The BOLD Show | Episode 03 | PR Strategy
Your PR strategy connects your brand to your audience, but how do you know if it’s working? In this episode of the MINDBODY BOLD Show, host Mike Arce sits down with Melissa DiGianfilippo of Serendipit Consulting to discuss why PR matters and share ideas on how small businesses can improve their PR strategies.
(Mike Arce) In this episode, I’m sitting down with Melissa DiGianfilippo, partner and president of PR at Serendipit Consulting, a full-service marketing, PR, digital, and creative firm that caters much of their work to the health and fitness niche. Melissa leads all of the firm’s client public relations and communications, and in this episode, she’s going to cover easy-to-implement strategies to get your business levels above your competition when it comes to PR.
Growing a small business isn’t easy, and to be successful we know three things for sure: You have to work hard. You have to be bold. And you must constantly learn. We’re gathering some of the best minds in the business world to share their ideas and strategies with you, so you can grow your business easier, be more profitable, and have a lot more fun being a business owner. We are on a mission to connect the world of wellness and this is the MINDBODY BOLD Show.
(Mike Arce) Hello everybody! I’m Mike Arce. Welcome to another episode of The BOLD Show. I’m here with Melissa DiGianfilippo of Serendipit Consulting, an old friend of mine. I’ve known you for years. But you and I just had lunch and you just delivered so many great strategies and ideas on PR and things that I never thought of and I wanted to share it with everybody that’s listening and watching today. So, are you ready to get bold?
(Melissa) I’m ready to get bold. Let’s do it!
(Mike) Before we get started because I think PR, not everybody fully understands what PR is. And for everybody watching and listening, just so you know, this episode is going to be full of strategy after strategy after strategy that you will be able to use and execute right away to be able to get great results.
(Melissa) And on your own. That’s my goal, is to get you to do it on your own.
(Mike) So stick with it all the way to the end because these strategies are, you know, we normally would have to pay a lot for these with you.
Let’s talk about what PR is so we can get a full understanding and definition, in your words, here and also why brands really need it.
(Melissa) Sure, so PR is a strategic communication process. It connects brands to people in some way, shape, or form. PR is so beneficial to brands because it is really the most authentic way that you can tell your story. It’s not an ad. People know that it’s not paid for. It feels like it’s real, true news. So, when you are doing it right, and you have the right mix of marketing going on, PR is an awesome complement to anything else you are doing.
(Mike) When we say real news, so let’s say I’m an average hair salon, or fitness studio, or massage center, just an overall small business. How do I identify what is news is worth—say, maybe I should go to a journalist about this, or a news station, or something like that, and who do I go to? So, let’s talk about both of those things. So, how do I identify what is good news, and what do I do with it?
(Melissa) Identifying your news is going to be anything that is a number, a new location, a revenue stat. The media loves that stuff. I’m going to call that, like, your business news. So, for example, let’s say you own a fitness studio. You’ve been open for 12 months. You just found out you got your 400th member. You have $650,000 in annual revenue. That’s a big deal for a single location business. Put out a press release. Pitch the media on that. That’s a business angle. So, when you pitch that story, you are not pitching it to morning TV producers. You’re pitching that to your local business journal writer, or the local newspaper. They have a business writer there. That’s a business angle.
(Mike) Now, the biggest organizations have no problem sharing their revenue numbers, in fact, it’s public.
(Melissa) Not always, actually. Some of them though.
(Mike) But smaller organizations, they may have reservations about sharing that. So what do you say to a business that says, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to share that kind of stuff?”
(Melissa) I would say, if you have a great reason for not sharing it, we understand and we can find another angle for you, but don’t be afraid to talk about your success. Maybe what you are thinking is, my success isn’t that big compared to someone else. I guarantee there are a billion people that your success is amazing to. So share it. $500,000 a year of revenue may not seem like a big deal to some people. It’s a huge deal to a lot of people. And it legitimizes you.
