SAN FRANCISCO: Pramana Collective cofounder and Silicon Valley comms veteran Sean Garrett has launched Mixing Board, a communications consultancy that offers clients senior talent on an ad hoc basis rather than relying on a stable of PR staff.
Mixing Board is “an expertise and mentorship collective,” Garrett explained. “It’s a community of senior-level, experienced brand and comms folks.”
When brands, or even other agencies, have a specific communications need, Garrett said the new shop will curate a list of potential advisers from the 60-plus pros who have signed up to be Mixing Board members.
“Members provide support through a combination of consultations, workshops, group insights, mentorship and help in making hires and building teams,” according to Garrett’s pitch deck.
Garrett declined to provide a full list of those members. However, a Mixing Board blog post announcing the launch of the company included executives such as Ashley Mayer, head of comms for beauty brand Glossier; Tony Weisman, former CMO of Dunkin' Brands; Alexandra Dimiziani, former global marketing director for Airbnb; Colin Crowell, former VP of global public policy and philanthropy at Twitter; Cody Keenan, Fenway Strategies partner and former director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama; and Laura Anderson, former CCO at Intel.
Mixing Board has two other employees: Alex Mileyeva, who manages operations and business strategy, and Maggie Shapiro, who runs member and client relations. Fellow Pramana founder Brian O'Shaughnessy is also involved on an advisory basis.
The company has three basic offerings, according to the deck: expertise, mentorship and recruiting. Under the expertise offering, Mixing Board members will provide one-on-one consultations, quick insights via surveys and online groups and workshops.
Via the mentorship service, Mixing Board’s team will offer advice focused on career counseling and professional development. Finally, clients accessing the recruiting offering will receive help with defining roles and developing a recruiting strategy, getting recommendations on recruiting specific candidates and helping with onboarding.
The Mixing Board concept began to coalesce before the pandemic hit, Garrett said, after it became obvious for two main reasons that the Pramana concept had run its course. The first, an insider said, was personal tragedy: at least one individual at the agency lost a father, another their uncle.
“What happened was a series of things that I wouldn't wish on anybody,” a person familiar with the situation told PRWeek. “A number of people on the staff had deaths in the family. There were people on our team that lost their parents, and I think a lot of that, particularly when you're a smaller, family sort of organization, tends to drain energy.”
Garrett declined to discuss the non-business aspects of what was, in essence, Pramana's final year, except to say that 2019 “was a weird year for us. There was a lot of personal stuff.”
The second and more important reason for the agency's demise, Garrett said, was that the Pramana concept, which he, O'Shaughnessy and Brandee Barker, who left in 2019, launched in 2013, had reached its creative limits.
“There's a quote I read that basically just talks about how great creative agencies, they have this seven-year life of blossoming creativity and expansion,” Garrett said. “After that, they kind of start playing off what they've done before.”
Towards the end of 2019, Garrett said he began to realize that Pramana had reached that seven-year limit, and that any future growth would be iterative rather than transformative.
“At any point in the agency when you're seven years in, it's really hard to take great leaps,” he explained. “We could have done things. We could have sold it. We could have turned it down, turned it up, but, but no matter what, it's still living in shades of iteration.”
The Pramana story, Garrett emphasized, should be about ideas and opportunity, not about personal tragedy. “The truth is if we had really wanted to power through it, we could have,” he said. “We all just saw different opportunities at that point.”
The end came just before the start of the pandemic, he explained, when employees learned the agency was winding down and began consulting or searching for other jobs.
“It was not a single day, but it was more a decision that was near the end of 2019 going into the beginning of 2020,” he explained. “The communication and what we talked about was basically that this is going to evolve. How we've done this in the past is not how we're going to do it in the future, and we were super-supportive [about] whatever people wanted to do.”
Though Pramana still technically exists, it is not operating as a normal consultancy or comms agency.
“Pramana still exists because we want it to still exist in the sense that it still has value to both [Garrett] and I,” O'Shaughnessy said. “We still get inbound for that service, which either he or I do, as the stuff comes in over the transom. But the primary focus for him is Mixing Board.”
“Pramana is a cool brand,” Garrett said. “There are things attached to it and a lot of tech and experience that we may end up leveraging in the future.”
Mixing Board started generating business even before its website went live, Garrett said.
“We have a couple of clients right now,” he said. “Early on, you know, it's going to be taking things on a case-by-case basis, seeing what people want.”