HubSpot’s Katie Burke on: Beyoncé, Pet Rocks, & Storytelling

Leadership + Libations: Katie Burke

Photo courtesy of @worldwidewolfe

Before making her way to PR, it only took six weeks for Katie Burke to realize that consulting wasn’t for her. A master of storytelling, Katie channeled her inner Olivia Pope early in her career at a political communications firm. She got her MBA at Sloan, then made the jump to PR at HubSpot, before recently transitioning to a new role as the company’s Director of Talent & Culture. From preparing for HubSpot’s IPO to navigating its tremendous growth, Katie is adept at swiftly adapting to change to rally people in the right direction.

We joined forces with Young Women in Digital to sit down with Katie for a fireside chat with one goal in mind: to tackle a topic we all need help with – learning how to tell compelling stories. Katie showed us how to craft our stories in a clear, concise way, own its execution, and write our own endings.

As one person listening in nicely put it, Katie is, “the most quotable person to walk the planet.” So, rather than try to summarize our experience, here are some Katie’s most memorable quotes:

Own your Beyoncé walk, and have the confidence of Queen Bey herself.

  • “Speak in statements, not apologetic questions.”
  • “Use actions to show your stakeholders you are hungry to grow.”
  • “You don’t get to places in your career by making safe bets.”

Do your homework. Know the story you want to tell.

  • “Part of storytelling is believing you can write a different ending than those before you, and being willing to write that narrative yourself.”
  • “When communicating your ideas, speak in ‘we,’ not ‘I,’ to show that your idea provides value to the company’s best interest.”
  • “Prepare for each stakeholder’s ‘pet rock’ (i.e. special interest), and know how to address that particular perspective.”
Katie Burke

Photo Courtesy of @MsChristinaCF

Plan your approach.

  • “Think, speak, and sell in headlines. Is your idea attention grabbing? If not, think bigger about what you’re pitching.”
  • “Have a 10-slide deck. If you’re presenting your slides for the first time at a meeting, you’re doing it wrong. Rehearse! Ask for feedback early and get buy-in first from the people you need to move the project forward.”
  • “Understand why your story matters to the business and how to engage your stakeholders. If your presentation doesn’t clarify the benefits to the company, you need to revisit your approach.”
  • “Take the time, several days beforehand, to get dissenters’ buy-in and feedback; address their concerns before you pitch, then tailor your approach for them for the actual presentation.”
  • “If you have a diverse audience, pick a high-level point that everyone will be able to buy into and rally around.”
  • “Show a bias for action.”

Follow up!

  • “The next day, follow up with an email that directly states outcomes, sets expectations, and asks for validation. Then run with it.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to be specific about what you need to execute your plan.”

Invest in your own professional growth.

  • “Lead by being open to feedback and continuous improvement.”
  • “Find one thing you can do that makes you indispensable to your team and make your perspective valuable through your actions.”


Brand Positioning: Easier than Mad Libs

In early May, kicked off this season’s schedule with “How to Tell Your Startup’s Story Effectively”. Taught by Mike Troiano, Chief Marketing Officer of Actifio (arguably one of our city’s greatest marketers), it was the perfect way to start off a summer of classes focused on startups and innovation. Last Thursday, Troiano was back in the house schooling Boston’s brightest with a proven framework for developing a winning brand positioning statement.

Brand Positioning

A successful brand positioning statement tackles two goals: first, it sums up what your business does, and next, it explains what makes your company or product special and unique. Competition among startups can often feel daunting, especially when you’re still just trying to get noticed. Taking the time to brainstorm and conceive a positioning statement that captures your business’s mission gives you an edge over the crowd, conveying a clear vision for you and your customers around the value you provide.

Positioning Statement Elements

  • Target: The actionable universe of buyers.
  • Segment: The key, predisposing attribute. Within the target audience there’s a segment of people with a specific attribute that makes your product or service appealing.
  • Brand: A name you call yourself.
  • Category: A competitive frame for the buyer.  Think about who you are competing against, and then separate yourself from them.
  • Distinction: What makes you unique, setting you apart from the competition.
  • Proof: A perceived evidence of truth to back up your distinction.

You can’t tell someone who you are and what you do without already having clear-cut definitions previously determined–at least not effectively. These six terms, once customized with definitions that represent your business most accurately, can form your positioning statement. The trick is organizing them.

“You’re betting on your livelihood in a value proposition you believe is significant… So you should write it down,” Mike said, referring to people losing focus on what they stand for, simply because they don’t have an unchanging, visible reminder. This next sentence is the backbone of your brand’s positioning statement and is applicable to any brand you might conceive in the future…so you should take notes:

“For target who are segment, brand provides the category with distinction because of proof.”

If you’ve ever completed a Mad Lib or color-by-numbers, you have the ability to create your statement. By taking your definitions of those six terms and plugging them into this sentence you have the most effective positioning statement style possible. The tricky part is getting the wording right. It’s key to keep it simple while including all crucial information that will convince your employees, investors, and customers that you have something unique and valuable to offer.

Winning Examples

“For drivers who value auto performance, BMW provides luxury vehicle that deliver joy through German engineering.”

“For people around the world, Coca-Cola is the soft drink that has been the real thing since 1886.”

Your final statement should follow the guidelines, while simultaneously manipulating the English language in ways that move people. To learn more, view slides from Mike’s class.