The Virtual CMO

Building an Impactful PR and Communications Strategy with Tracy Russ

March 31, 2021 Eric Dickmann, Tracy Russ Season 4 Episode 11
The Virtual CMO
Building an Impactful PR and Communications Strategy with Tracy Russ
Show Notes Transcript

This week, in Part 11 of our Masterclass Series on Building a Strategic Marketing Plan for Your Business, host Eric Dickmann interviews Tracy Russ. Tracy is the Creator and Managing Director of SOLID. He is an experienced strategic communications executive, public relations leader, and public engagement expert. Over his 25-year career, Tracy has demonstrated success in building value and advancing missions for organizations, institutions, campaigns, and movements in the private and public sectors. Together, the core SOLID team works with talented collaborators from a variety of disciplines in communications, design, public relations, civic engagement, and brand development.

For additional resources on this episode and from our other episodes in this Masterclass Series, visit https://fiveechelon.com/masterclass

For more information about Eric Dickmann and The Five Echelon Group, visit https://fiveechelon.com/

To learn more about Tracy Russ and Solid, visit- http://www.solid.today or https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracyruss/

Episode #062


Buzzsprout - Let's get your podcast launched!
Start for FREE

Marketing Automation with HubSpot
Try HubSpot’s all-in-one marketing software to simplify campaign management and drive new leads.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
Carla:

The Virtual CMO podcast is sponsored by the strategic marketing consulting services of The Five Echelon Group. If you’d like to work directly with The Five Echelon Group and receive personal coaching and support to optimize your business, enhance your marketing effectiveness and grow your revenue, visit Five Echelon.com to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

Eric Dickmann:

Welcome to The Virtual CMO podcast. I'm your host, Eric Dickmann. In this podcast, we have conversations with marketing professionals who share the strategies, tactics, and mindset you can use to improve the effectiveness of your marketing activities and grow your business. Hey, Tracy. Welcome to The Virtual CMO Podcast in our Masterclass series, all around, building out a strategic marketing plan for your business. I'm so glad you could join us here today.

Tracy Russ:

Thank you, Eric. It's great to be with you and everyone today. And I really appreciate this opportunity to share some stories and hopefully some useful insights.

Eric Dickmann:

Oh, that's great. I know you will, for sure. And just as a matter or way of recapping, sort of where we are in this Masterclass series, I just want to run down a little bit of what's come before you on this program. So we talked about why you build out a strategic marketing plan, how do identify your target market and ideal customer profile, we talked a little bit about product-market fit and competitive differentiation, and then how all that rolls into creating a brand story, and compelling market messaging. We talked a little bit about how to incorporate digital freelancers and content creators into your team to begin to build out that messaging framework. We talked about marketing automation, analytics, and customer relationship management as some important tools that you can use within your marketing automation stack. And then we sort of talked about a social media to amplify your reach within the marketplace, and then using advertising content and SEO to sort of build some of that inbound traffic coming into your website. And that flows very logically into what we're going to be talking about today, which is building impactful PR and communication strategies for your business. So to kind of kick things off, I would just love it if you could share with the audience a little bit about your background and why you're a great person to talk to about this whole idea of communication and PR

Tracy Russ:

Well, I appreciate that. So I am the Managing Director of a small agency based here in Charlotte, North Carolina, called SOLID. And at SOLID, we bring together strategic communications, civic engagement, social brand, and brand marketing with design to enable our clients to share their unique story with the world, whether that be customers or constituents for NGOs or others that may need a product or a service on behalf of our clients. But at the heart of it, we're storytellers and we help our clients unpack and share their stories with audiences in ways that are meaningful and impactful.

Eric Dickmann:

I love that because we talked so much on this show about the idea of storytelling and why it's important to make that emotional connection with your audience, with your potential customers out in the marketplace. So I think it's great that you've brought that up. You know, one of the things that I thought might be good to lead off with is, can you talk a little bit about this idea of earned media and what it means to actually get some publicity through things like a communication and PR strategy?

