Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

The Pramana Collective: New Tech PR Firm Made Up of Old PR Hands


A trio of high-profile tech communications execs from Twitter (Sean Garrett), Facebook (Brandee Barker), and Skype (Brian O’Shaughnessy), have joined forces to create a new firm called the Pramana Collective.

While PR types don’t usually get a lot of the attention, the joining of these three top Silicon Valley players is enough of a news event to warrant some mention.

(If only to try to figure out a good joke to make about its name, which sounds like a line of skin care products at a spa you can’t afford. I do like to amuse myself.)

Actually, according to a blog post from Garrett, which is below, Pramana is “the means by which one obtains accurate knowledge or true perception.”

(Namaste, and let’s hope that means Barker will finally give me a real comment when I shove my video camera in her face — inside joke alert!)

In all seriousness, communications is a critical part of the digital ecosystem, and this is a strong group. Barker, who was Facebook’s first PR head, has been doing a lot of consulting work since she left there; she was a key part of the team involved in the launch of “Lean In,” the unavoidable book by the social networking site’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. O’Shaughnessy has just left the owner-changing Skype, and before that, he worked in key PR roles at Google. Lastly, longtime communications exec Garrett led the PR team at Twitter through some of its bumpiest years.

Here’s Garrett’s full blog post, which will give you enlightenment on the whole thing:

Finding Pramana

Brandee Barker has the calming wisdom of someone who learned a lifetime of lessons in her four years at Facebook. She started the company’s communications team and was its leader during Facebook’s most formative, fast-moving years. Brandee recognized that when you are moving at mind-bending speeds, you have to make 100 decisions a day and, within those, a few mistakes will be made. Brandee recognized and learned from both these mistakes and the many more successes gained by her and her team. She was my inspiration during my own journey of mistake/success reflection after my similar ride at Twitter.

Brian O’Shaughnessy makes things look easy. Yet, once you get past his self-deprecating jokes and his insistence on shining the light on others, you realize that you came away from a conversation with him twice as smart as when you started. And, one of most complex communications job in the last four years was running Skype’s. During that time, the company was owned by eBay, was spun out to a private equity consortium and then was sold to Microsoft. Off the 30 original eBay/Skype management team when Brian started in 2008. He left in February as the last remaining one. This wasn’t easy. It reflects on Brian’s innate ability to bring disparate people and perspectives together to forge successful strategies through leadership defined by bullshit-free objectivity and a mastery of technical knowledge.

Brandee and Brian share an unwavering sense of loyalty, strength of character and a desire to apply their learnings to something meaningful.

I feel the same way. And I’m pleased to join these two people that I have so much respect for as partners and co-founders of The Pramana Collective.

Since The Pramana Collective comes from the same place as the philosophies that I’ve clearly, if infrequently, written about here, I won’t dive into our feelings about the state of communications and the great changes that all corners of marketing are facing as lines between disciplines blur. But, practically, this change will have us focused on client needs and not definitions of marketing terminology or dated dividing lines. For example, whatever ‘PR’ was and currently may be to some is not relevant to us now — nor was it when we ran teams at Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

The Pramana Collective is a project-focused communications consultancy. This means that we will work with an organization to help meet a specific opportunity or solve a particular issue for a finite period of time. Among the offering mix will be branding, messaging, campaign development, and road mapping communications functions. This is the type of work that Brandee and I have both enjoyed doing as consultants since Facebook and Twitter.

What we won’t do is stick around to be an agency of record that provides ongoing support. We will provide objective recommendations on next steps and, as needed, suggest and help attain ongoing solutions of all stripes (in-house hires, consultants, agencies) to see through strategies. We look forward to partnering with our network of industry colleagues to find solutions for our clients long term interests.

Despite each of us having 20-plus years of experiences, multiple stints running comms teams for high-profile companies where we had amazing internal and external teams; we all would have benefited in the past from having access to a partner peer set that provided actionable intelligence, straightforward advice and a pure project solution mindset like The Pramana Collective’s offering.

When you are moving at a blindingly fast pace while trying to grow a team that’s never quite big enough, it can be a constant battle to stay ahead of being reactive to both external and internal forces and create space to form proactive campaigns around important initiatives and big moments — be they known well in advance or appear suddenly. We look forward to working with all sizes and types of organizations that share our interest in substantive, transparent and integrated communications.

This brings us to our name — The Pramana Collective. For you logophiles the full definition of Pramana is here, but, in short, it’s the means by which one obtains accurate knowledge or true perception. We believe that an organization’s sometimes hidden or obscured truths are the most powerful messages to drive a conversation. And, the “collective” will be our employees, clients and partners who both feel and act the same way.

Our first priority is hiring like-minded people from both the traditional comms world and other marketing disciplines who command the respect of entrepreneurs and executives. Indeed, getting the word broadly out to top talent who may be mapping out next moves is our primary motivation to talking about our consultancy’s formation now. If you are interested or merely curious, find me at sean at pramanacollective dot com.

And know that we believe that the best people need to have dynamic careers. As our projects will be diverse in scope, so will be the professional paths of individuals on our team. We may be a long-term opportunity for some and, for others, we might be an opportunity to attain broad perspective in between in-house jobs. Indeed, we plan to borrow the entrepreneur in residence (EIR) model that venture capital firms use.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. Having a basic web site would be nice. Regardless, whether it’s teaming on the small stuff or the profound, getting to work with Brandee and Brian already has made this journey one worth taking.

(Photo of Garrett, Barker and O’Shaughnessy courtesy of Steve Maller)

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