Looking Back on 15 Years of SHIFT Communications

Fifteen years ago this week, within the brick-and-beam “elegance” of a bankrupt candy factory, in space shared with a now-long-gone software firm, SHIFT Communications hung its cardboard shingle and opened its doors to what we knew would be the start of something huuuuge.

Our blurry eyed optimism convinced us that it would only be a brief matter of time before our client list was loaded with some of the most promising tech start-ups and respected market leaders. To us, it mattered not that the Country was still smarting from the ongoing effects of recession, or that the dot com bubble was still spewing toxic waste. No sir, thirty of the whip-smartest PR people in the business were about to change the industry…and in turn, change the world.

I’d like to say that, initially, it all went according to plan, but that would be, as some are fond of saying, an “alternative fact.” Truth be told it was hard. But fueled by ambition and the sheer fear of joining the ranks of the unemployed, we soldiered on.

Back then, the tools and technologies we had to work with were promising but wonky…Google wasn’t yet a verb, and Amazon was known primarily as a big-ass southern land mass.

At that time, marketers were fascinated with a concept then known as peer-to-peer engagement.  The theory was that friends could compel friends to buy the stuff they thought was cool. On a parallel track, a less than modest group of early innovators was sharing their POV through something called a Weblog…on a fledgling Internet, in online chat rooms and other (MY)spaces.  And some kid in Cambridge was rating Harvard co-eds through his The Facebook social network, whatever that was. Put it all together and you had the makings of a game changer, something companies were convinced they needed but really knew nothing about. The Social Media revolution was starting to recruit evangelists and we were bound and determined to capitalize on its emerging appeal.

We focused, like a lighthouse beacon, on how we could best impact the industry with this new and shiny-bright object and, in turn, gain the respect and credibility that would help us make payroll. We started by developing The Social Media News Release, the world’s very first online interactive press release. It was our opening salvo to SHIFT’s efforts at advocating for the widespread use and acceptance of Social Media as a marketing tool, a level of evangelism that led the industry to stand up and take notice of this small but apparently scrappy Boston-based agency with a chip on its shoulder and a desire to change the status quo.

We soon became known in industry circles as the Social Media agency, garnering industry wide kudos as Social Media Agency of the Year, and prompting one influential industry rag to call us “one of the top five agencies that will feature heavily in a future where PR is at the hub of a new era of brand communications that transcends marketing…” Gee!

“But why stop there,” we thought. The world continued changing and PR needed to keep up with these changes. Over the years, it was this never-stop-innovating attitude that led us to bring on a data scientist to “productize” a recommended suite of digitally based marketing technology services, build out a team of MarTech professionals, and obtain Google Analytics (GA) Certification – A PR industry first!  It is this deep understanding of GA that forms the basis of our data-driven philosophy and approach.

Over the years, I’ve humbly watched SHIFT grow from its 30-person roots to almost 135 people, expand its geographic footprint to include New York, Austin and San Francisco, and broaden its client portfolio beyond tech to include consumer, consumer technology and healthcare.

We were one of the first, if not the first PR agency to implement an ESOP (Employee Stock Option Plan) that served each of our qualified employees well, following the successful acquisition of SHIFT by AVENIR Global in 2016.

With AVENIR’s ongoing support and guidance, as well as its growing global network of best-in-class agencies, I have great confidence in SHIFT’s future success, a future that is committed to innovation, progressive thinking and changing the world one small step at a time.

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