Tracy Russ:

Yeah, well, we love earned media. And for those that are not aware, I know some of your listening and viewing audiences are owners of perhaps very small businesses up to medium-sized businesses and terms like earned media may be unfamiliar to them. So to help unpack that a little bit, earned media is media and awareness that you get stories that are placed in appear that are not paid opportunities; so it's not advertising. This is engaging with media, reaching out with a story lead to journalists that you hopefully know with a leader and interesting story and an angle or a hook that interests them and building on that to build a relationship. Earned media really is rightfully viewed as one tool to help get your organization's story and your narrative out. It certainly is not the only one, but in our view and in our experience, it's one of the most effective tools because it tends to build a relationship both with journalists and with audiences over time. And let me, if I can Eric, just a second about why it's important if you're approaching from our media strategy to build connections with journalists and media in your sector. It's critically important whether it's you doing this yourself or with a partner, like SOLID to identify on media partners, specific journalists, writers could be producers, broadcast journalist who know your field, know your sector, and you would be interested in what it is you're offering out into the world as a product or a service. And you really want to have all, you can think about them sort of as being on your top 10 call lists, not numbers, people that you know, and you've built a relationship with before you approached them with a story angle so that they know who you are. There's credibility built in and they're going to be more inclined to listen to what you have to say. Oh, when you're giving them a story pitch. And, you know, in that way, I think thinking about earned media over a longterm, as a strategy, instead of sort of a one-time tactic or a, whether it's a crisis response or, you know, an, Oh my gosh, we've got to do something with media moment. You really want to build those relationships early, to establish the best chance to get our media as a successful tactic within your overall outreach and communication strategy.

Eric Dickmann:

One of the things that I think is interesting about what you're mentioning here is really this whole idea of building relationships. Because I see with so many companies that a typical PR strategy go something like this, you know, we've got a new product announcement maybe we have a new release of a software product or were we have a new partnership or whatever it may be. We're going to spend $100, go to PR Newswire, issue a press release about that, which is really only three, four, five paragraphs long, right? They're taken to be pretty short. And then we're going to sit back and wait for the journalist to start calling us up and writing about this great new thing that we've just announced to the world. Why is that so ineffective?

Tracy Russ:

And you've you really described well, a strategy that is almost certain to fail. And you know, that's due to a number of factors. One of them being that journalists are inundated with story pitches and press releases and outreach all the time. They're very good at discerning which ones, you know, might be of genuine interest to their readers, to their audiences and which ones may not be because you know, they may not either have the credibility or the background there. So, this is why it's important to build those relationships before you begin sending pitches out so that you're keeping your journalists. Your friends. And these relationships strong and viable. And the example you just listed as a product launch. What really would have happened where the magic happens is that engaging those journalists along the way of that product development. And what's the user experience. What's the brand experience that you're trying to bring to bear. Is there something particular about the technology within the product that would interest to journalists? Is there a key, you know, to star member of the team, that's pulling it together. That could be of interest to someone. And particular publications, but you really want to have a conversation with journalists. That's tailored to them and with them. No, your journalist just as well, if not better, honestly, than, you know, some of your customers. Because if you know your journalists, you know what their background is, you've read stories that they published before. You know, the outlets in the media venues that they are writing, producing for. You're gonna be able to get a much better idea of like, this is something, this story that I have in my head. Might be relevant to them. I want to reach out to them and tell them why that is. And it is not, it certainly is not just a onetime press release that arrives in someone's email box and through some magic of osmosis around enthusiasm that journalists reaches back out to you and says, I can't wait to do a major story about you and your product that will almost never, ever happen. I'm not going to say it never ever happens. But you know, what you're batting for here is a great percentage of of success here. Not just a one-off one wonder.

Eric Dickmann:

Well, it's very much like we coach people in terms of how they reach out to their prospective customers. You want to be adding value, you want to be solving problems, you want to be giving them something that starts to build that relationship. And this idea that you would just send out a press release and that you would want somebody to do something for you when you really done nothing for them. It just is not sort of a win-win situation. We've talked about on this show tools like HARO help a reporter out and the emails that they send out on a regular basis with reporters that are writing stories and are looking for people to contribute. And I think that well, it's not always easy to be picked up by those. You have to try over and over again. One approach is you want to be a contributor to something that they're doing, not necessarily the sole focus of it.

