Why does the world need Lioness?

Lioness believes that stories of the good and the hopeful can inspire and move us to keep working toward the kind of society and people we know we can be.

Stories that tell truths otherwise muzzled by power are the essential stories of a democracy. These truths are what allow a society to course correct and clean up injustices. Lioness’s goal is to give these essential truth-to-power stories a clear pathway to finding the light of day.

How is Lioness funded?

Lioness is currently self-funded via a PR and marketing consulting arm that brings publicity to three types of clients: female founders, organizations and companies with a proven social impact element, and companies run by people who aren’t assholes. We interview the people behind a company before deciding if to take them on as a client, looking at how they treat their employees, why they founded the business, and what they’re solving for. Many of our clients are not backed by insane amounts of capital, and they are either actively changing power structures or upending the status quo as we know it.

If you are interested in working with us in this capacity, check out our Strategies page.

Why does Lioness prioritize the democratization of storytelling?

Storytelling is a mechanism to propel hope. It is also a lever of power - perhaps one of the only levers of power for people who can’t otherwise access the power that money or privilege affords. The court of public opinion has unleashed social movements that have changed the way we treat each other. An effective story can change culture or inspire legal action. Investigative journalism can dethrone powerful monopolies or executives engaged in foul play. Thoughtful, nuanced analysis can stall problematic IPOs or call out an unjust product or business decision. One story about healthcare, bankruptcy, pregnancy or infrastructure could spark local or federal legislation. Positive profiles about companies and people can connect them to millions of consumers, partners, policymakers, or investors. Most everyday people don’t really have a clear idea of how to access the media if they need to or want to share an important story. They can contact journalists, but journalists are inundated with PR pitches and tips that are never responded to, because journalists simply don’t have the time to filter through it all. While we can’t open the floodgates and ensure that everyone has access to the New York Times or The Atlantic, we can certainly encourage more people to share stories or perspectives journalists wouldn’t have found otherwise, and facilitate relationships that can move mountains. Imagine if people who had experienced discriminatory customer service or uncovered serious workplace abuses were able to bring those problems to the media after encountering only deaf ears through the more traditional avenues. When a story meets the world, things can change in a heartbeat. Suddenly, a CEO of a company is on the phone making things right, or a board of directors is ousting an embattled CEO. The power of a story is unlimited when given the right audience.

How do news organizations find their sources today?

Today, most journalists find sources either by going to a small set of trusted sources (CEOs, investors, persons “in-the-know”), top-tier PR agencies, or taking to Twitter and asking people with knowledge of something to DM them. If it’s sensitive, journalists will share their Signal and ProtonMail information and ask people to reach them there. In many cases, Twitter has become the main way for reporters to solicit information or sources. But a lot of people around the country are not on Twitter - so if journalists are only trying there, they are missing the chance to reach sources that may have information that is very important to their research. Additionally, powerful people and corporations who have a lot of money to spend on well-connected PR firms use this influence to dominate conversations and bombard the media with their point of view, their data, and their spin. Or, if they have huge reach, they can spark conversations that lead to change that otherwise would not have come about via reaching out to your employer’s HR department or a customer service team. (What comes to mind here is BaseCamp CEO David Heinemeier Hansson’s viral tweet-thread about the Apple Card’s potentially sexist underwriting process via Goldman Sachs, which led to millions of people talking about it, follow-up press, a government investigation into the underwriting, and Goldman Sachs and regulators exploring investigating underwriting practices). Everyday people and smaller companies don’t have that privilege, therefore their voices and perspectives are not heard or reported on. We want to champion the everyday person’s perspective. We want to amplify voices currently left unheard.

Are you only focused on truth-to-power stories? If so, why?

We are not solely focused on truth-to-power stories, but we encourage this type of story-sharing, because a truth-to-power story that needs to be told can make waves and create momentum on important issues, thanks to the people brave enough to speak out. What other stories are we looking for? Stories about persistent human problems and patterns, stories about people defying the odds to succeed, stories about unsung and underrepresented founders, products, and ideas that don’t have a lot of capital backing them. We’re also always looking for experts to shed light -- let’s get more epidemiologists and scientists talking about coronavirus, not celebrities or venture capitalists. Professors, think tanks, non-profits, researchers are some of our favorite people.

How do you vet stories?

People can have an experience that is so upsetting they want to shout it from the rooftops. That doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy, though. In deciding how to proceed with a story, we first want to understand: is this story indicative of a pattern or trend? Is it part of a larger story? Does it share an experience or claim that can be corroborated? When we follow up with the story-giver, is their description of their story nuanced, or very black-and-white? The burden is ultimately on the journalist to do the vetting - but seeing as we want to remain a source that journalists will trust, we hold ourselves to a high bar for story- and source-gathering as well. Part of our value proposition to journalists is that we will only refer information, stories, and expertise that have been vetted and are worth exploring within a certain news climate. Not everyone will take a story.

How do you deal with situations where people are violating NDAs in order to tell their stories?

Lioness will never ask someone to violate an NDA. In handling sensitive stories we provide factual explanations about the risks that are involved, and offer referrals to employment lawyers or other relevant attorneys in New York, Washington, and California. These attorneys provide a free half-hour consultation and quick explanation of the law to the source. If the story is a trend piece - for instance, if there are several employees willing to speak up about a workplace situation - we work with the source to help set up the conversation terms with the reporter. By ensuring the conversation is on background or off-the-record when desirable, and encouraging sources to share information that is not personal to them but could be an observation made by anyone, people’s identities can be protected. Some people have expressed bravery and willingness to violate their NDAs, even knowing the consequences. The founder of Lioness violated her own NDA in sharing a story about a work environment that she believed was discriminatory. Her calculus? Her story was about a discriminatory work environment that later was revealed to be one story in a larger pattern at the company. While knowing she was at risk, she figured that if that company was willing to sue her, she would immediately publicize it and start a GoFundMe page. With the experiences of many such whistleblowers as our clients, Lioness is in a unique position to navigate the territory that comes with shining a light on wrongs. All that said, every story someone shares with Lioness is considered 100% off-the-record unless someone specifies they want it to be made public.

Why doesn’t the average person contact journalists or the media?

There are a lot of misconceptions about speaking with the media, and about the media in general. Some people are concerned about backlash and therefore afraid to have a conversation with a journalist, unaware that they can ensure initial conversations are off-the-record (information cannot be used) or on background (information can be used but the person cannot be quoted). This provides some layer of protection, while also making it possible for information to get to journalists. Some people are able get in touch with the media via sharing a tip, and journalists might recognize their story as valuable - but the journalist might be too swamped to follow up or report on their specific personal stories. It can also be difficult to find the right journalist for a specific story. To have an intermediary who is trusted by a journalist referring relevant and vetted sources/stories to the journalists who do have bandwidth and interest in a specific topic is something that doesn’t exist today. Other times, tips fall through the cracks. Christine Blasey Ford’s tip to the Washington Post about Brett Kavanaugh was’t followed up on by reporters at the newspaper for quite some time - and that story ended up being one of the biggest stories of 2018.

Do people really want to share their stories with journalists?

Not everyone; plenty of people want their privacy or might be mistrustful of the media. But we are assuming that the people who submit their stories feel passionate about sharing them. For those who don’t want to share stories, but still want to get involved with Lioness - we are creating a podcast and newsletter for people to follow along and engage in the different movements our stories give rise to.

How do you work with journalists? How do you decide which journalist to refer a story to?

It is a fairly manual process, one that we don’t want to see automated. Once people submit their information, we have a follow-up conversation to get more information and understand who the person is via their preferred method of communication. If something about their narrative or information doesn’t add up, we won’t be able to move their story along. We also may not be able to move them along if their story or tip doesn’t fit into a current news cycle or trend, or if we try several journalists and there is no interest in the story at this time. If someone has designated their narrative as extremely sensitive, we bring them to our Signal and ProtonMail contacts immediately. The same information as above applies to the sources who share sensitive information; unfortunately we won’t be able to follow up with everything.

Who are your journalist partners?

We work with journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Re/Code, Vox, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, VICE, Quartz, The Information, and Fortune Magazine. These are not “formal” partnerships, but trusted relationships that the founder has built with journalists over the years. We are adding publications all the time as we expand.