Richard Laermer is a New York-based PR veteran with 25 years and four books under his belt. His firm, RLM PR, focuses on helping clients pinpoint perceived competition and break it down with the taste-test approach, i.e. differentiating what the client does versus what the competition is doing. With the right tools (surveys, third-party validation, and advanced market research), Laermer asserts that he can point to what’s failing for the competition in order to redirect customers to the client.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Laermer to discuss his bestselling book, Full Frontal PR, and explains how, 10 years since it was first published it is still relevant.
RL: It never ceases to amaze me that 10 years since it was first published, Full Frontal PR still sells in healthy doses. When you’ve been doing PR for as long as I have, you notice trends in the industry before they’re widely spread. That’s why this era of PR is a little mind-blowing—because what us older PR practitioners do (did!) for our clients is no longer valid. Sometimes I think that we don’t even do PR anymore and what the industry needs is a brand new word to describe it. This has nothing to do with the Internet or the fact that everyone’s a publisher, or even that brands do their own PR by communicating directly with consumers. It does, however, have everything to do with what has always been at the crux of our profession: Content.
PR is, after all, mixing story ideas with angles and hooks, then bringing them to “influential” media who in turn make our clientele into stars, or in some cases, superstars. (However, only when it’s a huge trend with a ton of stories following it does the coverage move any sales needles.)
That said, content is now bigger than ever. And there is so much of it! Indeed, everyone is producing something and, oftentimes, it is impossible to say where it came from. In realizing this through incessant arguments with untrusting/ untrustworthy clients I just got tired of standing up for what we did. Or that we “actually” did it. The derivation of an article or blog post shouldn’t be important. Oh, but it is. In our office we hung a sign to display our distaste for this questioning: “Who Gives A Hit!?!”
Today, I am in the process of reviving the book so people in PR realize their own power, and do something with it. The new Full Frontal PR will be released in early 2014 as a series of chapters, in which I will discuss the most sensible, aggressive and creative tactics that we have to make money for our clients.
Today, everyone’s a guru and a broadcaster, so as a PR professional, how do we use our truly specialized skills to help our clients take down the competition? It is my belief, that the only thing that always works (as opposed to the crapshoot of today that is the “no metric PR”) is ensuring that the third parties we once used to extoll the virtues of our client are now “utilized” to portray the horrific practices of our clients’ competitors. Let me explain.
No one knows what is going to happen to the economy—we just witnessed how easily it can fall off the tracks. Yet we know our clients will always have competitors that will try to eat their lunch. So let’s help get rid of them. That is a tactic that will never go out of style. We have to be the ones who are un-do-without-able.
Traditional PR tends to celebrate a mediocre message that needs to get “signed off” on by too many people. This is the message that people already know: brands saying we’re great, we’re here, we do things that you like, and so forth. But a new voice is waiting to be heard. This is the voice that understands the precise weaknesses in competitors and “perceived competitors”, and knows how to use third parties in order to bring down the competition, thereby making the client the de facto winner.
It’s basic economics that businesses thrive on competition. Successful businesses, however, demonstrate to the marketplace their ability to outthink, outmaneuver, outperform and out-goods and -service the company across the street. It’s time to thrive at the expense of the competition. It’s the new PR. It’s what I call Insurgent PR™.
All you really need to do (I do it every day for my clients) is research, then recognize, what competitors missed the mark on, misconstrued, or mistakenly made matter (or lied about). Then get it out there in every single way possible. Use the online tools available and get those weaknesses known. Removing the competition is something you, as a PR person and expert in this field of newfound insurgency, can take advantage of, and, in doing so, you will make yourself invaluable.
Marc Worth is often billed as being an Internet pioneer. After founding WGSN, the now celebrated trend forecasting website of product development tools for the fashion industry in 1997, he sold it to Emap for a cool £142mn in 2005. Since then Worth has invested in a couple of start-ups, attempted to resurrect cult seventies label, Ossie Clark, and—since 2011—has been working on his design inspiration service, Stylus.com, which is aimed specifically at the hospitality industries.
