Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.

Julia: Everybody, I’m super excited to introduce you to my friend Lauren. Lauren and I also met through the StoryBrand network. We have a lot of StoryBrand guests here, but she is an expert in a lot of things that I am not an expert with, especially in the area of public relations. So that’s part of why she’s on here. So Lauren, why don’t you tell us about yourself, where you are, your business, etc. 

Lauren: Okay, well, it’s great to be here. And StoryBrand guides are the best in the universe, so  glad to be part of this illustrious group.  So my name is Lauren Kwedar Cockerell. I say my main name because that’s the name of my business as well, Kwedar & Co. We’re here in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s nice and steamy right now in the summer. We are a strategic communications firm that really focuses on helping small business owners achieve balance and sustainably take their business to the next level. So scaling, but without the chaos. That’s a little bit about us, and that includes public relations in addition to marketing. 

Julia: Yeah, for sure. Lauren also is the host of a podcast. Do you wanna give your podcast a shout-out? 

Lauren: Sure. You know, I’m such a bad PR person for myself!  

Julia: We all are, we all are. It’s easier to promote other people than it is our own selves.

Lauren: Exactly. I’d rather be your hype woman.  I host a podcast, along with a friend and collaborator, Nicole Ellis. It’s called the Creative Suite Podcast. And it’s all about business, life, working, momming, you know, just how to pursue your dreams creatively. 

Julia: Mm-hmm, I’ve listened to a few episodes. And one of my favorite ones is about red flags with clients because the whole time I was like, wow, I feel so affirmed right now and I’m so glad I’m not the only one who makes mistakes with clients. 

Lauren: It’s so funny because I was honestly a little nervous to put that one out there. I mean, I hate to be negative but we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback and I think it turned out really well. And we weren’t bashing anybody, but it was just sort of, you know, this is a two-way street. 

Julia: For sure. And that’s what I appreciated about it. You did it very graciously while still giving examples of people who you might not wanna work, but you didn’t throw anybody under the bus. 

Lauren: And there’s a lid for every pot, you know? What might not be a fit for me and my team and our values, that doesn’t mean you’re not gonna be a great fit for somebody else. So it’s all good.

Julia: Yeah, for sure. So, let’s talk about public relations. PR. Tell us, how did you make your journey into this world? 

Lauren: Sure. Okay. Well, I fell into it like all good stories. So I went to a small liberal arts school for college, and I just got a bachelor of arts in business, but I was able to dive in deeper into a couple of subjects in the ones that caught my eye were marketing and finance. So I added those to my BA and then I also have always loved reading and writing. I kind of messed up my paperwork. It was supposed to be an English minor but it is also an emphasis, an emphasis in English literature.  But then when I graduated college, I came back home to Fort Worth and I was trying to figure out what I was gonna do with my life. Sort of, you know, floating around in the pool, trying to figure out what is Lauren? What is she gonna do when she grows up? And one of my friends from growing up was interning on a PR firm here in Fort Worth. And we were having lunch one day and she’s like, “Bad news for you. Good news for me. I got my dream job in New York. I’m leaving town. You’re all by yourself.” 

So she was interning at this PR firm and I said, “What are they gonna do with your internship? Can I have it?” So, you know, the hubris of a 22-year-old and naivete of a 22-year-old, like, well, I’ll take that job! And I don’t know why, but they gave it to me. So I got hired as an intern. When I left 10 years later, I was the vice president. So it just ended up being this incredible combination of business, which I love, getting to work with people, solve problems, but also writing and thinking creatively and marketing. And it just was like, whoa, I did not know this was even a thing. I didn’t even know what PR was before I walked in these doors. It was kind of creative and businessy. 

Julia: Yeah, for sure. I think that leads really perfectly into the next question. If you were to define PR, what is it? I feel people throw those two letters around, “Oh, PR this, PR that” but what would you define it as? 

Lauren: So it’s really a strategy and it’s an umbrella term. So for me, when I talk about serving clients with PR it’s a general communication umbrella that is driven by management and leadership.

