As a 20+ year public relations veteran, I have seen a lot in the way companies view themselves and the world in which they operate. Some have extraordinary products and services, but no clear vision of where they plan to take their company. Others have great vision, but lack the substantive innovation to create a real-time value proposition for stakeholders. I have seen companies grow from having just a founder and one employee, to more than 600 on staff. I have seen other companies implode (they had vision, albeit blurred, and no tangible product). Then there are those that nail it on all fronts.

I am often amazed at the vast discrepancy in one’s view of PR and the value it plays for a company. I began my career working for Fortune 500 corporate behemoths; companies whose marketing spend alone would dwarf that of 30 startups combined today. However, one thing that has always impressed me, and perhaps it speaks to the DNA of entrepreneurs, is the premium today’s class of startups put on public relations. The innovators with whom I work understand that PR can play a critical role in the launch, growth and ongoing success of their companies.

Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid: Top Journalists Weigh in on Words to NEVER Use When Positioning Your Company

One of the biggest mistakes startups (and entrenched companies) make is overstating their supposed market positioning and value proposition.  I have seen this for years.  A company has created a new product or service, and they are certain it’s going to “revolutionize” the world.  But therein lies the problem. Calling your business revolutionary is fraught with hyperbole. Unless you are deposing Kim Jong-un and turning North Korea into a thriving democracy, lose the revolutionary reference.

Your company most likely has value and a rightful place within your respective industry. And there are very powerful and compelling ways to position your company’s product or service so it grabs attention and ultimately drives sales.  However, tread knowingly. Do not get caught up in startup hysteria, clichés and embellishment when introducing your new product or service to the world.

At my firm, JCUTLER media group, we advise our clients on how to best position their business in a way that not only resonates with their key stakeholders, but also creates enduring value.  We do this by delving deep into what makes their brand believable and singular.  We do this in a powerful and convincing way, but we also are sure to temper the superlatives.  As part of this, we sometimes have to push back on a client’s preconceived brand perception, and help them take an objective look to ensure we are air tight and delivering from a substantive point of view.

We work with media daily.  One thing I have learned over my 20+ years in PR is how to effectively connect with these gatekeepers in a compelling and unique manner.  I have also learned how not to overstate our clients’ businesses.  Nothing falls more flat than a company that is so caught up in their internal world that they lose sight of the competitive external environment. That’s not to say that there aren’t extraordinary entrepreneurs developing products worthy of the “fundamentally transforming” moniker. But how you position those offerings is what will set your business apart. And if you hype too much, without substantive pillars to support that, you are doomed.

We recently asked two-dozen journalists across some of the nation’s most prominent media outlets about their experiences receiving pitches about a company or product. The below represents the most common, overused and inappropriate terms companies and their misguided PR reps have used when positioning themselves to the media.

  • “the Uber of…” 
  • “game-changing"  
  • “disruptive” 
  • “revolutionary” 
  • “cutting-edge” 
  • “…an enormous opportunity”

My advice: take the time to delve deeply into your business and mine what’s truly ownable. When you do that, your positioning will fall in place and market visibility will follow.  It’s also a good idea to find a strategic PR partner that knows what success looks like, and the path necessary to get there.  Let them do the hard work and help position you for maximum success.


Jonathan Cutler, Agency Principal, JCMG


Why FinTech Matters & Predictions from 5 FinTech CEOs

As one of the leading PR firms serving the financial technology (FinTech) ecosystem, we have been fortunate to be a small part of this industry’s growth since its infancy. From a few start-ups in 2007 to literally thousands today, it is hard not to hear about an innovator transforming broken financial systems through advanced technology.  Whether they are solutions for the massive underbanked consumer population, a radical challenge to improve debt collection, or platforms to more efficiently deploy capital to Main Street businesses, the advent of technology is fundamentally improving legacy systems all around us.

I am often asked by industry colleagues, the VC community and media two key questions: 1) Why does FinTech really matter, and 2) Isn’t the use of technology simply the cost of doing business in 2015?  The answers are surprisingly simple.  FinTech matters because the companies at the forefront of this evolution are addressing significant pain points that impact hundreds of millions of people.  The use of technology goes well beyond a sleek looking website or cool app.  FinTech is employing Big Data, machine learning, behavioral analytics and a host of other tech and science based disciplines to fix broken systems – ones that have failed the American consumer, small business owners and other key stakeholders.  FinTech is bringing new products and services to a greater population and doing so in a friction-free method.   

We see this with online lenders that can determine a consumer or business customer’s creditworthiness in minutes and provide funding in 24 hours – sometimes less.  Compare that to traditional banks that require reams of paperwork and weeks, sometimes months, before a loan decision is even rendered. And why does that matter? Imagine you own a pizza place and your oven breaks down. Waiting for critical capital to fix that oven is not an option. No fix.  No pizza.  No business.  Small businesses need capital to maintain and grow their operations; consumers need capital to purchase homes, pay for school and afford medical procedures.

FinTech is also disrupting other sectors that drive our economy: mobile payments, money transfers, fundraising, asset management, healthcare and insurance, to name a few.  

We asked some of our clients – Fundbox, LendKey, TrueAccord, National Funding and Noesis - to weigh in with a few predictions on where FinTech is headed and the role traditional financial institutions will or will not play as this industry continues to evolve.

Eyal Shinar, CEO, Fundbox

  • Technology is important, as it is the agent of change. It improves the function of financing through innovation. Emerging technology makes the financing infrastructure more efficient.
  • Assuming that the nation's overall economic landscape doesn't change too much we are going to see start-ups in credit and payments continue to grow and become the more standardized solution.
  • We will also see the rise in insurance technology.