We were fortunate enough to be granted a tête-à-tête with Worth to ask him about his successes, failures and advice for trailblazing entrepreneurs.
MW: It sounds simple but I woke up one day with an idea. My brother, Julian, and I had a company, Heatseal, which made labels, badges, t-shirts etc. Because of this, we had 10+ graphic designers on staff who were churning out artwork non-stop. However, business had been crap that summer and we had to cut costs in order to maximize the value of what we were doing and I thought that maybe there was something we could do with the designs we were creating… Could we, perhaps, create a website whereby people could download and buy the rights to the artwork? Believe it or not, this very elementary idea was the catalyst for what became WGSN. Of course, we soon realized that this initial concept was not enough but, about three or four months later, we had a product that went far beyond being a graphic library. Instead, it boasted shop window directories, trend boards and so much more. It took us between six and nine months to go to market but we were launched by August 1998, with a product that is not dissimilar to what WGSN is now.
Having spent 25 years in the fashion industry already, Julian and I knew what it needed and wanted. Timing was on our side, we rode the crest of the Internet wave and we had a firm belief in our assessed interest and the industry’s need for it.
MW: Between 1998 and 1999 Julian and I invested a lot of our own money into WGSN but we still had Heatseal. The positive of that was that we still drew an income, the flip was having a weight to carry when—by now—we were so heavily focused on—and invested in—WGSN. So between 1999 and 2000 we sought to raise a lot of money from Venture Capitalists and, in just over nine months, we had generated £20mn from interested investors in exchange for one third of the business. As a consequence we were able to give up Heatseal (which we sold to management) because the future of WGSN now seemed pretty secure.
However, by 2003 the money had almost run out and at that point, now looking back, we took some enormous risks, remortgaging our homes for the second time and so forth. In short, we put everything on the line. We reassured ourselves saying the timing was right… And, thank goodness, we were right. Pretty soon after that, the sales increased and the overheads decreased (from £1.2mn to £750k), thereby making us profitable and “out the woods.” Within six months we became cash positive and in 2004 we were able to buy our investors out for 30p on the pound. We were fortunate; we became very successful very quickly. By 2005 we were made an offer we couldn’t refuse and sold WGSN. But that was part of our plan—we always saw WGSN as a means to an end; in fact our 1997 business plan even states our ambition to sell for £100mn in two years. It took us a bit longer, but we also got quite a bit more than that £100mn. And, in truth, Julian and I had taken WGSN to a certain level, beyond which it required a larger organization to run it. We were also very blessed that we were able to walk out the door the day we sold it. Typically, there is a two-year earn out but in this case neither party wanted it. Thankfully.
MW: My top pieces of advice would be (1) It is essential to look at your competitive landscape. For us, there were already so many businesses in the fashion and eCommerce space, even back in 1998, so we had to establish how we were going to differentiate and stand out from all the others competing for the same money. (2) Leave fundraising as long as you can until you can show traction. Ideas that are pre-revenue wind up giving too much of their business away as they try to raise funds. (3) Choose people who know your space—both its information and its industry. You don’t just want people who will look at the numbers but will understand why your product is important for the market. (4) Make sure you have a market looking for a product, rather than a product looking for a market. If it’s the latter, don’t even bother.
Judith R. King is one of the most prominent and respected names on the New York PR circuit. As the charismatic owner of King + Company, Judith is known for her abundance of enthusiasm, which comes bundled up with her high-energy persona; together, these are unquestionably at the core of her charm. These qualities, alongside her commitment to delivering stellar results for her clients—of course—are undoubtedly at the core of Judith’s success.
Over the course of her career, Judith’s ingenuity and passion for crafting bespoke branding, PR, and social messages have earned her the respect and custom of star players in the non-profit arena (with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Susan G. Komen For the Cure and The Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign among them), as well as consumer brands including household names like Rodale, DreamWorks Classics, Marquis Jet, Ritz-Carlton Club, and David Barton Gym.