(Mike) So give me another case study. So, say I have a hair salon. What is something—OK, great, I see that I think that’s really good news. I think that is something I can take. So, what is something a hair salon could use?
(Melissa ) Sure. I’m going to look at trend stories for hair salons. You could position yourself or some of your stylists as an expert source on the top three summer hair trends for living on the beach, like things to keep your hair out of your face. Right now, braids are super cool. Or, the other thing is mermaid hair. It’s like crazy, google it. Like hashtag mermaid. It’s all the buzz right now. If you can get your local hair salon on local TV showing how to get mermaid hair, you’ll be the expert in that. And I guarantee you’ll have a lot of highly expensive treatments you’ll be booking out. Because that’s expensive to do that treatment.
(Mike) Alright, awesome. So, revenue number, cool trends, mermaid hair—what about, you talk a lot about feel-good stories.
(Melissa) Totally, the people stuff. PR is all about, obviously, the business news, the trend stuff, and then human interest. So, anything related to how you impact someone’s life. One of your customers maybe? How did you change through this business? Or how did you decide to start this business? Those feel-good stories, which I know we all have somewhere inside of us. And sometimes they are a little scary to share, or they are scary to ask your customer who you know survived breast cancer, who has an amazing story. There is someone here locally, who works out of Orangetheory Fitness, who is one of my clients. She is going through breast cancer right now and radiation. She’s been working out every single day and her doctor said to her, because you’ve been working out every single day, you’ve gotten through this so much better and so much easier than someone else who didn’t. You know how badly I want to share that story? And all I have to do is ask. She might say no. That’s a cool pull-your-heart-string story.
(Mike) She might want to do it because she knows she may inspire others to do the same. I can’t say I would know what I would do because I’m not in that situation. But I feel like a part of me would say, that sounds pretty good. I want to help other people that may not have thought about doing this or decide this is what they are going to do to be able to get through it like I did.
(Melissa) Exactly, so that’s what we look for in those human interest angles. Those sell, and those are great stories.
(Mike) Cool, so trends, big stints in growth, adding new locations, feel-good stories. OK, so we’ve got one of those things. But now, what do I do with it? Where do I go next in order to make sure it can get seen and heard by the right people?
(Melissa) So, a lot of PR people will hate me for saying this, but I’m going to say it. You don’t need to subscribe to a special media database to get access to these media contacts. You can simply do a google search. If you know your local media outlets that are important to you, like the LA Business Journal, let’s say you are in LA. You can google search or go on the LA Business Journal website and see all the editorial staff, and you can pinpoint who is the person that writes about X, Y, Z, and you can pitch them. It has their email address right there. Granted, you need to be careful about how often you communicate with them and what you are sharing. There are some things that you are doing as a business owner that could totally turn off the media. That would be to send them stuff that’s super irrelevant to them, like you are just mass pitching a billion people and you are sending the food reporter a story about fitness tips. That’s not going to fly. You will get blacklisted. Also, if you just repeatedly follow up over and over again, if you call them, most of them hate phone calls unless it’s breaking news.
(Mike) So email is preferred?
(Melissa) Email is the preferred way, for sure. Social Media is actually interesting for pitching media.
(Mike) Which platform?
(Melissa) Twitter is OK to pitch media publicly. You just want to be careful that you don’t release, like, what could be a really big story publicly to a reporter. They are going to feel like, well everyone else saw those already. That was big news, but now why would I cover it? So just be cautious. You can gauge interest, build a relationship with media, through social media. And then I would recommend pitching them through email.
(Mike) So then, if I am pitching them through email, you don’t just write an email. Give me an idea for a subject line? So, first thing is first, you get them to open it, because how many pitches do you think they are going to get today?
(Melissa) 900. Yeah, 900.
(Mike) OK, give me an example of a really good subject line, or a few. And then, what should that email look like? What’s the outline of that email?
(Melissa) Sure. So, the first thing I want to say is pitch the media in the morning. I just read a study recently that 65% of journalists said that if they get news sent to them in the morning, or if they get a pitch to them in the morning, they are more likely to pay attention than in the afternoon when they have already met their deadline.
