Propel CEO Zach Cutler Named in PRWeek Dashboard 25
In honor of Propel CEO and Co-Founder Zach Cutler’s second consecutive year in the PRWeek Dashboard 25, we’re sharing a Q&A about his journey with communications technology, moving from an agency owner to a PR tech industry leader.
What is the Dashboard 25 you might ask?
According to PRWeek, “PRWeek’s Dashboard 25 is a prestigious annual list of the primary movers, shakers and innovators in the comms tech space. It celebrates visionaries and risk-takers driving the PR industry forward, from media monitoring services, newswires, private equity, social media management, in-house client teams and PR agencies.”
I’m sure you’re ready to hear from the man himself, so let’s take a look at what Cutler has to say about this achievement and his impact on the PR industry.
Q: What made you decide to get into the communications technology industry?
A: I got into communications tech after working in communications for many years. I had my first internship when I was in college at one of the top PR firms in LA called Ogilvy, which was between my sophomore and junior year of summer break. I really loved it and I think I did quite good work, and I realized going into comms was really something that interested me. I was always a marketing guy and data and numbers guy and I also always loved writing, so I felt it was a natural area for me. After I graduated college, I started doing freelance PR work. Three months after graduating, I had three companies that I was doing freelance work with, then I got additional companies interested with word-of-mouth. I’m also a hunter when it comes to sales, so I create new opportunities from scratch. Before I knew it, I had four or five customers and I realized that I would make it an agency. I didn’t know I would start my own business that quickly after school, and after growing the firm to about 15 people and over a million in revenue, all of our clients were tech-focused. I was seeing all the innovation that they were bringing to their industries and I was looking at my own industry and grew frustrated that there wasn’t better software technology to help us make PR data-driven. Like I said, I’ve always been a numbers guy, data guy, and a storyteller, and I never could find the right tool that would allow us to make our firm data-driven. I remember our employees used to laugh at me. One of my friends was in our office in New York and he told me that some people were talking about data-driven PR not making sense and that PR is PR. That’s pretty much how everyone in the industry felt except a few people that were really frustrated, and I was one of those people. So, I decided to make a point system in my company to help measure articles and the success of each campaign and it was manual. Each article would get a certain number of points and we would see how we were progressing, but I knew to do it really properly I needed to build us software.
Q: How did you come up with the name Propel?
A: I came up with the name Propel because I was looking for a word where the first two letters were PR. I felt like Propel was nice because I knew that the company was always going to be about moving forward and innovation.
Q: Do you think Propel would be where it is today if you didn’t have your agency, Cutler PR first?
A: No, there’s no way Propel would be where it is if I didn’t have my agency, and that’s what they called founder-market fit. So, product-market fit is a really popular term and it means that you have the right product for the right industry at the right time, but something that is talked about less yet is also really important is founder-market fit. Having a founder who actually understands the industry really well, knows the pain points, has lived through the pain points is a game changer. That’s the reason Propel has such a unique product that was able to take off quickly because from very early on, I knew all the little things that needed to be built into the platform and all the big things. I knew what to focus on and what to prioritize specifically because I had been in the trenches and I had been a PR person who knew what it was like, and that was absolutely invaluable.
Q: Who do you admire most in the communications technology industry and why?
A: The founders of HubSpot, HootSuite and MailChimp are some of the marketing tech people that really changed communications and marketing. Ten years ago, social media management was really hard and now it’s really easy because of HootSuite and tools like that, but they had to make that easy– they changed it. Same with HubSpot— inbound marketing was not even a realistic thing for a business to be able to do, but Hubspot created the tools for it. And the same type of innovation came from MailChimp with email marketing, so I admire the innovators who really come in, build a new solution, and change an industry.
Q: What is the latest Propel-related accomplishment you’re most proud of?
A: I’m most proud of our team. It's such an amazing team, especially as I’ve owned a previous business, I have seen a lot of different teams. The passion, the talent and the culture of our Propel team are all incredible and especially considering the fact that most of us haven’t even met in person. We’re all over the world from different cultures and different time zones, yet I really love and am so proud of what we’re able to do together.
Q: What’s next for Propel? With so much positive recognition and support, where do you see yourself and the company in the next 5-10 years?
A: The recognition is nice, but it’s surfacy. What’s really important is to continue to do the hard work of identifying the biggest challenges and pain points that PR and communications professionals face and build technology to address them in ways that make peoples’ lives easier and make their work better. That’s what we’ll continue to do, and in 5 to 10 years, Propel will be the market leader and definitely the top innovator as well.
Q: How do you predict the communications technology industry will change the most in 2022?
A: I think we’re seeing an explosion of comms tech which I felt was going to happen five years ago, and that’s one of the reasons I created Propel. I knew this needed to happen and I wanted to be on the ground floor of it, and I think what we’re seeing is more and more innovation, helpful features being rolled out, which is great to see and keeps the whole industry moving forward.
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