When she’s not busy crafting slogans, conceptualizing ad campaigns or writing top-notch marketing materials, Judith travels the country giving media training to CEOs, celebrities and prominent figures who are facing the public eye.
A couple of weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to grab five minutes to sit down with Judith for a quick tête-a-tête during which we picked her brain, learned about her career track, and discovered a little about what makes her tick.
JK: I was working at Dan Klores as a writing and ideas consultant—or a freelance writer—call it what you will. One evening, I was driving somewhere with my parents and my mother turned to me and asked “Judith, do you believe being charming is a career? Because, quite frankly, your father and I do not.” She then continued her diatribe during which she advised me to use all my gifts as well as the abundance of interpersonal relationships I had generated in order to get my career on track. And that is what I did—I started a small PR firm. Of course that makes it sound so simple but, really, simply using my contacts and my friendships, I did it! And I have since grown it into a company that grosses a revenue in excess of $3mn a year.
I got the best advice from my good friends Ian Schraeger and David Barton: you must always look to the word ‘modern’ as the most important concept there is. Meaning, STAY RELEVANT.
To this, I would also add the following advice:
1. Nothing is ever wrong or boring when you have the right ideas—you can never saturate the market enough with good ideas—they’re what keep your company fresh and your clients impressed.
2. Nimbleness is not as important as constantly innovating. You see, PR victories have very short shelf lives so you must always be thinking on your feet. It is essential that you remain engaged with your client and the world around you because you can always learn more. And I have to tell you, I don’t want to ever wake up thinking “I know enough.”
3. Nobody is indispensable but everyone is important, including yourself. Make the people around you feel that and believe it. It’s infectious. Seriously, I wish more people in my position understood that, as a leader, you can’t just command—you have to commend. I believe it’s because of my attitude that my team knows that, while I am the boss and I expect a lot from them, I want their success as much as my own. I can honestly say that for this reason I’ve never come into the office in a bad mood… ever. It’s not fair for bosses to put their own negativity on the people who are just there to do their best for them. At the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to be kind than unkind; so bring your life to work but don’t make work your life. I believe that it’s essential for both our success and our wellbeing that we all come to work as fully engaged human beings, approaching each new day with a love for it.
4. And last, but not least: Be fearless but not destructive.
What makes a business book so exceptional that it becomes a classic? Is its popularity alone or how many times people mention it in their conversation? Is it how it impacted the way we do business? Or is it because it has become such a reference that other authors use it as a pillar to build and develop their own theory. Since there are many great business books which already stood the test of time, picking only 10 books for our list isn’t an easy task, so forgive us if your favorite business book didn’t make the cut.
The inspirational author Og Mandino, a former World War II US Army fighter pilot and insurance salesman, overcame alcoholism, wrote 19 books and headed Success Magazine. The Greatest Salesman in the World is a story about an ancient merchant and his 10 mystical scrolls, each bearing a spiritual precept that is applicable to sales success. The author’s works have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.
This book is a collection of tips for people who wish to start businesses, or even, as author Guy Kawasaki claims, other sorts of projects, including nonprofit organizations. Kawasaki got his start in marketing at Apple Computer and went on to found several high tech businesses. He currently runs the venture capital firm Garage Technology Ventures.
This book presents the results of a research project that authors Tom Peters and Robert Waterman conducted from 1979 to 1980. They investigated the qualities common to the best-run companies in America. After selecting a sample of 43 companies from six major industries, they examined the firms’ practices closely. Although they did this study more than 20 years ago, their results provide a model of eight core principles for excellence that are still true for companies today.
From 1996 to 2006, Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson interviewed more than 200 “enduringly successful people,” seeking their personal insights as a follow-up to Porras’ bestselling book Built to Last. The authors began each interview with an open-ended question designed to provoke an unstructured conversation about the meaning of success. The authors drew from these highly personalized revelations to extrapolate the qualities that high achievers share, particularly a driving desire to have meaningful impact.
