Have you ever wondered how other businesses get featured in the news? In this interview with Harvey Ramer, PR consultant Joel Kessel shares tips that will help you make the most of PR as a free marketing tool.
Joel is a communications advisor who helps those who have something to say get clear about their message. He helps them communicate strategically and authentically so they can have a larger impact on the people they serve. He specializes in earning third-party credibility through the media—reporters, podcasters, bloggers, influencers.
We met at Innovate, a live event at The Sanctuary in Franklin TN recently. While we were there, we talked about your agency and some things you have started on the side. Can you fill us in on the details?
About two years ago, I launched my personal blog. That was an effort to find other revenue streams outside of my traditional agency, Kessel Communications.
I also launched an advisor program and started a podcast. Recently, I have launched my 30 Days to a Bigger Stage program for authors, to help them get publicity for their book. I wrote an ebook and other resources to use as value add lead magnets for my website.
How do your blog and the products you’ve created work with your agency?
They’re the same thing, but they’re different ways for people to connect and engage with us. The agency is a virtual agency, so I’m blessed to have about five other consultants that make up my team and help run that side of the business. That frees me to focus on the online programs and other ways to generate revenue.
You can hire the agency to do it for you, or to help you learn. If clients want to learn from us, they can use the advisor program or the 30 Days to a Bigger Stage online course.
I started the advisor program to help clients who are on limited budgets. It’s an affordable way to get a lot of guidance, advice and direction from someone like me—to make sure they’re going down the right path. When I engage with a client through that program we work together. We build trust and rapport and over time, the question comes up, “Can your agency help with this?”
It’s a natural flow. I work with them on the advisor program. Then, if they want us to do any work it gets passed over to the agency side. I have that team to help execute and put a program in place for the client.
Can you tell me what event in your childhood most influenced who you’ve become today?
As a high-school student, I had to do a class project for English. It required me to interview a professional about an area of interest to me. I chose to interview a local radio host. Through that connection, I got a summer job at that radio station in Canton, Ohio.
I worked the graveyard shift on weekends. One night I talked with one of the news reporters and he asked me what I wanted to do as a career.
“I’m liking this radio thing. This is a great opportunity for me.”
“Don’t do it,” he replied.
Then he painted a clear picture of what it was like to work in radio, and he told me about PR.
“You can still work with media. You can still be creative, be a writer, and do all those things you enjoy on the media side, but do it as a public relations professional.”
Taking his advice, I went back to school and majored in journalism with a focus on PR. That conversation with Dan Palmer at WHBC at 11:00 on a Friday night changed the trajectory of my career.
As you’re juggling Kessel Communications and your private brand, how do you make the most of your time?
First, I time block. I set up time blocks every week to focus completely on specific things. Every Wednesday afternoon from 1:00 on, I focus on my podcast. I do interviews and produce the show.
I learned somewhere to have a focus day, a buffer day and a free day as a way to manage my time. The focus days are for doing the real work that brings in results. Buffer days are used to prepare for the work, set up meetings, and do administrative tasks. On free days, you unplug. You step away and get re-energized. I use this pattern as much as I can.
For now, my buffer days are Mondays and Fridays. On those days I try not to have any client meetings. That is when I prepare for the work I will do on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Occasionally, I have a free day during the week, but typically my free days are Saturday and Sunday. I do not work on the weekends. That’s family time, and it’s very important to me.
Also, the Calendly app has been a time-saver for scheduling meetings. When people say, “Can you shoot me a few dates?” I simply say, “Here is a link. Pick an hour.” That’s been really helpful.
I have an open window coffee meeting the first Tuesday morning of every month. I do this because I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails asking, “Do you want to go grab coffee? Can I pick your brain?” I can’t say yes to everybody. I’d never get anything done if I did! Instead I say, “Sure. Let’s meet the first Tuesday of the month. This is where I’ll be between 8:30 and 10:30. I’ll even buy you coffee.”
It’s a nice way to say yes, but it’s already part of my routine. It’s not like I’m spending ten hours a month with various coffees that are going to lead nowhere.
Do you have multiple people showing up for coffee at the same time?
Yes. I tell them, “You might be the only one, or you might be there with two other people.” That’s okay. We can learn a lot from each other in a group conversation. I just make sure they know what to expect.
As a communications expert, what marketing and PR mistakes do you see most businesses make?