So how do we, as a business, wanna show up in the world? It might be tied to marketing at sales, or it might not be, but it’s really about brand awareness, thought leadership, and really in internal communications as well. You know, so if you wanna be, for instance, the best shoe company in the world, you’ll see PR come into play with media, certainly, but also in what communication is the team getting from top to bottom or bottom to top? What programs are out there? Where is the CEO speaking? What events are we attending? So it’s a pretty broad term. However, a lot of people, when they think PR, they think media relations, which we can land there and talk about that, cuz that’s beefy enough to chat about and probably the most practical for people to listen to and walk away with tips and ideas and all that. 

But yeah, PR, in general, is really a strategy that is sometimes marketing, sometimes it’s not, but we like to work cross-department. You know, media can work with marketing to make sure you have all your assets and everything, that’s the high-level look.

Julia: That means it’s not only to fix things, it can also be proactive. 

Lauren: Absolutely. Yeah. I prefer the proactive version.

Julia: As would I, and that kind of leads us into our question that I mentioned to you that caused me to ask you, to be honest. We have been observing a couple companies that have made mistakes that have caused them publicity and it’s kind of this question, is bad publicity or bad PR still good? I would be curious to hear your thoughts on that.  

Lauren: So media relations is interesting. In the StoryBrand world, we would call that the ultimate authority where it’s a third-party endorsement. Someone else, if it’s good, saying this is a company we’re checking out. These are the problems they’re solving. This is how they’re showing up in the world. Depending on what rule of thumb you use, it’s worth three to ten times an ad that you might place in the same outlet. It’s different for saying I’m good at this versus someone writing a hopefully objective article about you. 

When it comes to, is all PR good PR, is there any such thing as bad publicity? You know, if you’re a famous movie star or something like that, I think that term is really about making sure you’re always relevant. So as long as they’re writing about you, you’re not dead yet.

However, in today’s age, first of all, the internet never forgets. And also, you know with cancel culture, that’s very much a real thing. People with social media and everything, the world’s flat a little bit. People have access to leaders like they’ve never had before. And so you’re being watched. And I would say I would not recommend going in with the strategy of, well, all, all PR is good PR because if you don’t handle media and stories and potentially negative situations with sophistication and strategy, you might not recover. I mean, there’s plenty of examples out there where a bad story or something bad has happened and it wasn’t handled correctly. The stories are out there, then they start to syndicate, they snowball, and then you’re just out of business. They’re just not having it. They’re not gonna do business with you anymore. 

Julia: And that’s like a really curious connection even to cancel culture, because that’s, in essence, what happens, is it snowballs where something bad might have happened and instead of allowing…that could be like a whole different conversation about the good and the bad of cancel culture. But sometimes, if people aren’t allowed or companies aren’t allowed the space to recover, then they could get canceled because it snowballs. 

Lauren: Exactly. I mean, there’s something to be said for the democratization of news and information. We have access 24/7 to more news and information than we’ve ever had before. It used to be you had one TV channel to watch, one newspaper to read and that was it. You got your news and it was truthful or it wasn’t, you know?

But now there’s so much. We have citizen journalists and everything and I think there’s a time and place for everything, but it makes our jobs more complicated. We have to be paying attention to so many different channels now, figuratively and literally, and you really have to watch your step.

Now I’m not trying to scare anybody, but I know when my clients who come to me have an understanding of how quickly they can lose control, it makes for a better relationship because the trust has to be there that we’re gonna guide them. They’re gonna listen, they’re gonna do their media training, they’re gonna take it seriously. I think when people are glib or just
Oh, whatever,” then it loses respect for the process and it can be challenging. 

Julia: That makes total sense. I’d be curious if somebody does make a misstep, what would you see as the appropriate actions to take?

Lauren: Communicate truthfully and quickly.  Crisis communications is another section of PR.  We are doing reactive fixing of a situation, whether it’s a physical plant has had some tragic situation or someone has not told the truth and got caught, or there’s various situations where someone or a business could be in trouble.

