She Works

with Rachel Braun Scherl

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The Unexpected

Is it sexy or sexist?

Rachel Braun Scherl

Founder, Fundraising Heavy Hitter, Public Speaker and Market Strategist

Lessons Learned

You cannot plan a startup path. The unexpected always occurs.

Not every customer is on social media. Pay attention to where your demographic gets its news.

The difference between advertising & PR is that you cannot plan when your story hits or takes hold.


Lesson: She Works with Rachel Braun Scherl

Step #5 The Unexpected: Is it sexy or sexist?

Every entrepreneur faces things that they didn't expect. I would say that's par for the course. When I speak to entrepreneurs, one of the things I say is "Whatever you think is going to happen, something different is going to happen." As many scenarios as you lay out, there will be scenarios that you didn't anticipate which are the ones that you're faced with.

So when we started this company, I had lots of things that I was concerned about. But I faced a challenge, the business faced a challenge that I never could have anticipated. Ultimately, we were able to turn it into an opportunity, but it took some time.

Our product was for female sexual health. We were clinically proven, we had peer-reviewed published studies and I went to the different advertising vehicles. Cable stations, networks, websites, radio stations and I said "We're interested in spending money to promote this product." Obviously, we picked places where we thought our consumers would be.

I kept getting the push-back "We don't talk about this category, we don't advertise this category." I heard that at networks. I heard that from radio stations. I heard that from websites where they even talked about intimacy and relationships.

So Mary and I decided that if we couldn't spend money – we had money to give and people wouldn't take it. If we couldn't spend our money to promote the message of the product, that that would become our story. The fact that we couldn't get media, would be our media.

So I spent about a year trying to find a public relations firm who actually also thought that was a story. We worked with a couple of people who winked and nodded and said they thought it was a story, but never really had their heart in it.

We ultimately found a person, Diane Terman, who's the founder and president of Diane Terman Public Relations, has been at it a long time. A real veteran, a person who really has built her clients on having those relationships. In the newsroom, at the newspapers. Before social media, those foundational businesses that are so important. Especially talking to women who are our target, women 35-plus and in committed relationships, at that point, they were much more silent observers of social media than participants in it. A lot of them still get their news from mainstream media.

So one of the things that we talk about is if a story online gets a million hits, that's great. When it gets on "The Today Show", that's when my targets start watching it.

Anyway, long story short, we ultimately found Diane who believed it was a story and believed it was a strategy. On September 10th 2010, a story appeared in the "New York Times" that spoke about the disparity of standards for male advertising versus female advertising in this area of satisfaction.

So at that time, you could run, and you still can, run a Viagra ad, Levitra, Cialis at 5:00 p.m. on the Super Bowl on CBS. I couldn't run advertising on Lifetime at 8:30 p.m. when I'm pretty sure there were no young kids watching that kind of programming.

But what happened is once the story had a voice, once it was in the "New York Times" and we focused, really, on the disparity between male and female. The fact that we had money to spend and didn't have outlets that would take it. Where we sat, literally, I sat in the offices of the people at the networks who are called "Standards and Practices". They're the people who decide what can go through and what can be on air.

What was interesting about our commercials is that they were very direct. We did mention the words "sex" and "sexual health." But there was no simulation of anything. When you looked at these other commercials, whether they were Viagra, ED ads or other categories, there are a lot of people simulating sexual activity. Things that if a child walked by, you could much more easily understand what was going on.

We even went so far as to take out the words "sex," "sexual," "sexuality" and "arousal" when we were selling a sexual arousal product and we still didn't get approved. So even when we created a commercial that, by the way, if anyone had seen it, they would have no idea what the product was, we still couldn't get that approved.

We had competitors . . . there were other products in the market at that time for female satisfaction, that were owned by big companies. Somehow, miraculously, they were able to get their ads on TV. So there not only were different standards between male and female products, but there were differing standards between large and small companies.

So the article ran the second week in September of 2010. The next day, the product was on "The View" and "Good Morning America." The following week, Mary and I had our television debut and we were interviewed by Ashleigh Banfield on "Nightline."

I'll never forget, I loved the lead-in, the headline. It was talking about the category, "Is It Sexy or Sexist?" That really just exploded online, in every major newspaper. I think we were even one of the top ten trending words for a day or so after that happened, in "Huffington Post" . . . anywhere you would want to be, we were. We were creating this conversation.

It turned out over the course of the business, that that PR turned out to be the best tool that we had available. The difference between PR and advertising, is PR, you can't plan. You can't always determine when your story is going to hit. Whereas if you buy advertising, you can either buy for a particular day part, for a time of day on a particular station. Or you can actually buy the 10:30 spot on ABC every Thursday.

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