Member Feature: Lara Vandenberg From Publicist

Member Feature: Lara Vandenberg From Publicist

Member Feature
March 24, 2022

Lara Vandenberg pictured, the Founder & CEO of Publicist.

Every month we feature some of our Everything Marketplaces community members to help highlight their story, marketplace journey, and get a glimpse at what's ahead.

In this member feature we highlight Lara Vandenberg, who’s the Founder & CEO of Publicist. Publicist is a marketplace that connects a global network of communications & marketing talent with brands through project-based work. They’ve quickly scaled their marketplace, raised a seed round from top investors, and have big plans for the future.

So what’s your background briefly and what led to the idea for starting Publicist?

Communications and marketing are in my blood. My dad had a PR agency in Australia, so I learned the tricks of the trade from a young age. After a while of working in the industry (and on multiple sides of it), I noticed that I was constantly frustrated with a few things. The first was that the industry is primarily word of mouth, so if you don’t have a network and access to top communications and marketing talent, then it’s really hard when it comes to hiring. The second is that the actual process of hiring is fractured; from interviewing talent, to sending contracts, invoices, and then onboarding. Each of these steps also typically require input from multiple internal departments like legal, HR, ops, and not to mention the hiring manager throughout the process. In short, it’s just too expensive and time consuming when it comes to the hiring process.

With this in mind, I set out to start Publicist, which is an end-to-end platform that solves all of these problems. If we can make the largest, most premium network of marketing talent globally, can also automate the contracts, the payments, and the tax forms through our platform, then we’ll be making all of our lives as those who have marketing needs and marketers themselves a whole lot easier.

What were some of the first steps you took to build Publicist as a marketplace? What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced?

The first step was building our community. In my last role as SVP Marketing and Communications, I was inundated with helping people connect clients and talent together. With Publicist, I simply wanted to remove myself from the equation by taking this approach with building a community first. In order to understand more as to what the marketplace would look like, I started hiring off of other marketplaces to get a better understanding of what worked and what didn’t with the existing marketplace solutions. After doing this, I had a really good idea of what Publicist should look like as a marketplace and we set out with building the first version of what Publicist is today.

The initial challenge for me was launching with what was certainly not the “perfect” product or experience. I took comfort in Reid Hoffman’s theory though that if you are happy with the first version of your product, you've launched too late. We ended up making Publicist live and we were in the market by May 2020 though. There were a lot of sleepless nights from the beginning of the pandemic and we also continuously pushed back our main launch date. Regardless of these initial challenges, I knew the mission of the company held strong, that our platform could support the future of work, and that the pandemic gave Publicist an even greater purpose. It was clear that we would be playing a role in initially helping the first wave of marketers who found themselves out of jobs find new work.

What’s the big problem that you’re solving for and how has building Publicist as a marketplace proven to be a great solution?

The problem is straightforward: the process to find, hire, manage pay, and onboard talent in marketing is too hard and expensive. This is particularly true with marketing, where I saw this continuous disconnect between brands and agencies unable to access and hire from a premium and equitable talent pool.

Both myself and so many of my peers have exhausted endless time and energy trying to hire. It ultimately added additional hours to my week for recruiting and manage talent on top of my existing day-to-day. Publicist solves this issue by connecting brands to top professionals specialized in marketing and communications. We do so by using technology that allows the entire process from hiring to payment to happen in one place, on our platform. The goal is twofold: to help brands easily integrate contracted talent into their marketing strategy and to make it easier for individuals to work for themselves. My long-term mission and the “why” which drives me, is to impact equality of opportunity in the industry and make it easier for brands to hire brilliant diverse talent.

With Publicist, we strive to create economic and creative opportunities for all marketing and communications professionals. We make it easier for talent to find short-term projects, temp-to-perm roles, or full-time roles in the marketing, communications, or creative industries. We are fortunate to be able to partner with leading brands and agencies for initiatives that align with our talent’s skill sets and experience, which also makes it easier for the talent to choose who and what they want to work on and with when it comes to top opportunities.

How have you approached building out such a high quality talent pool of freelancers? Are there any examples of recent success stories that you can share as an example?

When building out our community, we looked at how people were operating before us. As I mentioned earlier, this was primarily through word of mouth. To an extent, we are trying to productize word of mouth, so it’s not a big surprise that referrals are our primary inbound source for acquiring talent. We also eat our own dog-food as they say and lean on communications and marketing to drive our own talent growth.

One of my favorite stories from our community is with someone we have on our platform who had a successful career on the publishing side, then turned to communications. He came to Publicist when we first launched as a freelancer working on a few ad-hoc projects. This freelancer has now hired his seventh Publicist community member to assist him with the work he’s getting through the platform so that he can scale his freelancing capacity to meet the demand. As you can imagine, we love stories like this and also when our supply becomes demand. There’s also this indescribable pride that comes when we create economic and creative opportunity for someone. That’s what keeps me going.

What was the initial fundraising journey like and how has that helped accelerate your marketplace?

Women-led startups received just 2.3% of VC Funding in 2021. This number gets smaller for solo female founders, and even smaller for women of color. We fell into the 2.3% and frankly it’s a number that makes me really frustrated. That being said, we raised a Seed Round in Q2/3 of last year from top angels and institutions. The backing we have from angels is pretty incredible company to be in, which includes leaders in Marketing, Advertising, Media, Tech, etc.

The funding has helped us grow the team and allowed me to hire people much smarter than I am!  

What’s been the biggest learning so far?

You can’t be good at everything. Identify your superpower and equally as important, identify what you’re terrible at so you can hire for it and delegate or outsource.

How big does Publicist become and what’s needed to get there?

Publicist becomes the biggest and best network of marketing talent globally. And in getting there, well we can’t give away the secret sauce!

What’s ahead for Publicist that you're excited about and can share with us?

So much! There are new markets we’ll be expanding into on the horizon, along with an enterprise offering as we move up-market due to so much unserved demand. Also, you’ll see us rolling out additional workflow tools for our community to make running their business on our platform as seamless as possible. Stay tuned for more!

Connect with Lara in the Everything Marketplaces community.