But if you can kind of own up as quickly and truthfully as possible and then say, if you don’t know everything, say, “I don’t know everything, but I’m gonna get back to you at this date and time.” And just continue to keep people updated, you get a whole lot more grace rather than trying to hide facts or act like you’re hiding or saying no comment. People lose patience and they lose trust when they feel like you’re trying to hide something versus, you need to give the idea that you are participating and that you want the truth just as much as everybody else does.

Julia: Yeah. That brings to mind a few Instagram celebrities, I guess, influencers, or authors, etc. who have made missteps around the Black Lives Matter movement or some of the things with the racial tension in our country and how, and I say this as a white woman who doesn’t know all of the things, right, and could easily make a misstep, but instead of apologizing and owning it, they have disappeared from the platform. And I would imagine that that would be a very difficult thing to navigate but it is an example where people didn’t communicate quickly or take responsibility.

Lauren: Right. And of course, you’ve seen apologies that didn’t really feel sincere or genuine, and then they just keep on doing whatever, you know? It’s, “Okay. You’ve made a mistake. What’s your plan? What’s your three-step plan to getting to the other side and how are you gonna be held accountable and inviting accountability?” Again, today, we have access to news and information. So how are you going to show that you are willing to be held accountable? And what does that look like? I think people who have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, if you wanna recover from that, I think it’s important to say, “Hey, I’m human. I messed up. I’m sorry. I don’t wanna hurt anybody. Here’s my specific apology.” Not, “I’m sorry you feel like I hurt your feelings.” It needs to be a real apology, no but’s, that’s not a real apology. And then what are you gonna do next about it? 

Julia: I think you brought up an important point. I think that everybody in our audience should know that we’re human just as much as they are. And in a way, if we can admit to our own humanity, there should be room for forgiveness and the ability to recover. Maybe not at the same level or whatever but if there’s genuine contrition, there shouldn’t be… 

Lauren: Yeah. Don’t double down on the thing you did! 

Julia: Right. Don’t do it again. Hold yourself accountable. But we all are human. And if we can express that humanity, that also makes people love us more in a way, because we have something that we can relate to.

Lauren: People love a comeback story. I mean the underdog find their way back. And I think if you can show that you’ve learned your lesson, there’s a lot of space in stories that we love and in real people that have learned a lesson and come back stronger.

Julia: For sure. So in terms of practicality, let’s talk about the media relations part of PR. Is that something that people can do on their own? 

Lauren: They can. Now there are people who have been trained, they’ve gone through media training, they have a sophistication, they consume a lot of news media, they understand how it moves the market and all that. Or they maybe just have a natural knack for how to do an interview and things like that. I mean, there are certainly people out there like that. They talk real nice.  But it’s a little like being your own lawyer. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

It can do more harm than good. You can hurt yourself if you don’t follow the written and unwritten rules. If you don’t tell the truth. If you don’t honor deadlines, you know what I mean? It’s really nice to have a partner to shepherd you through the process. I’ve worked with CEOs of public companies who, they need their hands held too. And there’s no shame in getting your handheld, having someone staff your interview or prep for it with you.

I mean, starting from the beginning, what are we even trying to accomplish here? Because you might read the paper every day, you know, just use old school example, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily gonna send your news to the right person. So being able to be strategic and then know what tactics to put in place to have a great showing, it’s not something that everybody knows. You can do some how-tos, you can probably put together a media list, write a news release and get it out there, but for ongoing, sustained coverage in conversations and relationships that are really gonna impact your business, it’s probably one of the things that’s the easiest and best things to outsource. And if you’re gonna grow and scale your business anyway, you gotta let some stuff go. So that’s one I’d say, let it go, baby.  

Julia: Also your bookkeeping. Let your bookkeeping go. That’s my big one. And so I’m hearing people should hire out media relations if they wanna scale. Possibly if they’ve also run into a situation that they didn’t want, that would be another good time.

Lauren: If you can maybe get started before something goes wrong, because that way, you know, honestly, if you’ve already kind of built your reps for, we had this ongoing communication with our target media, for instance, and you’re already known to be respectful to honor your deadlines to, to give great content interviews, and so you’re already like a good “guest.” If the proverbial hits the fans, you’re probably gonna get a little extra wiggle room for benefit of the doubt because you’re a known entity. It’s not just like something happened. People will be like, “Oh wow, that surprises me!” or “Let’s get their side of the story,” or even just having a phone number that they can call and get a comment versus trying to find out who’s even in charge. If you can have a program in place already, that’s the best way to do it. But if not, yes, do not handle your own crisis. 

Julia: Hopefully if you’ve also been proactive about hiring somebody who’s shepherding you or guiding you, hopefully, you wouldn’t even run into that in the first place, because you already have like a plan that you’re working towards. 

Lauren: You’re right. I have a large manufacturing client and we’ve been working toward a really solid crisis communications plan for a long time now, just making sure that the people, if anything ever happens, people know at least the first couple phone numbers they need to call and you know how we’re gonna rally the troops and all that. Just having something written down where you can keep a cool head in a tough situation is really wise. 

Julia: So if somebody were looking to hire somebody, what are the questions that they could ask to make sure that they’re finding a good media relations person?

Lauren: So a couple of questions that I think would be helpful in clarifying: A) do you need someone and B) are they a good fit? I think you should ask a potential partner, “Does my story or my business, does the story I wanna tell have actual news value?” Cuz sometimes it might be exciting from an internal perspective and you should absolutely share the information, but it’s not necessarily worthy of the time and expense to put together a big old campaign and send it out there. There are more efficient routes to sharing company news and information. If it’s not “real news,” like acquisitions, mergers, new product launches, all that kind of stuff. 

Another question to ask, “What platform do you think is my story is best told on?” Is it ideal for print? I mean, everyone does video now cuz everyone has websites and stuff, but is it a great print story? Is it magazine, dailies? Is this good for five o’clock news? Is this podcast/radio? Kind of getting a sense of where they see your story playing out and then asking them what kind of materials should you be prepared to create or have on hand to help tell that story? Do you need to go ahead and invest in some B-roll? Is the time to get your media kit in order? Do you need to go have everybody get their headshots taken? You know, all that kind of stuff so that you can make the most of any engagement, too. And just kind of seeing how they react to some of that.

If they sort of brush those things aside, then that might be a red flag. Also if someone guarantees coverage, I would consider that a red flag as well because we have no control over if a story is gonna get told in a media outlet whatsoever. I had a story get killed the other day. It was for a large business journal. It was objectively a news story and the reporter went through two rounds of interviews with my client and then their editor killed the story. I thought that was a done deal, but it is never a done deal. We’ve had big client events before, we’ve had news crews saying, “We’re gonna be there, we definitely wanna cover that.” Breaking news comes and your event is torpedoed from a news perspective. They’re just not gonna show up because if it bleeds, it leads, and hopefully your event isn’t bleeding! If they show up unexpectedly things have gone amiss.  

Julia: That’s gotta be hard from a client perspective. I totally understand you can’t guarantee coverage, but how do you manage that as a business owner with your clients? 

Lauren: Yeah, well, it’s hard. I literally had a conversation today where the prospective client was so confused about me not guaranteeing coverage. I can’t do it. I have no control over these people. They don’t work for me. The fourth estate is very important. We need for democracy to be upheld. We need to not have control over our reporters. So a lot of the power comes into play with having just a great news package in general, having a great news release, all those assets altogether, getting it on your website, getting it on a news wire, sending it out. Even if a reporter doesn’t pick it up. You start to build some reps with them. Like I was talking about earlier, over time, if you continue to send news stories to your media list, they’re gonna pick something up at some point. And usually, it’s the thing that you think they’re not gonna pick up. You finally hit the magic number, whether it’s three or five or ten or whatever, and they’re like, “Yeah, we’re gonna run with this.” You’re like, “No kidding!”   

Julia: “Not what I expected!” And I would imagine it’s a lot of discussing what can we control and what can’t we control? We can control what goes on your website. We can control what goes out in your social media outlets, but these third-party places, we can’t control. However, I really am curious about the fact that, if they do pick it up, it’s like you said, three to ten times more powerful than an ad.

Lauren: Exactly. So I was gonna say, therein lies the value, I can’t control it. So if they pick it up, that’s what makes it that much more valuable. People.

Julia: Totally, and tell me a little bit more from your perspective, why is that more valuable than like an ad?

Lauren: Sure. So if you buy an ad, you are guaranteeing a message. You have total control, as long as it meets rules and regulations of how it’s gonna look, smell, taste, and feel in whether it’s running on your television, on a podcast or whatever. You have bought that space. It is yours,  which means you can say pretty much anything. 

You can say, “We are the best shoe company in the world. Bob says so.” or “We’re better than X, Y, Z!” or these are all the facts, but are they facts because they haven’t been vetted by anyone? Technically, if it appears in say, your local paper or the New York Times or whatever, and I realize that some people don’t feel that those have the editorial review that they’re supposed to, I believe that they do, but you are beholden to an editorial process. There’s an editorial board, you shouldn’t be able to just write and publish whatever the reporter wants. They’ve gotta run it by their chain of command and they’re supposed to use good ethics in creating that content.

So that unwritten contract out there, people say, “Okay, well, if Mary the reporter is writing this, then I believe that to be true.” versus, “Well, I have to take this ad with a grain of salt because who knows if they’ve doctored that picture and I don’t really know them.” or whatever, but once you’ve gotten that third party endorsement from a reporter, then it’s just that much more valuable.

Julia: That’s so interesting to me. Three to ten times more, that’s really valuable. And so if you do put in the hard work, it is gonna pay off eventually.  

Lauren: Absolutely. And we’ve had some good success stories recently with some different clients and helping them tell their stories and again, they’re objectively…I feel fortunate we get to help tell those stories. But I’ve had a few experiences over the past few years where I’ve stepped into a client relationship and started sending out news on their behalf and reporters responding like, “Oh my gosh, we’ve been wanting to tell this company’s story for so long, but we haven’t had the right contact or we didn’t have the right angle.” And so they are hungry for good stories, good meaty stories talking about the people, what they’re doing in their communities, all that. And when you think about it, the reporters—I keep saying report, there’s obviously different kinds of people within the landscape, but it’s a reporter’s job to generate content every day. It’s publish or perish. And it’s their job to get subscriptions, to get links, shares, clicks, all that good stuff. 

So when you can help them do their job, well, you’re gonna help your client, too, you know? Or, well, my client. I help my clients be successful by doing my job well and then the reporter, because they get a great package. They have artwork, they have a great written news release. I’m able to help say, “Okay, this person’s available at these times for an interview.” I help make sure that the client is prepared for the interview. And so if their job is easy, you’re much more likely to get coverage because they’re not having to fight uphill just to tell a business story. Now, if it’s a crisis, they’re gonna hunt you down.  They’re gonna put in the work.

Julia: They’ll find you. Well, that begs the next question. We’ve talked a little bit about stories that might not be newsworthy, like mergers, acquisitions, it probably depends on the company and the outlet. What are some stories that you love telling from your clients? 

Lauren: Oh, yeah. Good question. 

Julia: This is a surprise question.

Lauren: Yeah. Thanks for not letting me prepare for that one. I really enjoy a story that, having a human angle and then kind of being able to make it a story, not just a really bland, this happened on this date or whatever. You know, building some color to it, bringing in emotion in some form or fashion. Being able to forecast how a reader or a listener or a viewer will want to engage with that information. Like why is it important to the end user ultimately? It can be really about anything. We did an acquisition story the other day. That was interesting. It was two family businesses coming together. One was almost a hundred years old and one’s a little bit younger. And then another one was about a regional partnership of community allies. I mean, it really doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s legal and ethical and it is gonna make a difference to somebody, you know, we’re all up for it. When they’re really self-serving, it’s not as fun. When it’s more about, “Well, I think I’m cool so I wanna share this information, look at what a good job we did.” We’ll do it, but I just feel those aren’t gonna get quite the play that another one might. 

