND network with media to get them to your booth, so make sure you have someone dedicated to identifying reporters that would want to hear about your product and bringing them right to you.

Your product needs to work the way it’s promised. CES is noisy, the connectivity is a huge challenge and it’s very likely NOT the environment you have in mind for your to-market product. Unfortunately, media are not that forgiving. If the product doesn’t work as promised during a demo, even if it’s due to the booming music from a neighboring booth or the wi-fi network being down, you’ll likely receive a scathing review, or worse, no coverage at all. So think ahead and do plenty of pre-event testing.

You need to understand reporters’ schedules are fluid. Every year, clients ask us to confirm a certain number of booth or suite meetings, meaning a confirmed day and time. In theory, this ensures attrition stays at a minimum – if they confirm, they’re coming, right? Well, sometimes. Again, CES is hectic and there are plenty of factors that affect a reporter’s calendar, from traffic to prolonged meetings to exhaustion (or hangovers). So be flexible – and use CES as the start of new relationships with relevant contacts, even if you get bumped from the line-up.

Expect more mentions than features. As mentioned in each tip above, CES is PACKED with cool products and reporters are very busy. Major feature stories are rare coming out of CES and typically reporters lean on roundups as the core story format. So expect to be included as one of a few different companies in your industry or on the show floor – and know that there is value in those types of stories – you’re one of the lucky few that caught a writer’s eye!

The Best Meeting Places in San Francisco

There are a few key components to a good meeting spot. First, with the traffic in San Francisco adding anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes to your Uber ride, location and ease of access are of the highest importance. Next, you look for a quiet yet dynamic ambiance to foster lively conversations. For those meetings where sensitive or confidential info is being exchanged, a private and discreet space is ideal. And of course, the coffee, tea, cocktails, wine and food have to be good. :)

Here are a few ICLabs favorites:

  1. 111 Minna – A coffee shop meets cocktail bar meets open art gallery, 111 Minna is great for both coffee and happy hour meetings. Pro tip: get the iced chai.
  2. Twenty Five Lusk – If you’re looking to host a posh dinner, head to Twenty Five Lusk. You can sit in the downstairs bar or rent the private dining room. The fine dining menu adds an element of swank.
  3. Blue Bottle Coffee – San Francisco is home to craft coffee company Blue Bottle, so if you have a client or partner coming in from out of town, Blue Bottle will get them into the SF state of mind quickly. One note – not all spots have Wi-Fi, but most of their locations have a lot of open space to give your meeting a casual vibe.
  4. Joy’s Place – Joy’s is the place if you’re looking for a little bit of quirk. Plenty of outlets, access to Wi-Fi and very close to Union Square shops. Our order? The Red Bean Shaved Ice!
  5. Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant – The ICLabs team is a little partial to Local since it’s right across the street from our office – but proximity isn’t the only thing it has to offer! Delicious pizzas, high quality drinks, an excellent wine list and a private room for meetings – Local checks off a lot of boxes.
  6. Palomino – The patio overlooking the Bay Bridge is enough to get Palomino on our list – but it’s not just the view. The upscale offerings here add class to any meeting held here, and there’s a quiet peacefulness in the space.
  7. Philz on the Embarcadero – Philz is another coffee born and bred in San Francisco. If we had to choose one location, we’d go with the one on the Embarcadero. Quiet with plenty of seating, just make sure to get in line for your Mint Mojito Iced Coffee early – or use the app to order ahead!
  8. Pied Piper Bar & Grill in the Palace Hotel – Ideal for a lunch meeting or happy hour, Pied Piper has a cozy atmosphere, almost like an old library. You instantly feel a little smarter and better-spoken, key for business meetings.
  9. Samovar Tea Lounge – If you’re here for one of the big conferences, Samovar Tea Lounge is your best bet. It’s easy to get to, has a quiet and casual setting with plenty of space to choose from.
  10. The Creamery – Last, but certainly not least, is The Creamery: the epitome of San Francisco tech culture. This is where you come to wheel, deal and lock it in.

What would you add to the list?


What is PR?

“Ok, honey, well… sell a lot of ads today!”

“Ughhhh. Dad. That is not what I do.”

“Oh, well… Ok. Then… make someone look good!”

