PR Rebel Evie Smith Hatmaker Talks Disruption, Diversity, & The Need For More Dialog Around Sex Tech

Image: Jack Agopian

When it comes to business, the common assumption is that it is the right product or the perfect sales pitch that is the recipe for success. But when you dig a little deeper into the companies and brands you love best, it becomes clear that storytelling is actually the secret sauce. We make decisions about well-known brands based on information we learn about the founders (are they Trump supporters? For example…). So when it comes to crafting the right story and packaging it all together to reach the right target audience, brands will look to PR companies to help them with the all-important storytelling aspect of their business.

Someone who knows this world extremely well is Evie Smith Hatmater – founder of Rebellious PR which should give you a bit of an idea of who she and her company are just from the name.

Rebellious is a boutique PR agency in Portland and Los Angeles amplifying stories of diverse companies. You might not recognize Evie outright, but you know her work whether you realize it or not. Evie started her career working in Silicon Valley for almost 10 years with flashy startups and Fortune 500 companies before moving to Portland, Oregon, and founding Rebellious PR. Evie started Rebellious as a way to use her top-notch PR skills and talent, but this time for something bigger.

Evie wanted to focus on underrepresented founders and companies that are looking to change the world. At the start of 2020, Evie was at the center of the sex tech censorship conversation/movement having created momentum and conversation about the issue in every major media outlet for a brand she was working with. Evie infiltrated the cultural zeitgeist with this story, and with conversations around her work have appeared on ‘This American Life’, as well as the TV show ‘The Bold Type’. Evie strives to drive the PR industry-standard higher, to create better work, better work culture, and a better, more trusted industry across the board.

We wanted to get to know Evie a little more and spoke with her about disruption, the importance of diversity, how the fight for bodily autonomy in politics relates to her work with sex tech, and how her personal coming out story started a ripple effect that would change the course of her life forever, in the best way possible.

Image: Jack Agopian

Before we get into your work with Rebellious PR and your personal story, tell us a bit about your background in Silicon Valley and the companies you worked for. 

I graduated from San Jose State University in 2007 and started working at a PR agency the very next day. I was actually at that agency for 8+ years. My time at SJSU prepped me for what working in the Valley was going to be like. I actually think Steve Job’s son (or someone from Apple’s son) went through the Mass Communications program a year or so before me. Everything was focused on tech in some way. We learned how to speak the language and everything felt so new and shiny as we were learning it. 

The agency I was at is called 43PR. I learned everything there. We were unique because we were small, but the owner and VP had some big tech experience and that would bring us some big fish, paired with some trendy startups. During my time there I got to work with Qualcomm, Peel, Smith Micro’s creative software brands (Anime Studio, Manga Studio, and Poser 3D), a ton of cool startups from Canada, and more. It was a crazy time to graduate college right before a huge recession that affected everything around me. 

I was a hot mess coming out of college and 43PR really taught me how to work hard and care about the quality of my work. My time there also showed me that small agencies get the job done (and usually for a hell of a lot cheaper). Being small means you can move fast, be creative and wear a lot of hats. That realization really spoke to my soul and has defined my career path. 

You founded Rebellious PR with a mission to amplify underrepresented founders and companies. Can you talk about why this became a passion for you?

The one thing that always struck me as odd in my industry was how white everything was. How white PR teams typically were, how white our client base was, and how prevalent patriarchal structures were baked into everything. I hated it. I wanted to see more women in leadership roles and more diverse rooms. In fact my favorite clients and projects were always ones I got to work on with diverse teams. 

As queer women I always felt like I was not in my space or with my people when I worked at other agencies. This came to a boiling point for me when I briefly worked for an East Coast based PR agency when I first moved to Portland. I was on the phone with a VP there doing some prep before I took a trip to meet with a CEO in Houston and she asked that I “not talk about my personal life.” I wouldn’t even call this a microaggression, it was just plain homophobic. And it made me realize two important things:

1 – My identity as a lesbian was offensive to them and was creating some sort of tension.

2 – I did not feel safe or seen. And no one should feel that way ever.

A few months later I started Rebellious PR and I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to work with underrepresented and underserved founders. I wanted to use all of my PR super powers to shine the light on important stories and give companies the equal footing they deserve. 

Also – I’m super passionate about the redistribution of wealth and I would like to think this me doing my part to disrupt old systems. 

The Rebellious PR team. Image courtesy of Evie Smith Hatmaker

Recently, your work in the sex tech movement became big news, being covered by major media outlets. Can you tell us more about this and why more people need to know about sex tech? 

The reason why we were able to make as much of a splash with the Lora DiCarlo news as we were was because it shined a direct light on a gaping hole of systemic sexism in the tech industry. 