Tracy Russ:

Absolutely. And, you know, you've touched on something that I think is important. And that is at the, in the continuum of the relationship. At what point does it transition from you contacting the journalist to actually them reaching back out to you or your company or your organization as a subject matter expert in their field? Because, you know, you've made a great connection and you have the beginnings of a great relationship when your phone rings, your email pops up and they are reaching out to you to say, you know, Hey, I've heard about this new innovation in your sector. You seem credible. And like someone I would want to talk to about that to get some commentary. Do you have a few minutes to chat? That's when you know, you've been successful in building a relationship and it's much more likely when you reach back out to them with a specific pitch and Heidi, a story on. That they're going to pick the phone back up. They're going to respond to that email and there's going to get some traction out of that relationship. Moving forward. If you can be a resource to them, moving forward, journalists are very busy. In fact, most media outlets, these days are very lean. You know, there's not the giant there, aren't the giant newsrooms. that are used to be a certainly more and more venues and media outlets are very specialized and it's likely that, you know, journalists have a lot to do in a short amount of time. So the more value in the, in a better resource, you can be to them from day one. The more likely it is that the success of your relationship with them over time will be a successful one.

Eric Dickmann:

When you're a smaller company maybe without a great deal of brand recognition. But you do have some real expertise in your field, it might be hard going after some notable journalists, right? Some some journalists from a top-tier publications and whatnot. So is there a viable strategy to maybe engage with bloggers or podcasters or other people that are sort of a level down? Not to say that me as a podcaster or my level down from a top tier

Tracy Russ:

No, of

Eric Dickmann:

Not implying that at all. But, but what I'm saying is that you don't necessarily have to go for, you know, the anchors of the evening news, right? You can start at a lower level and probably significantly increases your chance of success.

Tracy Russ:

Yes, you know, the great thing about the proliferation of media types and platforms from podcasts now, too, you know? video broadcast zoom meetings, and now we've got, you know, audio only chat environment. The great news is that journalists will begin to specialize more and more within these platforms and they're likely to be a very broad band of specialty publications, specialty broadcast that are tied closely to your niche in the marketplace. And one strategy to deploy is to get to know who those people are, because guess who is reading and listening to those broadcasts? The people that are up at that top layer. And I know it's very attractive, everybody wants a up front page cover story on fortune magazine or Forbes, or, you know, to be the. Number five mentioned in a fast company list. But inevitably ,those journalists are paying attention to their network of associates who are out there at specialty trade publications, you know, on smaller podcasts that have smaller audiences. And if they're done well, and if those at those journalists are doing their job well, and you have done your work to identify those journalists that are relevant to your set or your field and your product or services, you're going to get some placement sooner or later. And every time you'll find that you've accumulated a great list and a great stock of sort of inventory at that, at that lower level, that second band. That some, at some point that top band will look down into and say, Hey, there's something going on at that company or that organization. There's an expert there that really seems to be popping up in a number of places. I think I should talk to them and added my resource list, but they're not going to do that from the word go. You've got to build your own credibilityand your own brand experience, really with these journalists. And that's why, you know, when we mentioned the idea of a relationship that's so critically important from the very beginning.

Eric Dickmann:

When you work with companies, I know it's very important, you know, that the company has a brand that stands out in the marketplace, but that's sort of a ambiguous, right? A company is not a person, it's an entity. You also have to develop personalities within those organizations, right? That become those spokespeople. So how important do you view it for a company to really designate, you know, a couple people, maybe it's the CEO, the founder, you know, a COO or somebody that is going to be in an outgoing role that can start to become the face of the company.