This was the exchange I had with my dad one day as he dropped me off at Bart, as I embarked on another day at my first PR internship. The words “public relations” seem to confuse a lot of people and somehow PR always gets mixed up with advertising. While there might be some similarities, public relations has very distinct principles that set it apart from marketing and advertising disciplines.

  1. We’re not selling ad space – we’re selling stories.

Take a magazine, for example. You know when you see an ad – and you know that company paid for their logo and slogan to be in print. Now, think about a story you read – maybe a “Top 10 Gadgets for Summer Trips” piece or a side-bar column about a travel destination. Sure, maybe that writer really loves those gadgets and came up with the list on her own, or maybe the editor just got back from Punta del Este and sincerely wanted to share the beautiful location with his readers.

But, the odds are that someone like me reached out to the reporter and planted the seed about my client (a new pair of earphones or Punta del Este’s Tourism Board, respectively). Maybe I suggested that people reading the magazine are planning summer trips now, and don’t they need to know what they should bring with them? Or where they should go? And those seeds grew into a story that you’re now reading. And maybe now, you’re on TripAdvisor booking a trip and ordering those earphones, because God forbid you’re on a plane to Punta del Este and can’t jam out to Drake. That is PR.

PR is about bringing media new ideas, new products, new resources to consider for stories. Sometimes, it’s hard to see (if you’re doing it right), but because it’s not as obvious as a splashy, forceful ad, it’s often more effective and convincing.

  1. PR is very subjective, not always what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

When you buy an ad, you have complete control. Rightly so, you paid the media outlet for it so you can determine the size of the ad, the words, the images, even the call-to-action.

That is not the case with PR. Hence, the designation of earned media. We will painstakingly work through messaging exercises with you, and we will always stay on message when speaking about your brand to reporters. But once we’ve secured interest, the reporter is in control in terms of how he or she wants to write the story.

If we’re doing our job right, the messaging is compelling, and the story angle we’re pushing is a good, strong sell, and the resulting story does a good job of communicating who you are and why the audience should care.

  1. Relationships are key. And not just because we help reporters reach their “stories quota.”

Yes, ad sales folks have relationships, and very lucrative ones at that. We do too – but these relationships aren’t based on how much space we’re buying from them or how well an ad performed for us. PR people are masters at learning what is important to reporters, and how to position our clients’ stories to fit into their interests and beats. We truly want to help media, even if it doesn’t benefit our client in the moment – we see our relationship with reporters as symbiotic.

Our currency is our ideas and our access – our ability to understand what reporters need and to provide them with new information and be the sources that will help them shape their stories, is what makes the PR and media relationship work. If we push out bad ideas or send emails about companies that have nothing to do with their coverage area, we can and will quickly lose the respect, attention and trust of that reporter.

  1. You don’t pay by the story – you pay for the hours and work involved.

PR is hard to measure. It just is. How can you quantify the value of me introducing you to a VC two years ago who ended up being your lead Series A investor for your next venture? (If anyone has the secret formula, let me know.) In contrast, with online ads, you can track every click to know exactly how that specific ad is performing against your bottom line. But when you have a story placed – there’s still a lack of tools and education around that type of measurement.

When we work with clients, it’s critical we know what the company’s business goals are so that we can set our own PR expectations. These are strategies and tactics that we think will help you achieve your business goals.

For instance, if you want people to buy a product, we’ll likely tell you we need a lot of stories on online publications that will link people directly to your “buy” page. If, however, your goal is to impress investors and secure a new funding round, our recommendation might be to work with one top tier business publication on a feature story.

Because each story might have a different business result, it doesn’t make sense for you to pay per hit. What does make sense is for you to pay for the hours we spend working on your PR program to ensure we’re all working toward the same goals.

These are just some of the early lessons I’ve learned about how PR works. And truly, “What PR is” could be a never-ending blog post series, as our industry and that of the media industry are constantly evolving.  What I do know as a constant over the last 7+ years in PR is that my dad was right. No matter what I’m doing – I am finding the right story to tell, the right person to help tell it and hoping that when my client sees the outcome, I’m making everyone look good.

Glimpse… it’s crazystupidlove.