Julia: Well, and that even goes into like our StoryBrand training of who’s the hero and who’s the guide, which I could beat that drum forever, but still, I could see how that’s really important even in media relations and PR in general, you have to position yourself as a guide to be able to really appeal to people. 

Lauren: For me, my clients are the heroes, of course, and I’m their guide, but then the reporters are heroes as well. And it’s my job to get them the information they need to do their job as quickly and easily as possible and help them be successful.

One thing we really like to do is, I actually did a reel about this, if you get news coverage, make sure you put it on your website, and share it on your newsletter. Put it on social media. Make sure you amplify any news story. A reporter I’ve worked with actually, she’s an editor now, I’ve been working with her almost for 20 years. She’s in the lifestyle space, she responded to the reel saying, thank you so much for telling this. We do not survive if you don’t share the news and she’s like, “Honestly, we stop covering people if they don’t amplify their news stories.”

Julia: Oh, makes total sense.  

Lauren: Now, again, that’s more in the lifestyle space. It’s not necessarily hard-hitting news, but I think it’s important to remember that these are businesses in themselves. And so we don’t have control over them, we wanna make sure that we’re doing our part, too.

Julia: It’s kind of this “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” sort of deal where you build goodwill with these people, too. Yeah. And so if you want more media coverage, then you should also be nice to the media people.  

Lauren: Well, yeah, everyone’s doing a lot of jobs right now. Newsrooms have been decimated over the past couple of decades. And if we want this important tenant of democracy to continue, which I certainly do, we have to support them and make sure that they can do great work. And right now that means sharing articles and getting people to get through the paywall and all that kind of stuff. But I’m happy to play the game. 

Julia: Yeah. This is really helpful. I really appreciate you coming on and talking about this, just because I feel like there are so many things about PR and media relationship relations that feel kind of gray or fuzzy to the people who are not doing it. And it’s kind of like, well, where do I start? What do I do? What’s important, what’s not important? And so I appreciate you doing this. 

Lauren: Well, it is one of those things where a lot of what we do is squishy. Now, if I get some great results, that feels good for me too, I promise. The dopamine button is being pressed big time. But a lot of times, our measurement is, does it feel like the rising tide is lifting all the boats? Certainly. Revenues going up, and hopefully, profit margins are increasing. But a lot of our clients, their measurement of whether or not we’re doing a good job is, it just feels better. And that is not for everybody. There’s certainly people out there who are our data people. I get it. I want a return on my investment as well. Sometimes the return on investment we provide is a sleep full night.  

Julia: Right. You don’t have to stay awake worrying about your potential crisis.

Lauren: Yes, yes. Knock on wood.  

Julia: Because you have a crisis management plan.

Lauren: Right, exactly.

Julia: Sweet. Well, Lauren, if people wanna find you and connect with you, where can they find you? 

Lauren: We are pretty much everywhere on the internet at www.kwedarco.com. And that’s our handle on social media as well. And you can also just send me a note hello@kwedarco.com. Yeah. 

Julia: And then say your name of your podcast once more.

Lauren: Thank you for plugging the Creative Suite Podcast. And you can find us on the internet at thecreativesuitepod.com and then our handles are thecreativesuitepod. 

Julia: There you go. Sweet. I’ll be your media relations. Just kidding. I know nothing about it. So don’t ever hire me to do that. 

Lauren: We just recorded a couple new episodes that I’m really excited about.

Julia: I am so excited. So anyway, Lauren, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate you. 

Lauren: My pleasure!

Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have, if you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and want to give us a rating or a review, I promise we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.

Also thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week and I hope you will be too.