Tag Archive for: women entrepreneurs

Sara Blakely didn’t become one of the most admired female CEOs without taking her public image seriously. Blakely credits her publicity-savvy approach to her grass-roots success that launched a billion-dollar exit.

Sara Blakely became notable for being one of three female founders to exit in 2021. In 2012, she made headlines as one of the first female billionaires when Spanx was valued at over $1 billion, because she retained 100% ownership, had zero debt, and to that point had never spent a dollar on advertising. Blakely wasn’t lucky. She is smart and from the start, dialed into earning trust and word of mouth. Blakely was so PR savvy she patented Spanx early because she saw it as a marketing lever. She knew actions can translate to media coverage. Consistently, Blakely refined and perfected three key strategies she credits to her success.

Tell Your Story Relentlessly



One thing Sara Blakely did immediately is take control of her own narrative. Sara knew: if you don’t tell your story, someone else will.

CEOs who take a personal interest in their brand’s success always generate better coverage. Blakely never took the “fake it before you make it” stance in the press. She took her failures and turned them into stories about resilience. Her career-focused and ambitious customers could relate to her humble fax-machine sales beginnings. Blakely famously said she’s “game for anything,” and it’s the company who has to reign her in.

Blakely celebrates her female strengths, recently claiming she ran the business from “intuition, vulnerability, and empathy,” which recently led to an acquisition by private equity firm Blackstone in November 2021.

From the start, Blakely refined her story, kept it authentic, and told it over and repeatedly. She never deviated from her why, and she never glossed over speed bumps or failures. That’s why, despite her elite success, women the world over related to Blakely. Her approachability gives her another lever to pull, she can celebrate her wins and women celebrate with her.

 

The Not-So-Overnight Success of Product Placement

“We always had PR and grassroots marketing at the forefront of what we did. It was getting the word out any way we could: speaking engagements, sampling,” said Spanx CEO Laurie Ann Goldman.

In the halls of famous breakthroughs, The Oprah Effect is perhaps one of the most celebrated. With Spanx, when Oprah included them on her list of favorite things, for many women, it was the first time they’d heard of the product. But Sara Blakely had been sending celebrities, stylists, and female icons Spanx samples from the very beginning, and she wasn’t cheap about it. Blakely sent full gift baskets, with enough product to make sure every celebrity had enough to get through the week, no matter how intense their appearance calendar was. By the time Gwyneth Paltrow said on the red carpet that Spanx was her post-baby-body secret in 2003, Spanx was already a well-known insider secret. “Word of mouth and the media are so much more powerful and believable, so that’s the route I went,” said Blakely.

Blakely knew: place your product consistently, earn the trust of celebrity influencers, and it pays off. It looks like an overnight success, but in fact, Blakely had been doing product gifting for years, and she did it with class.

 

Absolute Customer Clarity

Blakely knew: if you’re for everyone, you’re for no one. When she first started sending celebrity gift baskets, she targeted Oprah because she was open about her weight challenges, and Kim Kardashian because of her famous booty. Despite her success in famous retailers, direct-to-consumer sales are at the heart of the Spanx expansion, making up 70% of its sales, which means Spanx has to develop deep relationships with their target customers.

If you look at Spanx coverage over the years, Blakely was disciplined about keeping to her “why.” Customer clarity allows Blakely to stay focused on her “why,” which is a much more appealing story than a product story.

Blakely’s approachable voice is another key to the brand’s relatable success – she talks to her consumer the way they talk with their friends, from packaging to interviews, she just gives us enough to relate to her. Even her extravagances seemed relatable to her target market. You never hear about Blakely’s car or vacation homes. Instead, you hear about relatable splurges like when she bought Olivia Newton John’s Grease outfit; clothing her target market clearly remembers, and one that showcases a spectacular derriere.

Employing these three CEO publicity strategies doesn’t guarantee a billion-dollar business, but it does guarantee that you will get noticed. Everyone from consumers to venture capitalists and private equity firms like to know there’s a story there, and potential for brand affinity. The Spanx brand couldn’t have become so iconic without these three remarkable publicity strategies.

This contribution originally appeared on Entreprenuer.com

Even the savviest woman cannabis entrepreneurs need fresh publicity ideas.

