This month’s strategic partner spotlight is Hottinger PR and founder Molly Hottinger. After two successful decades in the corporate world, Molly started her own entrepreneurial journey in 2018.
Her experience encompasses leading a diversified public company’s corporate communications and entrepreneurship in the fast-paced external agency environment. Her focus has covered market-leading companies in the public and private sector from startups to Fortune 500 companies.
We sat down with Molly to discuss her entrepreneurial journey and what makes a business looking to sell more enticing to potential buyers.
Hi Molly, first tell me a bit about your earliest experience in business and what led you to form your company, Hottinger PR.
Thanks Joe. I always say that my career began when I was young, learning about business from my parents. Although I’ve been living in Fort Lauderdale for 25 years, my Hoosier roots make me proud. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic that has guided me throughout my professional journey.
My parents both worked in factories when I was young. My Dad worked at Harvester, a vehicle manufacturer. When his division was relocated to another state in the late 1970s, he began a 20-year career as a rural letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. I admire the grit my Dad had with more than 500 stops per day in all types of weather. My parents always had side hustles which gave me insights on many different businesses, including a commercial and residential painting business, which is how I first learned about entrepreneurship.
I jumped into retail when I was 15 at a popular women’s shoe store. I developed sales techniques and would often outsell the manager. After that, I worked for GTE (GTE and Bell Atlantic merged in 2000 to become Verizon) conducting customer surveys. Speaking to people all over the U.S. fascinated me, and I excelled at customer engagement. At 17, I met an entrepreneur from Chicago and was hired to do sales and eventually managed the sales office while attending high school. This early introduction to business wasn’t glamorous, but it inspired my understanding of the value of excellent customer service.
In 1999, I began working for a South Florida-based maritime transportation company. In 2005, I accepted a position to head up the corporate communications and investor relations department. This role followed a billion-dollar merger between my employer, Seabulk International, and SEACOR Holdings Inc. The merged company had six business units, including helicopters, offshore marine vessels, tankers, barges for dry goods transportation on the Mississippi River System, and harbor towing vessels in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
Shortly before the merger, we had acquired two helicopter companies, forming our aviation services business unit. Within a decade, Bristow (NYSE: VTOL) became an industry leader. Today, the company is the world’s leading provider of helicopter transportation to energy customers, search and rescue (SAR) and aircraft support solutions to government and civil organizations.
Founding Hottinger PR in 2018 allowed me to bring my experience and skills to the entrepreneurial community. I’ve always had a passion for working with small business owners.
I approach assignments with a mindset of educating my client and amplifying their success, while learning something new. Back in 2005, I faced the challenge of supporting a vast portfolio of companies with limited resources. This experience taught me valuable lessons in cost-efficiency and high-level productivity, as I strived to meet and exceed the demands of the businesses and management teams that I was assisting.
A core part of SEACOR’s strategy for growth was through acquisitions. In your opinion, what made a company appealing to SEACOR from an acquisition standpoint?
A key element of SEACOR’s growth strategy involved pursuing acquisitions. SEACOR consistently demonstrated exceptional financial and operational management, effectively stewarding capital and maintaining a strong balance sheet. This track record of success often attracted institutional investors, as they were curious about the company’s next investment moves.
In addition to financial prudence, SEACOR always possessed a remarkable vision for acquiring businesses that complemented its existing lines of operation. The company consistently sought out niche enterprises that enhanced operational safety, performance, and customer satisfaction, setting it apart from its pure-play competitors. This disciplined strategic approach of purchasing well managed, growing profitable businesses that filled gaps in the company’s operating portfolio or helped them enter into adjacent markets contributed to SEACOR’s success.
Our diversified asset portfolio appealed to our risk-averse investors. During our 2005 merger, when this incredible “Buffet-esque” story was unfolding in front of me, I knew that it would have a huge impact on my career as a communications professional. Embracing the opportunity, I took the proverbial bull by the horns and held on for a wild ride. I am fortunate to now be able to share these valuable lessons with the business owners we serve.