The issues with sex tech only become a hot issue for people when something is for people with vaginas, and even hotter if it is also made by people with vaginas. It’s just like the recent birth control issue that the Supreme Court passed. People are obsessed with what women do with their bodies – it’s like this controversial thing that we have sex, take birth control and masturbate. When in reality it’s just being an adult woman and there is nothing very controversial about it at all. 

What we were able to do with sex tech was point to these facts and ask why. More and more conversation around sexism had been happening in the press and the timing was right for tech to have to reckon with its bad behaviors, and we had the receipts (and had done a ton of research). So when we publicly made our case, everyone listened. 

Women / people with vaginas should be leading the innovation here. And sex tech is important. As one of my clients always says, “Pleasure is a fundamental human right.” 

Do you think the current climate of regressive healthcare and reproductive rights policies is a catalyst in consumers wanting to take charge of their own bodies and sexual lives in a way that is empowering? And how so? 

I mean, we have no choice. What the recent Supreme Court decision [allowing employers to cite religious freedom to ban coverage of birth control in employees’ insurance packages] told me is that we can’t rely on our government, our jobs, or our health care to provide us with the necessary basic reproductive care that we need. Also there are so many people out there who use birth control to help with other health issues. 

What I hope is that health tech will step up and provide women with out of the box, easy to manage and maintain solutions for their healthcare. That’s what tech is good at: breaking down old systems and creating new ways to do necessary things. 

Women’s healthcare is already so ignored. There has to be disruption here. We’re 51% of the population. Our bodies and our basic needs matter. We’re just going to have to build it ourselves. 

Image: Allyson Woodard

In 2017 you wrote an op-ed for Brit + Co about coming out as a married 32 year-old. Your story is powerful and gives permission for so many others to live an authentic life. What has surprised you about the response to your piece since it was published? 

The most immediate surprise was how many women I knew who were queer and/or bisexual and had never come out. I never perceived what I was doing (leaving my husband and my life) as being brave, it felt like survival at the time. I had denied who I was for so long because I cared so much about how people would judge me that I acted out in all of these detrimental ways. I just kept thinking about how much my mother-in-law was going to hate me, how my bitchy work nemesis was going to gossip about me, and how my family would be disappointed.

You simply cannot live for other people. I have never found the kind of true happiness and acceptance with myself until I came out. I think the biggest takeaway from writing the article was that there are a lot of women and men out there who have checked every life box on the list but are struggling with who they are. Sexuality is a spectrum and we talk about that a lot more now than when I was growing up or even in college. It’s confusing and I’m really happy for gen Z. It feels like fluidity is built into everything they do. 

I just want everyone to know that it is never too late to come out. Being your true, authentic self is like life fuel – it has powered me to do incredible things. 

In the spirit of “rebellion”, what are some ways you are disrupting the zeitgeist and why is disruption important to you?

Disruption is just my core language. My mom is a truly rebellious spirit and my Dad is a one of a kind. My parents taught me to ask why and question the things around me. I was also a real weird kid and I think I just operate on a different frequency than most people. My view of the world has always been through a slightly different lens than my peers.

When I started Rebellious it was important to me that I created a place I wanted to work and felt seen. I wanted it to be diverse. I wanted it to be reflective of the world and not look like the inside of a sorority entrenched with privilege and mean girl competitiveness. Rebellious is a truly collaborative space. Everyone has a voice and a seat at the table. Mentorship happens at every level. We are all learning for each other constantly. It’s magical and intentional. I want this to be the industry standard, not just an outlier. This can be the future of work if we let it.

Doing something the same way it has always been done is boring and often does not lead to innovation. I’m interested in the future and making the world better. I think our society is broken and now is the time to build better things and I want to help get those stories told. So maybe I’m less of a rebel, and more of a futurist 😉

With so much conversation about the need for diverse leadership in tech companies, and more funding for minority-led companies, how is Rebellious PR helping to progress this movement? 

We are becoming the go-to PR agency for both underrepresented founders, as well as the media, to tell these important stories. The majority of our client base are minority-led companies and our core mission is to put them on the map (ie: get them press). This often leads to or helps with funding. If we can get a client in the right outlet, it gets them on VC’s radar.

We also have a solid reputation with press outlets for working with underrepresented founders. We get our clients included in bigger trend pieces on hot topics (like the Crown Act, diversity in advertising, etc). 

Just by working with who we do and also being a diverse agency we are changing the status quo. I want to raise the bar of Public Relations. As an industry we should be helping society, not further perpetuating bad systems and bad actors. There is a movement happening (well there are lots of movements happening actually) and now is the time to be culturally competent, to be on the right side of history and be part of real change. That’s what Rebellious is. It is a new and better way to do business. It’s creating good in the world. It’s an acknowledgement of these bad and oppressive systems with a hope that our work can be the tipping point for real change. 

What are some great companies you are currently working with that we should know about?  

I love our clients so much. Here some of my top picks of what everyone should be checking out: 

Evie Smith Hatmaker (second from left) and the Rebellious PR team.