HQ Trivia's comms head, with the quiz app since #SweetgreenGate, exits

Kristen Alsterklint reflects on how HQ became a cultural phenomenon.

NEW YORK: Flock Comms principal and founder Kristen Alsterklint, who has been leading HQ Trivia’s communications as a consultant since November, is wrapping up her work with the live quiz app this week.

Alsterklint was brought on to help HQ navigate its response to a Daily Beast story in which HQ CEO and cofounder Rus Yusupov threatened to fire star host Scott Rogowsky for talking to the media outlet about salad.

Alsterklint explained that she initially met HQ founders Yusupov and Colin Kroll during her time as a partner at the Pramana Collective. HQ hired Pramana to launch HQ Trivia’s predecessor, Hype, in October 2016.

Coincidentally, Alsterklint was scheduled to reconnect with the founders on November 21, 2017, to chat about HQ, which had launched in August. However, the meeting never happened because it was the same day the Daily Beast story was published.

"Instead, I jumped in head first to help the company navigate its way through a snafu I now fondly refer to as, #SweetgreenGate," she said. "In hindsight, our ‘kick-off’ was apropos of everything that followed."

Hiltzik Strategies recently started supporting HQ’s PR efforts, according to a person familiar with the matter. Representatives from HQ and Hiltzik Strategies declined to comment.

Alsterklint said she began working with HQ Trivia to refine the company’s narrative, develop a strategy for delivering it to specific audiences, and advise on proactive and reactive press opportunities.

"I initially attempted to map out a rough PR plan for the coming months, but before I could review it with the founders, Good Morning America reached out and I quickly switched gears to prepare [Rogowsky]," Alsterklint said. "That became the common theme with this engagement: remain nimble and quick on your toes, and learn to build processes around the inevitable chaos versus trying to control the chaos itself."

The Daily Beast article, followed by Rogowsky’s Good Morning America appearance a week later, ignited the press cycle, said Alsterklint. Prior to the Daily Beast article, HQ had intentionally flown under the radar, receiving 31 press hits organically, starting with an October 17 article in TechCrunch. As of Tuesday, HQ has received 538 pieces of unique coverage at an average of 3.2 articles per day since the company’s first hit.

"There was no time to write a plan down on paper, or even to run opportunities by the team, I just had to go with my gut, call the shots, and introduce mini-strategies along the way," said Alsterklint.

Asked about the timing of her departure from HQ, Alsterklint said it’s the right time for everyone "to take a moment to catch their breath, and for the HQ team to continue to focus their efforts on all of the other elements that go into building the future of TV."

Alsterklint said she wants to focus her attention on better defining her own communications consultancy, Flock Comms. She launched the shop last April.

"With Flock, I see an opportunity to offer a fresh, holistic approach to communications, one that redefines traditional PR," she said.

Alsterklint said no one expected HQ to become a cultural phenomenon. The app broke its record of concurrent players on March 28 with 2.38 million playing the quiz live. The biggest communications lessons she took away from working with the app is going with her gut instincts.

"It’s easy to fall back on tried-and-true strategies that have served you well in the past, but when you’re tossed into a new, unfamiliar world, those rules don’t always apply, and there’s something to be said for going with your gut," she said.

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