Tracy Russ:

Yes, it's so important to, to know your own team internally. You, if you're in a role that's reaching out to me, to you, you will be looked to as a spokesperson at some point or another, but most of the time, you really don't want to be the face out there immediately you want someone who's embedded in them, you know, in the product development team or has some kind of expertise in the specific area of interest, and that probably is not you. And we've all worked with CEO's with chief marketing officers, with engineers, with others who are great with media, they love the camera. They're very comfortable more often than not that's not the case. You know, and it's not there it's not their fault, that's not what their training and their experiences, and that's where we come in. So to the degree, you can identify people within your team, within your organization that you know are going to be comfortable talking to journalists, they're comfortable on camera, they're comfortable in environments like this on podcasts. Great. In the meantime, think about part of your function being to equip the rest of those team members, and it doesn't have to be many, but a core group that you can help to equip with some media training, with some familiarity. You know, doing some practice and run throughs, equipping them with talking points, making sure that they're up-to-date and aware of what your latest messaging is, so that, you know, in the chance that they are contacted on media or you have a chance to refer them to media, they're ready to go. And they're not starting from scratch. You know, a great personality within an organization serving as sort of the face and the voice of an organization is a wonderful gift. Definitely leverage it, but always be looking to. Expand our bench strength to because you'll want that. Reaching out to additional media outlets.

Eric Dickmann:

Yeah, media training is a great idea. I've had to do that in several corporate positions and, you know, you just understand what the ground rules are. You understand what you can, and can't say, especially if you work for a public company. And I think that's really important so that people get comfortable in front of the camera. And I will say that honestly in all my years of doing that, I was never asked one of those iffy questions that you want to, Oh gee, should I answer this? I think most reporters are pretty sensitive to what they can and can't ask people, especially in a public setting. But if I was a company now, and I didn't really have a PR and communication strategy, and you know, we're January 1st, we're building our plans out for the year and we know that come July 1st, we are going to have a product launch, we're going to be introducing something new, what are some steps that you would take as you look at to build out a plan, a strategy for the year to say, okay, we want to start laying some foundational pieces down now, because we know that come, you know, middle of the year, we would really like to get a little bit of attention on this product announcement that we're going to have. What are some steps that you would take?

Tracy Russ:

Sure. I mean, and you've identified the first step, which is to be mindful that you have a significant event in the life of your company coming up later in the year and you don't want to wait until June to begin for prepare for a July launch. Really now is the time, if not a year beforehand to begin preparing for that. And a lot of teams have found great success with embedding their communications team, whether marketing, PR, outreach teams within the design framework itself, especially new products. So they're always thinking about, you know, what are the story angles? What are the unique facets of this product or service that we're offering that we can lift up along the way? Towards that launch so that when we get to launch day, they have been able to have conversations with journalists in the months and the weeks leading up to that launch day. And you're you already know where are you going to get some placement in that environment. So, you know, starting early is key. You're going to need to devote resources to this effort and whether that's an internal resource, and you've got a team in place where someone identified who's carrying the ball for me, relations, earned media or PR, great. If you need to engage an outside support agency, what have you go ahead and do that? Because it will take you some time to find the right agency partner that understands you has the capacity to work with you, to develop an overall strategy. And then third, make sure that you're following through with both your mindfulness, that you have a significant and the fact that you've devoted some resources to it. So when the time it comes available, you know, the last person that you want begging for time from the CEO or whoever your spokespeople are, is your communications person. Because if they got media on the lawn that want to talk to them, sometimes that, you know, literally minutes can matter and you want to make sure that they are available and equipped and and an easy to get to. So that. They can immediate, you can immediately pivot on that opportunity and get that placement. And that article or mentioned going. So, you know, I think preparation and Mrs. No surprises is rocket science, but preparation is the key. Sometimes with clients we find, especially those that have an innovative product or an innovative service. The founders, and this is maybe true of smaller organizations, more than larger ones, but the founders are typically great at honing that product or that service. And they know it inside and out, and they devoted so much energy into that product or service that they haven't thought anything about. How do I share this story with the rest of the world? They may know it's important, but they may not have done the worst. So sometimes it's. You being a coach to them to say, Hey, I just need a little bit of your time. I've got a plan here that we've developed. So here's what here's, what's at stake and here are the decisions I need you to make. And here's what I need you to be prepared to do. I will make sure that you are prepared to respond when that's time guns.