(Mike) Any particular day better or worse?
(Melissa) At Serendipit, we typically pitch Monday through Thursday. But I want to add a caveat to that. If it is really important news, Friday mornings are OK, too, because a lot of times the media is slowing down on Fridays. So, you don’t want to miss that opportunity. I would say no TV on Fridays. But print, if it’s the right angle, could go on a Friday morning.
(Mike) Subject Line.
(Melissa) So I’m going to give an example, we represent Modern Acupuncture—pretty much the fastest growing franchise in the U.S. Super exciting. One clinic is in Arizona, it’s opening all over the nation. From Arizona, I’m pitching in every market for them. Just this week I was pitching in Charlotte, North Carolina, and my subject line was: Modern Acupuncture opens first location at (insert the shopping center name), plans to create 100 jobs. Something like that, that is the straight news.
(Mike) And it’s got to fit in the space. Is there a character space you typically like to stay with?
(Melissa) I don’t know the character count, but the cool thing about Gmail, if you use that, it will actually show you when you type it where it’s going to cut off when the person sees it. I usually try to stay within those restrictions and those limitations. But I try to make those words matter so much. They have to be impactful. For a breaking news story like that, I’m going to put the news in the subject line. It has to be about the news. For more of a trends story pitch, I’m going to pull out something really unique that’s going to make them think twice. So, it could be, How To Get the Perfect Butt. I mean, really it could be, “Don’t Eat That Donut.”
(Mike) That works. Because what do you think the average person is using in the subject line?
(Melissa) They may be putting too many characters. They may be trying to put all their news in one subject line. It could be a variety of things. But I think what is really important, is in what follows in the email after the subject line. So, I usually start out with: Hi, and then I personally address the reporter. I like to start out by thanking them for a recent article they’ve written, or at least recognizing them, that I know what they are covering. Like I read a recent article. Then go into quick two to three paragraphs, max, of that story. Like the meat and potatoes of that story.
(Mike) So, like, bullet points?
(Melissa) Bullet points are great to lift out visuals if it’s TV, but if you can condense into one or two paragraphs, like, Modern Acupuncture is opening 14 locations in Charlotte. The first one is slated to open in August. Construction starts this month. It’s 1,000 square feet. The local business owner. Here are the visuals I can offer. Boom, boom, boom. That’s it. And then always let them know how they can reach you, the fact that you are available after hours, you can do early morning interviews, weekend interviews. You want to give them your cell phone number because—hopefully, your pitch is amazing—but if they have a slow day, they may call you because you said you are available on the weekends.
(Mike) What does follow up look like? Should you follow up in a day or two if you don’t hear on that story?
(Melissa) Yes. It depends on how critical the news is. If it’s just traditional news and you are pitching a lot of people at one time, maybe follow up after three business days—two to three business days. And it’s an email follow-up, and I usually do it as a response to my first email. I don’t keep saying, “I’m just following up.” I like to offer one more tidbit of information. So, keep something back.
(Mike) So that subject line, would you just reply to it and just say “RE.”
(Melissa) Yes, if it was a really solid subject line. If I figure out that one of my team members pitched something and it wasn’t getting any bites on the first round, and I look back at the line and go “ugh, that could have been stronger,” we will change the subject line then. But hopefully, it’s really strong.
(Mike) How many times will you follow up on a story?
(Melissa) Three times. So, the first pitch and then two follow-ups. If it is breaking news, I will call. Or if it’s something that I’m offering them an exclusive, and I just want to talk about that a minute, if I could.
(Mike) Yeah, what’s that?
(Melissa) So if you have a big piece of news, and you have identified, like if this outlet covered it, it would be awesome. Like, I need them to cover it.
Offer them the exclusive story first. So, you can even put it in the subject line: Exclusive. Boom, whatever the story is. Then put in the first paragraph: Hey, Jenny, I am sending this to you first in hopes that you might want to cover it as an exclusive. Please let me know by noon today before I pitch anyone else.
