*Originally published by the San Francisco Business Times on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 Edition
By William Hicks – Assistant Managing Editor, San Francisco Business Times
Running a PR firm is different than running a typical business with a tangible product, says Fred Bateman. Communications professionals set out to solve problems that can never be completely solved — like placing a company on the map, keeping it there and putting out fires along the way, all while establishing a trusted and well-known brand. Bateman Agency is the second firm he built from the ground up after a decades-long career in tech PR and a number of boom-and-bust cycles in the industry. After a “divorce” from his co-owners at his previous firm, he started anew in 2020 and has grown the business amid a tech downturn where founders have been encouraged to cut PR spending by fighting for each client and expanding his firm’s global reach. Bateman Agency was first on our list of Fastest Growing companies this year, so we asked Bateman for the keys to his success.
What fuels your company’s growth?
This is my second San Francisco-based PR agency bearing the Bateman brand. My first agency, called Bateman Group (now Mission North), I founded in 2003 and grew to more than 55 clients, 110 full-time employees and around $21 million in revenue across three physical offices in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Portland.
As an openly gay agency founder and PR professional, I felt there was a market opportunity to create a new kind of agency with inclusion and transparency embedded in the DNA from day one. Though the agency is still in its early days, we are building our organization on a foundation of transparency and fairness, with the principle that equal work merits equal pay. Salary bands for full-time employees and hourly rates for contractors are shared with all Bateman Agency staffers regardless of 1099 or W-2 classification, and we are ensuring that each employee has a clear understanding of how the agency uses its profits and why.
How have current economic conditions impacted your company?
Other than for a short period during 2021 when the technology market surged due to the shift to remote work, we’ve had to build Bateman Agency in what is best described as a down market. We’ve had to be extraordinarily resilient to maintain our growth and be open to working with earlier-stage companies based in foreign markets looking for a tech-focused firm that knows how to put brands based elsewhere on the North American map and road to market leadership. While we have some anchor clients like New Relic and Checkr headquartered in San Francisco, the majority of our current client roster reads like a panel at the United Nations.
What are some of your greatest challenges running a PR firm?
I’ve been in this business 35 years and I’ve worked with everybody, There’s a bunch of homophobes out there that I don’t want to work with again and I run into that all the time. I can’t tell you how many times they think Fred Bateman is some 60-something white straight guy, and then I walk in and they realize he’s a 40- or 50-something gay guy, and they shut us down and throw us out. Another challenge is we know a CMO really wants to hire us, but he’s worried about whether I’ll mesh with the CEO. Because the CEO is some old white guy who doesn’t like gay guys.
Do you think this homophobia is exemplified in the tech industry specifically, more so than other industries?
I think it’s very subtle and unspoken in the tech industry, which likes to pat itself on the back for being, you know, more diverse and more liberal and more open-minded.
Has the Bay Area’s unique business ecosystem and access to talent contributed to your company’s growth?
That’s a myth that needs busting. Keeping my company’s center of gravity in San Francisco has become more and more challenging every year, to be candid. It’s extremely difficult to find talent at all levels, but especially people in their 20s. It’s been at least 10 years since San Francisco was a financially viable place to move after college, so there is a void of workers under the age of 30. The pandemic drained the city of mid-level and senior talent who could afford to relocate permanently to places like Bend, Ore., or Tahoe. The Bay Area’s business ecosystem is still unique, but not in a good way.
What challenges did your company encounter while scaling quickly, and how did you overcome them?
Finding talent in San Francisco was our biggest challenge to scaling. We overcame it by creating additional talent centers in Boston and Austin, two cities still high on the list of places college students want to move to after graduation. It would also be irresponsible to ignore the fact that while I’ve been successful in convincing talent to relocate to San Francisco, I have to do so with a huge warning label. The quality of life in San Francisco is abysmal and shows few signs of improving anytime soon. My employees have been exposed to dangerous situations at our first WeWork location on Mission Street and at our leased office space at 1550 Bryant Street.
About Bateman Agency
Headquarters: 1550 Bryant St., #510, San Francisco
What it does: Tech PR agency
CEO: Fred Bateman
Revenue growth, 2020-2022: 975.93%
2022: $2.2 million
2021: $1.73 million
The original version of this article erroneously described Fred Bateman's partners at his previous firm; they were co-owners with Bateman. It also incorrectly cited the firm's suite number; it is 510.