The most appealing acquisition targets for SEACOR, as for most strategic buyers, were those that had a combination of strategic alignment, strong financial performance, a solid market position, valuable intellectual property, and a capable management team. SEACOR possessed all of these qualities in abundance, and they wanted to acquire companies that were a good fit.
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An important part of the exit planning process is developing a good public relations story to show potential buyers the value of your business in the market. In your experience, what are some common mistakes that businesses make with their PR?
Developing an effective public relations strategy is a crucial component of the exit planning process. It enables potential buyers to recognize the value of your business in the eyes of the market. An important element of developing an effective Public Relations strategy is what not to do as much as with what to do. Here are six ways to avoid some common mistakes:
- Don’t neglect public relations: Some companies, overwhelmed by the multitude of communication platforms available, may not know where to start and thus disregard public relations altogether. It is essential to understand the various types of PR and not underestimate its potential positive impact on your business.
- Engage with a PR agency that asks the right questions: Being a good listener is crucial to being successful in PR. Asking the right questions saves time and enables the development of strategic initiatives that align with the client’s goals. Part of my role as a PR professional is to educate clients about the different aspects of PR and how they relate to their objectives and the broader scope of marketing and business development.
- Understand the value of a strong brand and market position: A company with a solid market position, well-established brand, and loyal customer base becomes an attractive acquisition target. Acquirers see the potential for expanding market share and gaining a competitive advantage through such a business.
- Understand the role of content: Content plays a pivotal role in establishing an active brand voice, building brand awareness, and educating the market. By participating in and creating industry narratives, companies position themselves as subject matter experts. Content also conveys momentum, showcasing continuous improvement and innovation.
- Align goals with core values: It’s not enough to talk about your core values; you must demonstrate to your audiences that you live those core values to differentiate your brand in an authentic way. Sharing this content with audiences helps position the company favorably and, in the process, managed content can help customers find your company through search engine queries.
- Don’t fail to prepare: During an 1854 lecture at the University of Lille, French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur said, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” Companies that invest in a strategic PR program, including a Crisis Media Plan, understand the value of preparation and building the necessary tools for success. Being prepared can protect the company from harm and make opportunities more visible.
By implementing these effective PR strategies, companies can effectively communicate their value to potential buyers and enhance their prospects during the exit planning process.
You often hear about the importance of automation and best practices for businesses looking to make their business more enticing to buyers. What are some tips you have for a business to use these improvements from a PR perspective?
According Peter Diamandis, an entrepreneur and futurist known for his optimistic views on the pace of technological advancement and its potential to reshape various industries in the next decade, we’ll experience more progress than in the past 100 years combined, as technology reshapes health and materials sciences, energy, transportation, and a wide range of other industries and domains.
Adopting a mindset of constant improvement sets a course for better business practices and adaptability. Throughout my career, I have leveraged data to enhance operational efficiencies and gain valuable insights. A practical example of this was the development of a customized recruiting portal for a maritime transportation company. By automating human resources tasks and utilizing data analysis, we were able to digitize the recruitment process, identify the most qualified candidates ahead of competitors, and free up staff to work on other tasks.
My team also designed a digital survey system to solicit feedback from administrative employees, pilots and Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) who were responsible for the safe operation of over 185 helicopters. This system eventually led to enhancements in communications, safety, operations, and customer service. The data collected through these electronic surveys also provided managers with valuable metrics for future performance measurement. By implementing anonymous surveys, companies can gain insightful perspectives, foster innovative thinking, and cultivate a team culture aligned with core values.
Data automation not only improves accuracy, efficiency, operational insights, and compliance but it also enables companies to adopt best practices that make them more appealing to potential buyers. This, in turn, enhances valuation and increases the likelihood of successful acquisitions or mergers. The emergence of AI has certainly been top of mind for many companies. Although fascinating, we should use a disciplined approach to its application and not lose sight of the value of human collaboration and the critical thinking processes that inspire innovation and inform responsible decision-making in business.
