Startup Storytellers with Laura Brooks

Tell us about Tessian and your role there

Tessian is an intelligent cloud email security company. It uses machine learning technology to understand how people work on email, in order to detect and prevent threats coming into and going out of the inbox. 

As Head of Communications and Content, I am responsible for raising brand awareness of the company and maintaining our reputation in the security market – brought about by strong storytelling, thought leadership, community engagement and lots of creativity. My communications strategy is executed across our external channels which includes media, our blog, social channels, our own podcast, industry awards and events, as well as our internal communications channels

How has Tessian’s Comms changed over the 3 years?

It’s changed a lot! I joined the company in 2019 and just before our Series B fundraise. At this stage, it was all about raising brand awareness in the UK market and telling our story to the audiences we wanted to reach. The main problem we needed to address from a comms standpoint was that “No-one has heard of us!”

In 2020, we expanded to the US and entered a new – and much more crowded – market. Raising brand awareness was critical; we were the new kids on the block in a town where new technology and security companies are created every week. We had to ensure we were telling our story in a coherent and compelling way so that audiences could see us and understand what we were about. To help us achieve this, we onboarded a PR agency on the West Coast who helped us tell the right stories, build relationships with the right journalists, and speak at the right events. 

During my time at Tessian, the company has grown in size and revenue, we’ve expanded to new regions, we’ve brought on more customers, we’ve hired more spokespeople, spoken at more events and won more awards. As the company has grown, and the next-gen email security market has become more mature, the communications objectives have evolved and changed too. While raising brand awareness continues to be an important goal from an external communications standpoint, we’re also having to think about how we build and maintain credibility too, so that we can stand out from the competition and lead the market. Therefore, brand perception has become a key consideration too. So, that’s about being in the right forums, at the right events and providing value-add data and insights that audiences couldn’t get anywhere else, in addition to thought leadership and media relations.

What is the biggest comms challenge startups and scaleups in cybersecurity face? 

It’s such a noisy industry! Even non-cybersecurity companies talk about cybersecurity and you’re constantly competing for airtime. Breaking through that noise and having something different to say – i.e. something that no other company has talked about – is challenging. 

The other challenge is that we are targeting an audience that relies on peer-to-peer validation and is notoriously sceptical of anything that has been touched by marketing. You have to make sure that everything you share provides value or tells that audience something they didn’t already know before – otherwise you face the backlash. 

What are the most common mistakes startups make? 

Changing the game plan or chasing the new shiny thing which results in frequent changes of messaging and positioning. 

Brand building is a long-game; it takes time to build up that recognition and trust in the market, and it requires consistency in your delivery. You need to give the market time to pick up the message and engage with it. If you’re changing your messaging every 3-6 months, your audience won’t know who you are and what you stand for. Remember, they might only be hearing your message for the first time, even though you’ve been saying it over and over for months. So, while marketing tactics might evolve over time, and the proof points and anecdotes you tell to bring your story to life might change and adapt to the audience, the core of the company – the “reason for being” and the “why you exist” – shouldn’t. Stick at it! 

What startup or scaleup is doing exciting things right now?

Ah there are so many! The ones that are getting my attention, though, are the startups doing amazing things with tech to revolutionise the healthcare industry and address previously ‘taboo’ topics, or topics that haven’t been talked about a lot, in the workplace. 

These include – wellbeing apps like Spill, which gives employees easy access mental health support via Slack; Peppy, a digital platform that helps employers give their people support for under-served areas of healthcare, like mental wellbeing, menopause and parenthood; and Carrot, a leading global fertility benefits provider for employers to offer their workers fertility benefits. 

Given how much time we spend at work, and in the wake of the global pandemic, these companies are doing some amazing things to recognise workers as ‘people’ and address that intersection between people’s work and personal lives. 

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