Eric Dickmann:

When somebody is looking at either doing this work in-house or engaging with an agency, what do you think are some of the key factors they should consider as to whether it makes sense for them to go out and get an agency partner?

Tracy Russ:

Sure. You know, it's so the success in an outreach is so dependent a upon relationships, but upon knowing the sector, knowing the, you know, having experience. It doesn't mean that there aren't generalists out there who can help you, you know, with a product launch, with an innovative process or a service, but it certainly does help to have either someone in-house or an agency partner who knows the field and by the field, I mean, knows the journalists that are out there and knows the platforms and the media venues that are most likely to lift your story up because they're the people that can pick the phone up, send an email out that's going to get responded to. So, you know, I would say one of the first questions is, do you know our field? Do you know what we're about? Do you know our culture? Doesn't mean that they have to be embedded in your specific company, but if you're in transportation as an example, you probably want someone that has a background in some track record in transportation at, in placing stories in the, in those media outlets, because you don't want someone that's necessarily on a learning curve. That's not to say that you don't want someone that's innovative. Those are different things. But innovating from a point of knowledge and experience at the beginning is you know, a much greater sum of its parts than someone who's innovative has zero idea of what your product or service line maybe offering out to the media market.

Eric Dickmann:

I think that's good. And I think people really need to evaluate what their goals are in terms of their communication and PR strategy, and really decide how much emphasis they want to put on it. And, you know, if they're at a point in their growth where they really have a story to tell, because I do think it's about story and you do have to have something compelling that people are going to be able to grab on to. And, you know now we've got so many social media channels that used to be a news tab on your company website that had some press releases and things like that. But now, you know, it's LinkedIn, it's Twitter, it's, you know, all the channels where you can just pump out information and really build some of those foundational pieces yourself. But for any organization, there comes a point where it's better to get a third party involved to help you out.

Tracy Russ:

Yeah. I mean, if you think you may need assistance, then you probably do. And that's not to say that your in-house team is not very capable, but they mean it needs some augmented support as well. You know, depending on where you are in that outreach cycle.

Eric Dickmann:

Hey, it's Eric here and we'll be right back to the podcast. But first, are you ready to grow, scale, and take your marketing to the next level? If so, The Five Echelon Group's Virtual CMO onsulting service may be a great fit for you. We can help build a strategic marketing plan for your business and manage its execution, step-by-step. We'll focus on areas like how to attract more leads. How to create compelling messaging that resonates with your ideal customers. How to strategically package and position your products and services. How to increase lead conversion, improve your margins, and scale your business. To find out more about our consulting offerings and schedule a consultation, go to fiveechelon.com and click on Services. Now back to the podcast. I think that's so good. Do you believe that when we're talking about things like social media channels, that one way to break through to some of these influencers, these journalists that you want to that you want to attract the attention of is to not only follow them and retweet, maybe some of the things that they're putting out, but to leave comments in their Twitter feed. Have you found that as an a or a LinkedIn, is that an effective way to start to get their attention?

Tracy Russ:

Absolutely. And, you know, following them of course is a first step. And then after you follow them, you want to look back in there, you know, in their trail of tweets or content. What have you to get to know what it is that they've been writing about what it is they think's important what it is that's on their minds that they are sharing out. So you have that context. And then, you know, sharing it yourself, re-tweeting it resharing, it's always an effective strategy. But you can really put some lightening to that. If you mentioned others that are within that field and within that sector to sort of call attention back out to not only the expert, that's the original creator of the content, but. Some others that may be interested in that sector, in that content. As well. Because it's social media, it's built around algorithms. The more mentions there are others in that network, the more likely it is that they're going to get noticed. And that's really what you want. So, but you know, and again, it all starts with you. If you've done, if you've done a great job of identifying, you know, who those media influencers are, who the influencers are in your set or following them and getting to know what it is, they care about what their perspective is and what their voice is. It will help you make contact with them. You know, eventually they're gonna find you, if you keep on it. It may take some time and especially with national experts and may take a great deal of time, but that's. You know, all the more reason to start earlier rather than later.