Sun Tzu was ancient China’s most renowned general. His classic text on strategy survived through the centuries and is still as applicable to war, politics and economics today as it was when Sun Tzu first drafted it. Many translations of Sun Tzu’s manuscript are available, but this one is both attractive and focused. General Tao Hanzhang supplements the actual text with his commentary. Sun Tzu has inspired countless generations of writers and businessmen including best –selling author Richard Greene who wrote “The 48 Laws of Power” and “The 33 Strategies of War”
Doug McMillon, the newly appointed chief executive of global megastore Wal-Mart, recently met with the company’s top execs, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. We’re not sure exactly what the meeting entailed, but we do know that it ended with a surprising assignment from McMillon: they were all told to read The Everything Store, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s book that depicts the rise of the company’s early days where it was run out of a garage, to its current standing as a leading global retailer.
It might seem strange, but in The Everything Store, Bezos reveals that the Wal-Mart business model was something he frequently referred to when developing a plan of attack for growing his online retailor. So McMillon’s thoughts? For a company that has seen five consecutive negative quarters of sales in the U.S., the executive team had to come up with a different strategy; why not learn from someone that successfully learned from their own company so many years ago?
In a manner of speaking, they had to look back to Amazon’s earlier days and, instead of thinking for the next (literally) big thing—i.e. expanding the company’s megastore presence—the real solution may actually be to think on a smaller scale…dial it back, so to speak. They need to look into developing convenience stores, modest-sized grocery stores and even freestanding liquor stores.
The company also readjusted its pricing schematics for its online sales. Whereas in the past, it maintained its low prices guarantee, it was decided to keep that limited to the brick and mortar stores, while the website would take on the Amazon model, with prices that fluctuate based on the market competition.
It’s a smart move on Wal-Mart’s part to make it a priority to study its competitors in the wake of slowing sales and the need to come up with a solution, and a practice we feel all business professionals should be on top of. If you want to check out The Everything Store and see why it is such a compelling read, you can find a summary of the book here.
Denise Yohn is an independent consultant, speaker and writer who specializes in branding. She advocates that a strong brand does not simply stem from visual identity and brand books but, instead, comes from the company’s entire ethos—from its corporate culture right down to the customer experience they provide. In her most recent bestselling book, What Great Brands Do (Jossey-Bass, 2014), Yohn identifies certain things that ‘great brands’ have in common. Surprisingly, these ‘things’ have less to do with advertising and communications and more to do with how companies run the business and cultivate their brand. We recently sat down with her to learn more.
Well, I started with the brands themselves and really tried to qualify what is a great brand, because I think there’s quite a bit of subjectivity. You may love a brand but I have absolutely no idea what their deal is. So, I tried to be objective by looking at things like profitability, market, consumer esteem and preference. Then, once I kind of came up with this list of, let’s say 100 brands I started looking for the strategies that worked behind them and uncover the central, common and defining principles.
Right. For some of those companies there’s a lot of available information but for others I really wanted to talk to somebody at the company who would help me understand what they were doing. So, in the case of Lululemon, I actually was able to interview the head of marketing and branding to learn from perspective as to what made Lululemon so successful so quickly. It was great to kind of get some behind the scenes looks at several brands like that.
Unfortunately, in the last year or so, they’ve run into some problems. So, it’s a really interesting study. People ask me now, “Do you regret including Lululemon in there?” No, because you can look at how quickly they grew. And I still like their future prospects. But, the two things that their head of brand and marketing pointed to, were, one, that they are very innovative and always looking for what’s fresh, and bringing those ideas to their customers. So there’s this constant drumbeat towards innovation, not only in style and design, but also in fabric and finishes. Then, the other thing she pointed out, and what I ended up talking about in my book, is that they are very clear about who they’re looking for as a customer. They’re not trying to appeal to everyone. Granted, a lot of different kinds of people buy their products, and the brand is committed to serving everyone well, but they’re very much focused on their target customer that wants to live, these are my words, a yoga-inspired or yoga-centered lifestyle and really focusing on what does that woman want? They demonstrate the principle that great brands don’t chase customers.