Vince Passione, CEO, LendKey

  • FinTech continues to play a vital role to traditional banking.  Think of this stage of the cycle as FinTech 1.0.  Historically, in financial services, the incumbents watch from the sidelines as these new firms innovate and grow.  They pay special attention to the regulator’s response to these new innovations. 
  • Once traditional financial institutions feel the landscape is fairly established, the collaboration phase occurs where these new firms create partnerships with the incumbent firms.  This is FinTech 2.0.
  • FinTech 2.0 will increase its footprint.

Ohad Samet, CEO, TrueAccord

  • Banks are realizing that FinTech is paramount to their brand perception, NPS and continued profitability. We will see an increase in banks acquiring tech companies and setting up innovation centers.
  • New services are going to be strong customer acquisition tools and will pave the way to a shift in market share for some medium size banks.
  • As the Fed reverses the trend on interest rates, we're going to witness a moment of reckoning in alternative consumer lending as default rates bounce back from their historically low rates. That will lead to consolidation, but a few winners will emerge as viable, well-funded competitors to smaller banks. 

Scott Harmon, CEO, Noesis

  • New lending platforms pose the classic 'Innovators Dilemma' to traditional banks. We will see examples of partnerships, as well as internal competition and almost certainly M&A.
  • New lending platforms get a wakeup call, in the form of government regulation, especially focused on consumer and sub-prime.
  • Continued growth of specialized, 'vertical' lending platforms with highly differentiated origination, underwriting and credit models. 

Dave Gilbert, CEO, National Funding

  • You will see more partnerships coming from the two sectors as FinTech delivers products and services at a fraction of the cost and in a significantly more efficient channel.
  • You will see more IPO’s and more private equity deals in the sector.  There is a tremendous amount of capital that has been deployed in the space and a lot of investors are still looking for great companies to invest in. 

We we will continue to see the evolution of FinTech taking root across a number of new verticals.  Just as lenders were once called ‘alternative lenders’ but are now mainstream financial solutions, new verticals will fast become mainstream as well.  Harnessing the robust data pools that exist today will trigger more innovation across more industry sectors. As with any exciting new industry that experiences many entrants, such as the early days of the automobile where there were approximately 1,800 car manufacturers in the U.S., we will inevitably see a shake-up. Today, there are only four big U.S. car manufacturers.  There are about 1,300 online lending platforms.  What will separate the winners from the losers?  Visit our Facebook page and weigh in with your thoughts.    


Jonathan Cutler

cutting through the clutter in startup world

As PR experts who get deeply immersed in our clients’ businesses, we often get caught up in the vacuum of product or service superiority.  When you get too close, it’s hard to see things objectively.  Man on the sun burns.  Story over.

We live in StartupWorld, a place where everyone has an idea, is an entrepreneur and can raise capital (Kickstarter currently has projects seeking funds to publish a book called A Field Guide to Nachos and a separate drive for a calendar featuring the men of game development; yeah, put me down for a nickel).  Sure, innovation is glorious and should be applauded at all turns.  However, through the lens of communications —  where cutting through the clutter has become a matter of survival — it’s no longer just about who is bigger, faster or louder.  It’s now about attempting to slog through quicksand or sail against gale force winds under a torrential downpour.  As Buzz Williams, a country kid who made good, says:  “The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker – show up every day and go to work no matter what.”  For us, that means sharpening our pencils and earning our keep.  Temper the hype and build brands from the ground up.

We think our roles are varied and multiple — take a look at today’s media, also stretched thin. They are often forced to wear many hats and cover multiple beats.  Writing, blogging, Vlogging and Tweeting.  Journalists must do it all.  The result: less time to fully digest each and every industry, company and story they cover.  Take a reporter covering small business – a broad category indeed – yet marked by certain pillars you’d expect media to know instinctively.  Nope.  Due to the rare commodity of time or lack of interest, media are not always aware of all the nuances within a particular beat.  It’s hard.  We get it.  But even the most basic tenets often seem foreign to them.  Consequently, our ability to hone in on news – you know, the bit of information that will fundamentally transform how we live, work and play — has become an exercise of intense focus and laser precision.  Carving out the right cut, trimming the fat and presenting the single perfect piece is critical.  What this means for PR pros is that our roles are more critical than ever.  Either you help position your clients to their advantage or their competitors and the marketplace will do it for them to their disadvantage.

With this in mind, here are a few rules of engagement we embrace at JCUTLER media group:


Don’t just work on your client’s account, dive deep into their business.  Know what they know. Immerse yourself in all facets of their organization.  Know their goals, not just marketing, but business as well. Have a seat at the CEO’s table.


Just like every media outlet is different, so too are the journalists within. Take the time to really understand their work, style and format. Read back articles over the past 12 months.  When you know their writing and points of view intimately, you will more effectively communicate to them and have greater success in securing meaningful client stories.


Always have multiple angles on hand for your story.  Build a communications framework that allows you to pivot based on media feedback, industry trends and breaking news.


Your job is not done until that story has run.  Media are extremely time pressed. We must serve as constant educator and information provider.  Become the reporter’s resource beyond just your client’s agenda, but for the broader piece.  Provide access. And ensure you are telling the right story with the right messaging.

Gone are the days of let’s throw up what we can and hope something sticks.  Every piece must have substantive impact.  To accomplish this, we must work to educate and deliver a well-honed narrative.

Jonathan Cutler
Agency Principal
JCUTLER media group