Eric Dickmann:

What, you know, as we sort of bring things to a close here, the last area that are really one to ask you about is talking about things that are unrelated to your business in some ways. So maybe your company is involved in some sort of a charitable cause or you as a founder maybe, you know, sit on the board of a university or something. In other words, talking about things that have your title in them as, you know, founder of XYZ company, but you're doing things outside the business, not just talking about the great things your company is doing, the great products that you're building, but how your company is contributing to your community, how it is contributing to causes, how it's involved in things or maybe even thought leadership about something that's a little outside, your core domain. How important do you think those are as part of a overall PR strategy as well just to sort of round out who you are as a person or as a company?

Tracy Russ:

So Eric, I think you've identified a critical element in building out your strategy and your plan, and that is to pick up on opportunities to both humanize and add to the layers and the texture of the story that you're presenting. If it's about a product or a service, every journalist in the world would expect you to talk about the product or the service and your offering and provide some data around why it's important, why it works. But adding that additional twist to it, the additional facet to the story around what your company is doing to reach outside you know, its own world and outside of its own sphere, to influence others helps. And that's because customers more and more today care about what the social conscience and what the voice and that sort of, you know, the moral direction, if you will, of the company and the enterprise is they're drawn to companies that have a mission outside of their bottom line. And the more you can talk about that and provide illustrative examples of how that's happening in the real world. You know, based upon your expertise, based upon your products or services, the better and the more likely it is you're going to get attention and traction in the end.

Eric Dickmann:

And doing it in a way that's not a boastful way, but just tells the world what you stand for, what you believe and what you're passionate about.

Tracy Russ:

Certainly. Yeah, it doesn't have to be boastful. Shouldn't be boastful, but you know, don't be shy about sharing real stories. Just make sure that they are authentic and real, you know. You don't want to make it sound like you've been involved with charities for years, that you've only been golf Baldwin since last week or anything like that, but most people are able to sniff out what's real and what isn't. So just make sure that you're telling an authentic story and tell all the facets of it.

Eric Dickmann:

Tracy, I think this is such an interesting topic because it honestly is one of the topics that I think doesn't get enough attention as we talk about marketing overall and building out our strategic marketing plans. We talk a lot about organic reach and being able to drive people to your website through content, but this is one area where if you can crack the code and you can put some time and effort into it, you can really get some credibility from these third party external sources that can do a lot, not only to drive traffic to your website, but to give your company and your products that external validation that is invaluable. Just look at the other day Elon Musk tweeted something or about that he was going to be on Clubhouse, right? And all of a sudden, you know, Clubhouse is all over the news.

Tracy Russ:

Yeah.

Eric Dickmann:

Yeah, you can scale your visibility very quickly getting in front of the right people.

Tracy Russ:

That's exactly right.

Eric Dickmann:

Yeah, Tracy, as we were sort of close up here, just tell everybody again where they can find you and get more information about SOLID.

Tracy Russ:

We are online at SOLID S O L I D.today. And you can take a look at our website, you can find us on social media, on Facebook, on Instagram, and you can look for me too. Tracy Russ, T R A C Y R U S S, take a look. We'd love to help you out, reach out anytime.

Eric Dickmann:

Hey Tracy this is great. A lot of valuable content that you shared with the audience today, and I really do appreciate your time. And I think this is going to be a great episode for people to dig into and we will make sure to have all that linked up in the show notes so that people can find you and SOLID online.

Tracy Russ:

Always fun to be a part of a great conversation here and thank you for today. And you know, we'll do it again sometime.

Eric Dickmann:

Absolutely. Thank you again. Talk to you soon.

Tracy Russ:

Alright. Bye-bye.

Eric Dickmann:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Virtual CMO podcast. For more episodes, go to fiveechelon.com/podcast to subscribe through your podcast player of choice. And if you'd like to develop consistent lead flow and a highly effective marketing strategy, visit fiveechelon.com to learn more about our Virtual CMO consulting services.