Client spotlight:
Rancher Labs Achieves
Top-3 Market Status Alongside VMware and IBM, with help from Waters Agency.

Founded in 2014, Rancher Labs is the creator of Rancher, the world’s most widely used Kubernetes management platform. Rancher is 100% open source and provides a unified, intuitive platform for IT operations teams and developers using containers and Kubernetes. Completely technology agnostic, it works in any compute environment, whether on-premise, in the cloud or at the network’s edge.

Over the years, Rancher has become a natural choice for enterprises looking to become more cloud-native and microservices-centric. Rancher is the only option that provides support for complex, multi-cluster environments. It’s also the only product that enables infrastructure teams to deliver Kubernetes-as-a-Service across any infrastructure.

In 2016, thousands of teams around the world were using Rancher’s platform, but when the company’s CMO, Peter Smails came on-board, he wanted to elevate Rancher’s visibility as a credible solution for the enterprise. He enlisted the help of Waters Agency in late 2019, and today, Rancher Labs is regarded as one of the top three players in its market segment, alongside tech giants IBM and VMware.

We recently spoke with Peter about the brand’s PR success, and what it took to get there.

Q. Why were you looking for a PR agency?


We’d been working with our incumbent agency for a number of years, but we were changing as a business, shifting from positioning our platform as a suite of developer tools to a credible enterprise solution. Any agency we selected would need to understand the space, and have a solid understanding of the core pain points and factors that influence developers and IT operations teams. I’d worked with Declan Waters for a number of years, and he had a solid track record of increasing awareness for startup brands. Additionally, his agency has global reach, which would enable us to scale our efforts across the U.S. and Europe.

Q. What services does Waters Agency provide?


We started off with a classic PR program, focused predominantly on the U.S. market. The engagement entailed media and analyst relations, and an in-depth thought leadership program. We focused on product, innovation and customer news opportunities. But, more importantly, we needed to start talking about the issues that businesses are facing, not just the technologies that they use.

Our goal was to move away from product-centric messaging and discuss topics that would resonate with business leaders, such as the cost of cloud computing or the need for containers to enable digital transformation. 2020 is a crucial year for us, so we had to get the approach right.

The team at Waters brainstormed and developed stories around the differences between developer-focused companies such as Rancher and our competitors, and they provided essential guidance and direction for how to elevate our brand. We also rolled out an intensive analyst relations to broaden the perception about Rancher Labs and position us among the two giants, IBM and VMware.

Q. What results have you seen?


Waters Agency has exceeded our expectations in every way. The work we’re doing with them is helping us to establish our reputation within Gartner, and we’re starting to drive attention from top-tier journals such as Forbes and Diginomica. In fact, it’s rare to see an article about Kubernetes that doesn't mention us now.

Most notably, within the first couple of months working with Waters, we started seeing Rancher Labs being mentioned in the same articles IBM and VMware, often in the same sentence. The fact that we’re being included in tier-one publications alongside the three market leaders is testimony to the creativity and persuasiveness of the Waters team, and the relationships they have with key members of the media.

Q. What sets Waters Agency apart from other PR agencies?


Our competitors are doing amazing work and have big budgets, but where we can compete is on smart thinking and meaningful thought leadership. Waters Agency operates on a level that is thoughtful, academic and informed. The team is also extremely hardworking and passionate about what they do. It’s easy to spend a lot of money with a larger agency, but you’ll be a small part of a big ecosystem. We don’t have IBM’s or VMware’s budget, but the team at Waters helps us maximize the investment we make in PR.

Additionally, having access to an all senior-level team means a lot, because the industry we work in is quite technical and complicated. We need people who can translate technical messaging into something businesses can understand, which is typically tricky for junior team members. Declan’s team has extensive experience with cloud-native organizations, and they understand the market and technologies well. I am particularly impressed with their academic approach. They know it’s not about coverage volume; it’s more about generating quality commentary with influencers who are deeply involved in the conversation. Waters puts efforts where value is the greatest.

Q. Is there an example of a time when they really came through for you?


In the first quarter of this year, we had no hard news to announce. Winter is also a difficult time to garner interest, yet Waters was able to generate momentum anyway. Working with Jenna and Sarah, we started a conversation about the market changes we were seeing — such as consolidation with VMware’s purchase of Pivotal and IBM’s purchase of Red Hat — and what that meant for enterprises. The reception was exceptional. Waters demonstrated a degree of bravery to create business buzz with no major “news.” And even though our company is usually product-centric, we were able to drive more strategic and widespread coverage — all during what’s typically a quiet time of year.

Q. How do you see your engagement with Waters Agency moving forward?

We will definitely continue, all guns blazing, and we only see expansion in the future as we work to cement our position in the market. As our reputation builds and our revenue increases, we’ll be able to do more with third-party partners like Waters Agency, that we love working with.

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