(Mike) Wow, so create a little urgency to it.
(Melissa) Yeah, totally. And then, I call them if it is a big deal. If I know that this person is going to want to cover this story. And that takes a bit of understanding of what really is breaking news, and what is not. I’ll call them and say, “Hey Jenny, I just want to make sure, I just sent you this, I’m offering you an exclusive. I know you are busy right now, but would you mind replying to my email now?”
(Mike) So let’s talk about, and I think a lot of people that may give this a shot may not have great expectations on the success rate on these pitches. Let’s say they throw out 10 different pitches. What is a success rate? What can they say, this was a good round of pitches?
(Melissa) It varies so much, and it depends on the story. For me, and for my team, I would love to see a 50% or 60%
(Mike) So you fail about half of the time.
(Melissa) Yes, absolutely. Sometimes even more.
(Mike) And that’s when you guys have relationships with people in the media already. They know your name when they see it come up in the email.
(Melissa) Sometimes. But this is why I think anyone out there can do PR for themselves, to an extent. Because I don’t believe that PR is about relationships. I believe it’s about knowing what a good story is. How to tell that story, and how to find the exact right person to tell that story to. Anyone can do those three things.
(Mike) And so let’s say I decided, well I have a small business, and I want to go ahead and start doing this stuff myself, based on what I’ve learned from you today. And what I’m going to continue to learn during the rest of this episode here, if I get 2 out of 10. Let’s say I pitch 10 times.
(Melissa) That is great! That’s amazing. If you get 1 out of 10, go jump up and down, ring your gong, whatever you have in your office. That’s exciting. One story can elevate you so much. We got one amazing story in Franchise Times for Modern Acupuncture about their franchise and where they are going to be, and it blew up for them. One single story.
(Mike) OK, so definitely understand that a 90% failure rate is fine because the success you can get from just one can make a huge difference. And then the great thing is you build great relationships with that person that picked it up. So, can we talk a little bit about that? Let’s call her Cheryl. Cheryl says, “I love this story Mike, and I want to go ahead and use it. Let’s go ahead and get started. “ What can I do, in order to strengthen my relationship with Cheryl and increase my likelihood of working with her again on something else.
(Melissa) Great question. So, first thing is make it easy for her. Be accessible for her. I respond to reporters, like, within 5 minutes. Always. Make it easy. If you are sending them photos, always send them high-resolution photos. Don’t mess around. Put it in a drop box. Send them a link. Or send them one photo at a time. Make sure they are awesome photos, high res.
Make interviews easy for them. Make sure your interviewee, whether it’s you or someone else, is prepped on the topic, that they are a great interview. The second thing to do is re-share, as much as you can, that link when it comes out. Go to that news site, hit Facebook share, Twitter share, everything that you can from that link. It makes them look good, it makes them look really good. And then the third thing is, say thank you after the story runs. An email thank you. And then I send handwritten thank you cards. And my team still does that for the media they work with, day in and day out. Like, we send a lot of thank you cards.
(Mike) That seems like a lot of work. How long does it take?
(Melissa) Oh, like five seconds.
(Mike) And what’s the impact?
(Melissa) It’s worth it all day, every day. I have emails that my team has shared with me that they’ve printed out and they hang on their desk that says, “You were a dream to work with Sabrina. You are amazing.” And then we keep getting great stories out of them.
(Mike) So, I know you talk a lot about the real power of PR coverage and it not necessarily being in the moment that it runs, so talk to me about where the real power is.
(Melissa) It’s great when you get a local morning news segment on your local Fox affiliate or ABC, but the stay-at-home Mom, watching that in the a.m. may not be your demographic. But it’s still an awesome story. So, you want to make sure that you reshare that one story as much as you can. Put it on your website, put in on your YouTube Channel, share it on Facebook
(Mike) The clip of that segment. And you can get that—
(Melissa) You can buy those. We use a media distribution company. The station usually won’t give it to you, but the $100 it usually costs is worth it all day long for that content. So put it on YouTube, share it on your Facebook, put it on Twitter, pin it on Pinterest, put it on Instagram, like a little clip. Put it everywhere. Blog about it with a little short summary. Put it in your email newsletter. Use it as much as you can. And then on Facebook, put a little money behind it as an ad, to target the right people. The more that you re-share that with the right people, the more impact it’s going to have.