There are three things that jump out.
First, there’s no clear message. They haven’t taken the time to clarify who they are and what they do, or why they matter. Kary Oberbrunner has been one of my coaches and mentors. He has a great saying, “Clarity attracts, confusion repels.” It’s so true, so true.
On my website, I have a free resource about developing a message map. That’s a very helpful tool to stay on message, and to clarify your message. The message map has three areas. What’s the problem? What’s the solution you provide? What are the results? It’s that simple.
I’ve got mine in front of me right here. The problem is, there are so many ways to communicate, connect and engage. It’s overwhelming for people. What are the solutions? There are many tools and resources to help guide communication efforts. I’ve got the message map tool, a communicator map tool, the advisor program and the agency. As a result, you get more clarity, alignment, focus and confidence in how you’re marketing and communicating with others. That’s just a quick snapshot of my message map.
Second, they’re chasing that shiny new thing. There are so many new whiz-bang, cool things coming out. Everyone is chasing that new thing. When you use Facebook Live their algorithm shoots you straight to the top of people’s feeds. But is that where your audience is?
Instead of chasing the shiny new thing, a small business owner should ask, “Who are we talking to? Who are we engaging? Who is our customer? Who is our audience?” Then they should ask themselves, “Where do they get their information and how do they get it?” If we understand our audience better, their needs will decide the channels we use to get our message out.
Third, there’s no clear strategy. As a result, they’re not ready. They miss opportunities. They’re all over the place. It’s very tactical. When they choose to reflect on their strategy to connect and engage with their audience, it makes life a lot easier.
How can sidepreneurs make sure their message is memorable and authentic?
Every small business needs to make their message about their customer. Make it about them. The usual attitude is “It’s all about us. Look at how great we are. Look at our wonderful new product or service.” Stop. Just stop it.
Make it about the customer. That’s the best thing any organization can do if they want to make sure their message is memorable and authentic. When you make it about them, you’re serving. You’re making their life easier, their life better. It’s about them. They remember that.
If you had to reduce the process to 5 steps, how would you say we can best use free PR as a marketing tool?
- Remember to plan and prepare. What’s your action plan? What are your goals? What are you trying to do? Do that planning and preparation.
- Clarify your story or message. We’ve talked about that. Create a message map to help you stay consistent with how you’re communicating. Having a message map will help you In conversations like this. It will help as you’re preparing presentations, sending e-mails, or writing blog copy. Clarifying your story and your message really is critical.
- Assemble the right materials. Do you have a press kit in place? Do you have a nice professional bio? Do you have a fact sheet on your company, product or service? Have those materials ready. Then, when a reporter says, “Can you send me more information?” You can answer, “Here it is.”
- Reach out to the media to book interviews and other opportunities. If you have prepared for opportunities, doors will open.
- Leverage your results. Use media placements to fuel your marketing efforts.
If you do these 5 simple things, you put yourself in a better position for success.
What are some ways to leverage those free media appearances?
Having a clear strategy helps manage your media appearances. There are so many ways to communicate, connect and engage. We can’t do it all. There’s a model I love and teach called PESO. It’s an acronym for paid, earned, shared and owned media.
Earned media is what we’re talking about here—media placements. Let’s take that as an example. When you write this article and publish it, here’s what I will do:
For the shared media piece of the process, I will post it on Facebook. I will Tweet it out, and talk about it on LinkedIn. I will share it through my social channels.
If I want more people to read it, I’ll pay to get it boosted on Facebook. That’s paid media.
Owned media is everything I own—my website, blog and the materials I create. I’ll probably write a blog post. “Hey, gang. I was interviewed by Harvey, talking about PR for small businesses. Here’s what we talked about, and here are three other things that I would add.” Then there’ll be a link to your article.
That’s a really good way I think to use free placements or media placements. Go back and fuel your other awareness efforts by following that PESO model.
Do you have any special offers for our sidepreneur community?
Absolutely. I have three resources! On my homepage, there’s the 7 Steps to a Powerful Message download. That’s a great resource to use in developing your message map. Everyone is welcome to subscribe to my podcast, Conversations on Communications. As I already mentioned, I offer the advisor program that gives you access to me for a full month. We schedule a couple of phone calls and I can give you guidance and direction on what you should be doing. I also offer the 30 Days to a Bigger Stage program. It’s an online course where authors learn to get publicity for their books.