Akron-based Drips is one example of how AI is being applied with this approach by some of the nation’s largest enterprises to personalize its communications with consumers. Working with this company took me back to my early job at GTE. Instead of reaching a few people on the phone when it may not have been convenient, enterprises can reach millions simultaneously, and on the consumer’s terms, when they want to interact with the enterprise.
Implementing a strategic PR plan plays a crucial role in positioning a company as an innovative, efficient and responsible business committed to data-driven decision-making and best practices. This helps enhance the company’s public image and attractiveness to potential buyers.
Using an exclusive algorithm, developed by analyzing more than 40,000 business owners and conducting more than 200 in-depth interviews with owners who have recently sold, PREScore™ calculates an owner’s exit planning readiness by identifying their status on each of the 4 drivers of a satisfying exit.
When it comes to PR work, what makes you most excited when working with a company?
As a lifetime learner, I’ve always enjoyed the diversity of projects that I have been part of, including the many aspects of PR. I’ve often said that working in the communications field is like living inside a kaleidoscope. For me, it is not merely about completing a project; it’s about creating value by fostering business growth and forging enduring partnerships along the way. Whether I am assisting with the launch of a new product or crafting a compelling pitch for the media, my ultimate goal is to amplify my clients’ success— and to have fun in the process.
I enjoy working with companies that invest in their people. A company’s story is not just about products and services; it’s about the innovative people that bring them to life. It’s about why there is a strong commitment to be the best at what they do. It’s about resilience. It’s also about the positive impact they have in the communities where they do business. These stories play a pivotal role in establishing recognized and respected brands. People are the heart of an operation, even in asset-intensive businesses.
I also enjoy working alongside companies that invest in environmental sustainability. When I was growing up in Indiana, I made a pivotal decision in the third grade to live by the ocean. South Florida, where I live, attracts individuals from all over the world in their pursuit to play hard, work hard, raise their families, and build businesses. Spending time on South Florida’s beaches make it clear just how crucial it is to engage in environmental preservation efforts. Not only does it have immense importance for the economy of our coastal communities, it also fosters our connection with the natural world and ensures that future generations can enjoy it.
For the past decade, I’ve been a proud member of the Dean’s Development Committee at NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and the Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center. During this time, I’ve witnessed groundbreaking scientific discoveries and leading edge research conducted by recognized marine experts, directly impacting global ocean conservation efforts. These findings have been instrumental in addressing ocean conservation issues that impact everyone on the planet. The Halmos College cross-disciplinary curriculum equips future leaders with vital skills to tackle real-world challenges. The college is a vibrant hub for education, scientific knowledge, and research that is crucial for setting a course toward a sustainable future for our oceans.
What should companies that are looking to leverage PR as part of their exit strategy look for when deciding on a PR company to partner with?
When considering a PR company to partner with as part of their exit strategy, companies should prioritize several key factors. First and foremost, a PR company should demonstrate a strong emphasis on a commitment to the organization’s goals and accountability throughout the creative process.
It is important to find a PR company that is willing to invest the necessary time to truly understand your company’s unique challenges, as well as your short and long-term business goals. By listening attentively, they can tailor strategies and approaches to align with your specific needs.
An ideal PR partner will have a comprehensive understanding of various areas within public relations and digital marketing. They should be capable of recommending the most suitable tactics and channels to effectively communicate your key messages to relevant stakeholders during each phase of the exit planning process.
Finally, where can people find you and work with you?
Are you looking to sell your business within the next 6 to 12 months?
Buying a business is a long, in-depth, detailed process. This is why it’s important to work with a trusted exit planner.
We are NOT business brokers or investment bankers. We are a group of entrepreneurs who have successfully built and sold our own businesses. We recognize that one size does not fit all. Each of our business were unique, were in different industries, and sold in different economic conditions. Each had its own success and imperfections as well as reasons for selling.
That is why we start with a free, no-obligation consultation. We work with you to determine your exit planning goals and make them achievable. We also believe you should pay for what you need and what you will use. This is why we have aligned our service offering and fee structures to match that philosophy.