Women in cannabis. In the early days, there was a lot of media attention around the entrepreneurship opportunities in cannabis, and even more about how the cannabis industry was going to break through the “green ceiling.” This 2015 Inc. magazine article titled “Why Women Founders Are Ruling Legal Marijuana” didn’t age so well. In 2021, Business Insider reported 70% of top cannabis executives were white men. And in the fall of 2021, High Times reported that nationally, only 19% of plant-touching cannabis businesses were women-owned. While female cannabis entrepreneur pieces still pop up once in a while, these days it’s pretty rare to see profiles on women business leaders about something besides bad news for women cannabis entrepreneurs.

Even though women cannabis entrepreneurship is literally the exception to the rule, being a woman founder isn’t newsworthy enough to garner coverage on its own; women founders still have to find creative ways to break through the noise if they want media coverage. The key for women cannabis entrepreneurs to secure press is to lean into the ways we’re different.

 

Find Purpose in Female Leadership

Social impact and female entrepreneurship are both trends. The search term “purpose-driven leadership,” is up 300% on Google, and “Social Impact Leadership” searches are up 40%. I’ve always found Google trends a splendid piece of information to drop into a pitch because publishers love eyeballs AND they love it when you do some homework for them. From DEI to the Last Prisoner Project, cannabis leaders are taking a stand. In fact, the entire cannabis industry is a leader in social impact and purpose. Consider your purpose – why you started the company and how you can support that purpose in an authentic, but female-oriented way.

Los Angeles cannabis dispensary GorillaRX received feature coverage for incorporating “compassion” into their business mode. Spanx founder Sara Blakely recently made headlines by declaring she “ran the business from intuition, vulnerability, and empathy.”

Turning the good ole boy’s network on its head by bucking the trend is a great example of finding purpose in female leadership. Taking a distinct stand on how you run your business with purpose can create media opportunities over and over.

And the purpose isn’t just for PR, HBR found “companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 57%-7% a year.”

Go Gurl-illa with the Ladies

Developing a guerilla campaign – or any kind of campaign – around days that celebrate women is a great way to use the mundane with the novel. Marketing activations and publicity stunts get a lot of coverage in cannabis and beyond. Neither of those has to be inherently expensive, but because of cannabis advertising limitations, going guerilla can present a great PR opportunity.

MariMed’s 850 pound edible in honor of national brownie is a recent example of a guerilla stunt that garnered national news attention, including coverage by Inc. magazine. There are some fantastic women’s holidays and journalists love the ease of tying a piece into a holiday, especially one that provides some cultural justification – you’re unlikely to see a lot of coverage on International Men’s Day.

Use the calendar to your advantage with your cannabis guerilla marketing campaigns to earn publicity rather than buy media coverage.

Create Community Around Female Consumers

There are so many ways to create community. You can support education and networking like the ArcView Women’s Inclusion Network or other cannabis women’s organizations. But when you really think about it, talking directly to women AS women is a powerful way to stand out from the crowd. If I had a nickel for every man-owned brand who told me they wanted to target soccer moms, and then asked me where they could find them, I’d be funding women-owned businesses instead of owning one. As women, we have authenticity on our side; we know the secret handshake and we can speak to each other from a place of respect in a way that men-owned brands sometimes struggle with. 

Empowering points of view like CBD brand Aja who asks “Why are women expected to make excuses for their consumption?” is a great way to tap into the mindset of women customers and activate  loyalty. Whoopie and Maya came into the space with a bang talking about the unique needs of women cannabis users, including the menstrual cycle. It started an entire surge of media coverage on the topic. Cannabis lubrication brand Foria has a female sexual education, empowerment, and cannabis spokesperson and she’s a very strong advocate for many women. These are all interesting distinctions that provide many media opportunities.

Another great way to create and support female cannabis entrepreneurs is to collab with other women-owned businesses like Buy Weed from Women. These collaborations are unusual enough it’s a great way to puncture the media cycle.

Consider the ways you name your products, how you speak to your women customers, and your unique point of view as a woman when developing products.

Women cannabis entrepreneurs have a unique set of challenges, but securing earned media coverage can be maximized when we turn our differences into our strengths. If you’re a woman cannabis entrepreneur, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn.