Reputation management company finds right vibe in Lancaster

Peter Kistler is a co-founder of BrandYourself, an online reputation management company, which opened an office in Lancaster in 2016. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

The list was short. But the need was clear for BrandYourself.com, a reputation management company that was born in 2010 in Syracuse, N.Y.

The company had a shop in Manhattan. But executives began searching for a second office to stretch out.

Executives knew what they were looking for: availability of a qualified workforce; ‘vibe’ of the city; and an ability to move the business into a workspace fairly quickly. They explored cities and towns in Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Lancaster was not on the list — at first. But once it was, the Red Rose city rose to the top, especially after civic, business and education leaders joined in to pitch the city as an ideal location for BrandYourself.

“We had a good feeling about Lancaster,” said company CEO Patrick Ambron, a company co-founder, adding: “The community was so willing to work and bring new companies in.”

Lancaster City Alliance “essentially rolled out the red carpet for us,” noted Alec Galanti, BrandYourself’s director of finance and analytics. “They made every visit almost ideal and perfect.”

Financial incentives also played a role. Cities in nearby states dangled them, and so did the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Department of Community and Economic Development eventually assembled a funding package that included $245,000 in grants and $300,000 in tax credits, most of which will be distributed as new jobs are created.

“We’re very fortunate that BrandYourself chose Pennsylvania,” said Sheri Collins, a deputy secretary in the Office of Technology & Innovation, a division of DCED.

But, she said, the move is part of a broader trend.

“There is a shift in companies like BrandYourself that are starting to look at places like Lancaster or Harrisburg,” said Collins, adding that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia also have seen growth.

Settling in

So far, the company’s new zip code, 17602, is working rather well. BrandYourself opened at 53 W. James St. in April. It has hired more than 25 people and expects to hire more by the end of the year. It plans to bring a total of 100 new jobs to Lancaster in three years.

“There are a lot of advantages of being in an area with a lower cost of living while still having a higher quality of life,” Ambron said. “If you plan for all of this, the advantages outweigh some of the disadvantages.”

For example, he explained, some say the “top, top, top talent in different areas” and big investors are more accessible in California or New York.

But with more than a half dozen colleges and universities in and around Lancaster, Ambron said there is talent here. Graduates and experienced professionals know Lancaster offers a high quality of life that allows their dollars to stretch further than they would in larger cities where it costs more to live.

What BrandYourself does

BrandYourself has developed tools that people can use to manage their reputations online, whether they are college students or corporate titans. The company’s do-it-yourself tools can scan the web for divorce records, social media posts and other information. BrandYourself also can handle reputation management for clients, building, managing and updating their online presence.

“If you offer them a really exciting job, you are able to retain them. When it comes to investors, if you have good talent, a good company and your overhead is low, you can find investors as well,” said Ambron, who rejected an investor’s $2 million offer during an appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” “If you are very strategic, building a company in a place like this has a ton more advantages, if you do it right.”

When the “Shark Tank” episode aired a year ago, it seemed the investor was valuing the company at $10 million. BrandYourself doesn’t disclose its numbers but Ambron said the company today is “significantly more valuable than that.”

Bob Shoemaker, a project manager for Lancaster City Alliance, is impressed by the millennials leading this start-up.

“BrandYourself is so, so intentional. This is not elementary by any stretch. It’s relatively sophisticated,” he said.

Shoemaker credits many in the Lancaster community for helping to land the new business.

“Some of the cities they were looking at had some pretty intoxicating financial enticements,” he said. “That’s where, I think, we get back to the basics. It was just a good honest effort in assembling the right people, and quickly.”

The alliance arranged a reception, tours of downtown and meetings with college and university officials during a two-day visit by BrandYourself executives in October 2015. Company employees met Realtors, workforce development officials and professional recruiters.

The interactions gave Ambron and his team a jump on accessing a pool of talented graduates and professionals. Still, the company is challenged because it is new to the area.

“If we’re hiring very quickly for a variety of positions, we’re starting from zero, as opposed to a place where you’ve spent years building a network,” Ambron said.

Executives say they are comfortable and confident about the connections they’ve made already. As an online business, the company’s customers are all over the world.

“Most of our efforts are to make sure we have a strong presence, so we are a valued part of the community, and we can build a long-lasting team,” Ambron said. “It’s more about building the company here than it is about acquiring customers.”

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