Spark: An International PR and Marketing Agency 20 Years in the Making
January 2, 2019
Spark has accomplished a lot over the past two decades as an international PR and Marketing agency – from helping to launch nearly a thousand technology companies to assisting in close to twenty billion dollars in exits –, but ask Co-founder Donna Burke or CEO Alan Soucy what they’re most proud of and their answer is identical: the people. “I think about the people and the incredible human spirit, the innovation and entrepreneurship that we’ve seen,” Donna says. Startups and tech companies come and go in the Valley, but “one thing has been maintained, which is Spark,” says Alan. “We’re here year after year.”
The Birth of a Tech PR Agency
Spark Co-founders Chris Hempel and Donna Burke met while working in the PR department at Netscape. Netscape grew so quickly in its first years that it didn’t have enough office space and because people had to double up on cubicles, Donna became Chris’s cube-mate and fast friend. When AOL bought Netscape in 1999, Chris and Donna started talking about their futures. They realized they had enough combined agency and corporate experience to leave their jobs and start something on their own. That year, the PR agency Spark was born.
Chris and Donna chose the name Spark because its meaning was exactly what they wanted to provide their companies. Internet companies were booming and office space was impossible to find, so in the beginning, Spark’s office was the back room of Chris’s house. Today, Spark has over 50 employees and offices in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and South Africa, but back then, client meetings were often held right in Chris’s living room.
Tech was booming and rents were sky high. But few seemed willing to rent to 20-something women co-founders. Spark needed a real office so Chris and her husband bought an old locksmith shop to gut and renovate. They didn’t have time to buy office furniture in the first couple weeks so they bought wooden doors from Home Depot and added legs to build makeshift desks. Everyone was involved in picking carpet and paint colors and they built an office that became Spark’s first home.
Alan was a client of Spark’s before he joined as our CEO. While managing and running a micro-fuel cell company, he found Spark during his search to hire a PR agency. Before winning Alan’s company as a client, Donna told the chairman she’d get them in the New York Times. The chairman replied that he didn’t believe her, to which Donna asked, “Well then why am I here? If I can’t get you in the New York Times, why would I take you on as a client?” Spark got the New York Times, and we also got Alan.
Maturing Into International PR & Marketing Masters
In Spark’s early days, there were no other PR agencies like it that had as strong of a focus on technology. We had the recipe to take technologies and turn them into household names. Today, we are still very much at the epicenter of all of society’s most significant paradigm shifts – AI, quantum computing, IOT and blockchain – and that gives us a competitive edge in the field. On the horizon for next year, some of the most promising early stage VR companies and some of largest companies advancing automotive technology have already started coming to us for our PR and marketing expertise.
We work with some of the most technically-advanced, disruptive companies in the world. Because of this, Spark’s biggest asset is our ability to assemble a team that can keep up not only with the speed of these companies, but also the complexity of the problems that they’re trying to solve. Our clients are some of the smartest people in their industries and Spark employees are constantly studying and reading the latest research to stay knowledgeable and connected in each of their fields.
Spark has always been a flat organization so teams really get to collaborate. We take pride in the fact that our senior leadership puts junior team members’ development first. Donna and Chris always wanted employees to feel like they were approachable so they built the laid-back, supportive culture they wanted to be a part of and it stuck. Employees are allowed to dress casually, bring in dogs, and work from home on Fridays, all with the ethos that it’s about the work you produce, not how you look.
Spark is an international PR and marketing agency built on extraordinary leaders, special advisors and counselors that some of the most prevalent Venture Capitalists and the biggest Fortune 500 companies turn to for guidance. Throughout the past two decades, we have helped companies to change the world through technology by propelling exciting ideas to the forefront of today’s culture. However, looking back on 20 powerful years, Alan says, “our best has yet to come.”
About the Author
Emma Sklarin is an Account Coordinator on Spark’s Venture Capital team, providing support to VC firms and consumer tech companies including media outreach, account management, content creation, writing and speaking and awards programs. Before her time at this international PR and Marketing agency, she has worked for advertising and branding agencies as well as in marketing in-house for a major corporation.