Glimpse: the social discovery conference is definitely a labor of love. Understand that this statement is coming from a PR professional that has dealt with her fair share of client fire drills. No incorrect quote, no news delay, no broken embargo could prepare me for the craziness I got myself into when I signed on to be one of the producers of Glimpse. As we prepare for our 2014 Glimpse event, I’ve started to reminisce on the planning process.

Any ICLabs team member will tell you – the months leading up to Glimpse are insanity laced with anxiety and a touch of terror. You don’t know tough until you’ve been tasked with owning the speaker and sponsor tracker. You don’t know fear unless you’ve manned the Eventbrite page consisting of hundreds of different ticket codes. You don’t know elation unless you’ve locked down the most kickass panel known to man and hear the panelists truly connecting during their pre-panel call.

Glimpse is a roller coaster. It’s a time when, due to lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of the ability to think, you might not recognize yourself or your coworker standing next to you. Strange habits emerge:

  • You’re taking whiskey shots at 2 pm alone at your cubicle – but it’s ok because you locked down your effing keynote.
  • You begin to confuse your desk with your bed, maybe because you do equal amounts of sleeping in both.
  • Grooming no longer is a priority: “Does anyone have a hair tie? Oh nevermind – that binder clip will do.”
  • Two words: Fro. Yo.
  • Know what goes good with Froyo? Chipotle chips.
  • Remember when Teresa on RHONJ went nuts and flipped a table? That happened. Twice.
  • Your Starbucks barista starts sending you coffee travelers to the office to avoid seeing you in person. Glimpse with no caffeine is not a pretty picture.
  • Just when you start to get that emaciated look you’re going for, from all the stress, ICLabs starts buying you lunch.
  • Ricolas replace mints throughout the office – all that yelling is hell on your throat.
  • 189! 231! 302! Unless you’re on Glimpse, you think the numbers the event lead is screaming from her desk are gibberish or she has a strange form of Tourette’s. The real answer is she’s checking our ticket tally 17 times a day.
  • Names are arbitrary. In one day alone, I was Brittany, I was Beth, I was Jessica, I was Mallory. I was even Brigitte and she doesn’t even work here. But I responded and got shit done.
  • F*?! becomes your favorite expletive.
  • You want a dating app to speak? You Tinder yourself out (like yours truly) and “Bang” with as many friends as possible til you finally get matched with the CEO.
  • The Glimpse team is on an emotional roller coaster, so coworkers be warned:
    • “It’s Glimpse week. That means if we’re a little bitchy or straight up mean, it’s not you – it’s Glimpse.”
    • “Are you crying? In the bathroom?! On the FLOOR?!”
    • “Stop sending f*!?ing emails!!!!”
    • “Glimpse, you’re a fickle b&$%# today.”
    • “I swear if you give me even one more action item...”

You might be wondering – this all sounds horrible. Why would you put yourself through the abuse?

And to be honest – there are moments in the process where I really didn’t know that answer. But the day of Glimpse – when everything goes down without a hitch, and our team beams with pride at one another with the feat we’ve accomplished – I forget about EVERYTHING above.

It doesn’t matter. What mattered is that we bring the best minds in social discovery to a stage and an audience that considers them rockstars. And what I realize each time we embark on a new Glimpse journey is that all the things I mentioned above happen because we all care so much. We are desperate to make the event a success because we all know that feeling is worth it. We are resilient against all challenges because we believe in the team, we believe in the cause.

Even when we hate each other, when we disagree, when one of us makes a wrong decision – we stand by each other and do the damn thing. Maybe it’s something about PR girls and guys – we stick together and we put ourselves through hell but for some crazy reason, we love the burn.

SXSW – The Come Down and the Learnings

So my high has finally started to subside from SXSW. A month out and I’m still reeling from the things I saw, the people I talked to, the food I devoured and the ideas that made me think.

A lot was learned from my first “SouthBy” experience. For instance, pedi cabs are cool, but not necessarily safe, cheap or a faster method of transportation than walking. Sixth Street is fantastical on night one, but like the Twilight Zone, the longer you stay, the creepier it gets. Veterans stick to Rainey Street – the part of Austin with a nutty background story that makes it sound more like a Disneyland invention instead of a real-life district. And Austin is weird – and Austinites like it that way.