(Mike) OK, to have something tangible to work on, what are a few things business owners can do and get started on right now that can help them get media coverage for themselves?
(Melissa) Sure, the first thing I would say is to know their story. Sit down. Get a giant post-it note out. Brainstorm with your team about all the cool angles about your brand, about your company, about you. Whatever it is you are focusing on. There are a lot of them there, and they may not be top of mind for you as the owner. But, if you get a team of people in there brainstorming, they will come out.
So, know your story, and then start crafting a few pitch angles. Like, how would you sell this story to the media? How would you sell this one angle? Just do a couple of drafts. Number two would be to practice being an awesome interview. So get media trained if you can. Otherwise just go to the mirror, practice, videotape yourself. Understand how to get your key messages in all the time. Understand your facial expressions.
(Mike) The thing is that the best professionals, the best athletes do this. Right after a game, the first thing they do is watch tape of what the game looked like from the outside perspective because they can find their little mistakes, and just a little tweak here, a little tweak there can make a big difference in the game. The best salespeople record themselves. I know the greatest salespeople listen to their own pitches in the car, of their best sales pitches to hear like, man, I left them off the hook there. Or I talked too much there. Or he was showing pain there and I didn’t capitalize on it. And so I think watching yourself is—I mean it’s painful.
(Melissa) It’s so painful. It can be heart-wrenching to watch yourself.
(Mike) But, the more pain, the better. Because I won’t change if it didn’t hurt enough.
(Melissa) Oh, totally. I meet clients. I sit in a room with clients after their first two TV interviews. And we put it on the screen, and I pause, and they know—or sometimes they don’t know, and they think it was amazing. You want your clients, or you want yourself to get better, and you have to say, that was really awkward, you could have done better. You looked fidgety when you looked away. So, you keep working on those things. The first couple are going to suck. They’re not going to be great, and then they are going to get so much better.
And then the third thing is just to find media contacts. Start small. Pick your two daily papers, or your top two favorite news stations in your market, or top two trade publications in your industry. Find the best contacts, and just pitch them.
(Mike) One question I wanted to ask you because you talked a lot about this with me before is the other elements to PR are, besides media relations, which is what we’ve really been talking about. The other elements can be really instrumental to the overall success of the brand and what else a company can do to within the realm of PR to elevate an image.
(Melissa) So the first thing I think you’ve done for yourself is awards and nominations, whether it’s locally or in your industry. Think about and do some research on all those awards and rankings that come out. Make a list. Make an excel spreadsheet of all of them. The dates they are due, what kind of information they need, and figure out what makes sense for you to go after.
(Melissa) Best Places to Work. That’s a great one if you are looking to attract the best people to come and work for you. You want to promote the heck out of that one. It could be “Most Admired Leaders.” It could be an industry award. It could be, like, if you are a fitness trainer, it could be “Best Fitness Trainer.” There are like local lifestyle magazines where there is a voting element. Make sure you understand all that goes into those awards and they are so powerful. So when you do win those awards, and it will take a couple of times for you to get your stories straight, and be powerful enough to win them, you can repurpose that content and reshare the fact that you are an award-winning X. It’s awesome.
And then the second thing to do would be speaking engagements. It’s scary to put yourself out there, just like it is scary to go on TV and do an interview. But if you can hone your message, go to conferences, go to trade shows, go to places where your customers or potential clients or partners or employees would be, and go speak on something you are passionate about. It will be so powerful. That’s typically a tactic of PR.
