PR from Walker Sands Paves the Way for a $115 Million Sale to Paychex
SurePayroll provides online payroll services to small and medium sized businesses. Powered in no small part by Walker Sands public relations and marketing assistance, the company quickly grew from a startup to a mature and successful payroll industry leader. In 2011, having grown to the point where they had over 35,000 small business customers and were processing an impressive $12 billion in payroll payments annually, SurePayroll was acquired by public company Paychex (PAYX), for $115 million.
The relationship started at a breakfast in which SurePayroll executive Michael Alter laid out the key challenges SurePayroll was facing.
SurePayroll was the first company to offer an online payroll service that had been designed exclusively to meet the needs of small businesses, yet small business owners were skeptical of trying something new. Their owners preferred to play it safe and outsource payroll to a well-known company, like ADP and Paychex, even if it meant paying more for an inferior service. There were many small businesses that were processing payroll in-house, without any help from a payroll outsourcing company. Both groups needed to understand the value SurePayroll could bring to their businesses.
With backing from his venture capitalists, Alter had created a strong sales engine to grow the business and had secured a useful partnership with Wells Fargo. But, growth was slower than desired as outbound calls to small businesses met up against the objection that so often stunts market traction for high-potential tech companies. Moreover, inbound calls to the sales force were few and far between.
Alter challenged Walker Sands help establish SurePayroll’s online payroll solution as a credible and well-regarded alternative for payroll processing. Their goal was to be thought in line with the other major players such as ADP and Paychex.
Every good solution starts with fully understanding the problem at hand. Our team took a deep dive into the payroll industry, the small business market, and SurePayroll’s operations. We were given a front row seat at SurePayroll’s weekly management team meetings, we talked to sales reps at length, and interviewed prospects and customers. To a certain extent, we got to know the company and the industry as well as anyone on SurePayroll’s staff, and we were quickly viewed as a trusted partner to the company.
After our understanding of the company’s goals, objectives and direction, the first initiative was reaching out to relevant media outlets and publications to start spreading the word. Our team worked closely with SurePayroll to come up with a list of targets in specific publications that were read by small business owners.Variations on a bylined article by Michael Alter entitled “Not Your Father’s Payroll Service” ran in dozens of publications. The phones lit up, and new customers were acquired. From that initial joint win, Walker Sands and SurePayroll subsequently partnered together on numerous marketing and PR initiatives over the course of many years as part of our monthly retainer arrangement. On the PR front, the novelty of the idea of simple online payroll processing allowed us to generate media placements in national outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur.
Two years after the first meeting, we furthered our PR partnership by developing a data-driven PR campaign -- using SurePayroll’s data regarding small business payrolls to come up with economic statistics that would be of interest to business reporters. We started with a statistic that indicates whether small businesses were becoming more reliant on independent contractors to garner many high-profile stories. This lead to the creation of a full-blown set of economic indices, branded as the SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, a report published monthly just prior to the release of the government’s job and employment statistics. The success of these efforts was in turn created a PR program with guaranteed placements every month.
The brand visibility created by the Scorecard, coupled with other strategic moves by Walker Sands and Alter’s team, allowed SurePayroll to gain the same consideration as ADP and Paychex, a main goal from the beginning. Once they were in the mix, SurePayroll was able to win the business, they eventually landed on the Inc 500 list of successful fast-growth companies and stayed there for multiple years.
The results of our partnership with SurePayroll speak for themselves. With $17 million in venture capital, a strong founding team, and a great concept, there was still no guarantee of success for this ambitious venture.
While the idiom “success has many fathers” comes to mind whenever a company hits it big, the founders of SurePayroll and other key stakeholders fully acknowledge the important role that Walker Sands played in its eventual $115 Million sales to Paychex.
"Walker Sands was an important resource for SurePayroll and we can credit much of our strong growth to their talent, passion, and dedication."
Our team takes great pride in knowing that we helped SurePayroll get to its tipping point and were a large driver of their ultimate success. It’s the kind of ride we live for, and it’s part of our entrepreneurial ethic in which we work each and every day as if our success was tied to and exclusively linked to the success of our clients.
A chance encounter between Gary Swartwood, a former SurePayroll sales rep, and one of our Walker Sands team members says it all. Gary said, “Whenever we saw you guys show up, the sales guys and I would literally give each other high fives. We knew that whatever you were up to on the marketing front, it meant that the phones would soon be ringing and that good sales leads would soon be coming in. We definitely couldn’t have done what we did [at SurePayroll] without you.”