The above are things you learn pretty quickly upon any visit to little ole Austin, but after some reflection and thinking about Austin within the SXSW lense, I came away with some lessons learned for anyone headed to the tech Mecca in the Marches of years to come.

1. Know why you’re there and plan accordingly. Are you there to network? Are you there to learn? Are you there to make a splash? Figure out why and map out your schedule to meet those goals. For me – it was really a 70/30 split between chatting it up and soaking it in. So – I went to the parties. I made friends. I handed out business cards and made notes to reconnect. I also caught some panels and talks. As part of the planning team for Glimpse: the Social Discovery Conference, I needed to not only scout for potential speakers, but to gauge what kinds of talks garnered the biggest crowds, which topics made folks line up to ask questions and perhaps most importantly, absorb the SXSW logistics to make sure Glimpse maintains a comfortable flow throughout.

2. Live on Vegas time. Sleep is an afterthought. You won’t hit the hay until around 4 am, but the good news is SXSW programming doesn’t start til around 11. So stay out. Mingle. Test out every app. Drink every free drink. Not because you like to party (even though you might) but because you never know who you’re going to meet.

3. Lock down your pitch. SXSW might be the only place it’s not weird (nor off-putting) to lead with an elevator speech. Sure, some people will start with pleasantries, but everyone’s there for the same reason. To get their name out there. So pitch your little heart out – you’re gonna have to if you want to stand out above the SXSW noise. And bring a boatload of business cards.

Now that I’ve passed down my wisdom, and finally got the smell of Salt Lick BBQ out of my hair, I hope that you find your way to SXSW 2014. Austin would love to have you.

And the Oscar goes to...

It all started at the Kabuki Cinemas– the infamous movie theater in San Francisco’s Japantown that lets you bring in your libation of choice along with delicious nibbles. In the 21-and-over auditorium, Inner Circle Labs ushered in the 2013 awards season with a viewing of Oscar-nominated “Silver Linings Playbook,” wine in hand. While some of us expected a heart-warming rom-com, Jennifer Lawrence and blue-eyed Bradley Cooper left us in tears by the end of the movie.  And you know you’ve got a winner when Robert De Niro is involved – magic in the making!

So, were any of us shocked to see Jennifer Lawrence win the Best Actress award? No – in fact, as I was grading the award ballots handed out around the office leading up to the Academy Awards, I discovered that most members of the ICLabs team were rooting for her too! Interestingly, the critics considered the Best Actress category too close to call, as all but Naomi Watts had won other industry awards leading up to the Big Show. As for other ICLabs favorites:

  • Argo had a majority of our votes for Best Picture
  • Anne Hathaway was a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress
  • Adele was hands-down predicted to win Best Original Song for “Skyfall”

Only those who did research (ahem, Adrienne, Jon and Meredith) predicted that Quentin Tarantino’s fave Christoph Waltz would take the golden trophy home for Best Supporting Actor. No surprise here that our resident movie maven Adrienne DuComb took the win in our office pool, guessing 20 out of the 24 category wins correctly!

For folks like us who live and breathe startups, the Best Documentary Short category held a special place in our hearts, as the winner, “Inocente,” is the first Kickstarter-funded film to win an Academy Award. We congratulate Kickstarter on this momentous award, as they’ve identified the arts as an area that they’re breathing life into and the gilded man only further validates their capabilities to give the industry an opportunity it’s never known.

As a girl with her iPhone in hand at all times, I was surprised to hear that the Oscars couldn’t hold a candle to the social media buzz generated by the Super Bowl nor the Grammys. We’ve all heard of second and third-screen viewing, where your TV-watching is supplemented by mobile grazing, so I’d expect the tweets and Facebook shares to be off the charts! It’s all relative though, right? 8.9 million tweets isn’t exactly something to sneeze at. As for the most tweet-worthy moments, topping the list were Jennifer Lawrence’s fall on her way to the podium (71,600 tweets) and Michelle Obama presenting the award for Best Picture (85,300 tweets).

Suffice to say, celebrating the Academy Awards will clearly be an ICLabs tradition. Adrienne, the gauntlet has been thrown, here’s to dethroning you next year! :)

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