(Mike) OK, sounds good. Now, a lot of this stuff, in fact, all of this stuff we talked about people can do without hiring a PR agency. Obviously, hiring a PR agency can push the fast-forward button and get you through the little mistakes. You are going to make mistakes. Just like everything, right. You can learn how to get in shape, you can learn how to do all the things for fitness, but you are not going to get there as fast as if you have a personal trainer saying, “Ah, for you, do this instead, right.”
So, let’s talk about, well first, how do I know if I should hire a PR agency? If right now, this is the right time to hire an agency for myself. Or if I should start doing it myself based on where I’m at in my business?
(Melissa) I think you need to really evaluate where you really are today. Are you still working so much in the business and you still need to focus so much on the business? You’re looking to grow, you’re looking to find the right people. You probably don’t have a lot of time to do PR yourself.
(Mike) So, if you are still dealing with customers yourself if you are still training employees yourself.
(Melissa) Yes, exactly. You can’t step away realistically, and have your business run and do something else. PR is that something else. It’s not super easy. It is time-consuming. So, if you are still in the business, I would say, hire someone. And even if you are so above the business and you have the funds, I would say, hire someone. If you are at a point, where you are just starting out, you have some good people on your team, you think you have the time and the energy, I think it’s OK to try PR for yourself. I think it is definitely possible. I just gave some great tips on easy ways for you to find great media contacts, for you to pitch them, for you to follow up with them. It’s possible. It doesn’t take a genius to do it, but it is time-consuming.
(Mike) It’s like anything else. You can create a video of yourself. It’s going to take more time, and it’s probably not going to come out as good, but it’s better than not doing a video at all. And the PR stuff, all this stuff is something you can do. It may not be as good as if someone like Melissa does it or a PR person that has proven themselves in that industry, but it’s better than not doing it. Because this is so big. And what was that famous phrase Bill Gates had?
(Melissa) Yeah, if he had one dollar left he would spend his last dollar on PR. You know, it’s true. It is the most authentic way to tell your story. Customers will believe a news article so much more than they will believe an ad.
(Mike) Guys, for all of you who watched this episode and listening in, I really hope that you took a lot of notes and also set some goal dates. So, OK, I’m going to start working on this, and then I’m going to start working on this. Because I really, really wanted to have Melissa on because I truly believe in PR that much. And I can see what it does. It really helps improve everything else. If you have digital ads running to bring people in, the people that run digital ads, that do great PR versus people that run the same digital ads in the same place, that don’t have good PR, don’t do as well because these ads are 100% cold, whereas these here.
(Melissa) Oh yeah, PR is brand awareness. It’s going to automatically warm up your audience. They are going to know—they’ve heard about you. It’s that other factor that’s going to make those ads run so much more effectively.
(Mike) The familiarity alone creates that comfort and makes me want to—think about it this way. If you went to an expo, some tradeshow, and you saw two different booths. Two companies that did the same thing. Let’s say it was web design. It doesn’t matter what it is. And this company here, you’ve seen and heard about their logo before. You don’t necessarily know how or where you just remember you’ve seen it before, you didn’t get a good or bad feeling from it.
This one, here, is totally cold.
Which one would you walk up to first?
(Melissa) I mean definitely the one I’m familiar with, the one I would have seen.
(Mike) Right. And even though you don’t know anything about what they do or how they do it, you’ve seen the logo and it’s an easy icebreaker, “I’ve seen you guys before.” And the same thing with everything, guys, you are running digital ads. Whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, Instagram. You are doing SEO. Maybe you have salespeople cold-calling, or whatever it is. You have a sign in front of your store for people that walk past the shopping center. All those things are going to convert at a much higher rate and with much greater ease if the person that is seeing that is more familiar with your brand.
So, PR helps that. Hope you guys got a lot out of this interview with Melissa. She knows her stuff.
Thank you so much for watching. We will see you next week.
Thank you so much for joining us today. If you like this episode, then subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher, and to our YouTube channel to never miss an episode. You can get all the links by going to BOLDShow.com. Thanks, and see you next time.
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