Five Years in, Twitter Seeks PR Help

Social Network Hunts for Agency as It Plots Global Growth, Broader Usage

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Even social-media companies need a dose of good old-fashioned PR. Twitter is on the hunt for an agency to help it through its next stage of growth, Ad Age has learned.

New digs: Twitter recently opened its first New York presence on Madison Avenue.
New digs: Twitter recently opened its first New York presence on Madison Avenue.

Twitter is currently in talks with a mix of large and small PR firms with offices in New York, where the company has just opened a new office on Madison Avenue, executives familiar with the matter say. Sean Garrett, Twitter's VP-communications, is spearheading the review. He joined Twitter last year and has helped beef up its communications team as it continues to grow its user base and funding. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The 5-year-old startup turned social-media giant has had plenty of success attracting users on its own, but its search for a PR shop shows Twitter wants an even bigger presence beyond Silicon Valley, and is looking for support as it tries to educate consumers about the brand.

So far, the extent of Twitter's Pr campaign has rested on the endless charm of its founders -- Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone -- who have appeared in countless articles, at hundreds of conferences, on numerous talk shows and even on C-Span. Since the company's beginning in 2006, it has been those three denizens of Web 2.0 who have tirelessly told the Twitter story in the press. But over the last year, the founders have stepped away from day-to-day operations, moving on to other projects.

Messrs. Stone and Williams left earlier this year to revamp their startup incubator Obvious, while Mr. Dorsey, though still at Twitter, is also focused on his CEO role at mobile-payment company Square. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo speaks at conferences and to the press, but he's hard pressed to replace the quirky voice of the founders, who have become celebrities in their own right.

Heightened competition by Google and Facebook also likely prompted the company to decide to communicate more aggressively in the public sphere and fight for consumers' time. Google recently launched its Google+ social-media platform and Facebook achieved record visits in July, according to ComScore. The research firm also reported that last month Twitter achieved record visits of 32.8 million, compared to 24.8 million at the same time last year.

A recent funding round, which All Things Digital speculates to be as high as $800 million, places Twitter's valuation at $8 billion. A company that size needs, and can afford, the best PR it can get. In a blog post earlier this month, Twitter stated it will use the influx of capital to "aggressively innovate, hire more great people and invest in international expansion."

Not only has Twitter exploded in size -- since last year, Twitter grew from 250 to more than 600 employees -- it is also making an impact on the world stage. Recently, Twitter has been described as a major technology player in the Arab Spring movement and has even been accused of helping fuel the London riots. Twitter has been dealing with the FBI and other law enforcement for years, contacted by legal agencies for various reasons, including Wikileaks. A PR agency is crucial to Twitter, that despite its entrenched status as a social-media powerhouse, it is still looking for a mainstream voice -- the kind of voice that can assure advertisers and big brands that it is good for their business.

A number of executives said that the company is also looking for PR support in London, though it's not immediately clear whether it's running a separate search.

In addition to Mr. Garrett, Twitter has hired Adam Sharp as manager of government and political partnerships, as well as communications executives Matt Graves, Jodi Olson and Carolyn Penner. Ad Age also recently reported that the company added three execs from the agency and marketing worlds, including former Moxie CEO Joel Lunenfeld as director of global brand strategy; former E-Trade exec Pam Kramer as its first VP-consumer marketing; and J.B. Kropp, who was VP-strategic partnerships for Facebook-marketing software firm Vitrue, to head up marketing efforts to packaged goods companies.

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