It’s bad enough that recent college graduates are having a hard time finding employment, but a new study conducted by Wells Fargo shows that four out of 10 people that fall under the millennials age group—anyone born in the early 1980s through early 2000s—are overburdened by their debt. Half of those in debt spend 50 percent of their paychecks on paying off debts, with 56 percent saying they live paycheck to paycheck.
The three things millennials are struggling to pay off the most? Credit cards, mortgages and student loans. Despite the financial struggle they’re undergoing currently, 72 percent are actually confident that, down the road, they will bounce back and be able to save up enough money to have a comfortable future.
Recently, the student loan law was expanded so that, starting next December, repayments could not exceed 10 percent of a person’s income, which is just a two percent drop from its current cap of 12 percent. Additionally, if loans are not paid off after 20 years, the remaining balance is forgiven.
Even though so many are experiencing this financial onus, the study found that millennials still understand that saving for retirement is crucial; however, only 55 percent of them are actually actively putting funds into such an account.
Are you a millennial struggling financially? Be sure to check out our selection of finance books to help you figure out how to best manage your income.
In Permission Marketing Seth Godin wrote: “The Internet is going to change marketing before it changes almost anything else and old marketing will die in its path.” Fifteen years later, Jeffrey Rohrs in his first book, Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers, takes a new look at the changing nature of consumer relationships with brands through email, mobile, and social channels. He concludes that audiences are critical business assets. He notes that marketers should stop focusing solely on producing content for their numerous communication channels and start thinking about proprietary audience development instead. Jeff is a dynamic keynote speaker who has been featured in many leading marketing conferences around the world. Jeff took a few minutes off his busy schedule to share his thoughts with us.
One of the great outcomes of the internet/ social/ mobile revolution is the ability for companies to go direct to consumers and build direct relationship with them through the myriad of channels that we have at our disposal, from email to Facebook to Twitter to YouTube to Pinterest to podcasting, and so forth. Each of these channels allows product and service providers to build direct audiences with their customers. Over the past four years as I have travelled the world researching how companies communicate with their subscribers, fans and followers, I have discovered that there is an awful lot of emphasis on content creation as content marketing has grown in adoption and influence.
However, there is not a companion growth in the professionalization of audience development. You have all these great channels where you can build direct audiences but there’s nobody in the marketing organization with a 360-degree view of all the audiences being built and what their engagement level is.
So out of that came this notion that if we’re going to have content marketing and we’re going embrace the fact that, on a certain level, we’re a media company as we produce content for audiences, then we also have to embrace the other responsibility that traditional media companies have internally. Think of it this way: A television network doesn’t just produce TV shows and hope people watch. They produce television shows and then they have an audience development department whose job is to advertise those shows, to engage the audience, and to get them coming back for more, time and time again. We do not currently have that department in our corporate marketing departments and that’s where proprietary audience development comes in. I think we’re going to see the rise of a new kind of professional role within marketing departments—people who look horizontally across all of these different channels, tactics, and devices to make sure that we have got an audience that is growing in in terms of size, engagement and value to our organization in order to create a competitive advantage over those folks that we compete with head to head who don’t have that kind of attention to detail when it comes to audience.
When you’re given the daunting task of ensuring that all of your company’s employees—spread out in 443 offices in 157 countries—are continually receiving and benefiting from leadership training and personal development, how do take on such a feat?
Not too long ago, Ken Finneran, chief people officer, Americas for Hellman Worldwide Logistics was faced with this very problem. As he noted, “The real challenge is whether we are learning and developing as fast as the world is changing.”
Despite the sheer number of employees, he had to take into consideration the different languages spoken around the world. While the company executives all spoke English, since it’s Hellman’s designated corporate language, the lower level workers didn’t always. Finnernan had to come up with a time-effective solution to help all levels of employees get access to the latest in business development, and he needed to make sure that it was all easily digestible.
Enter: getAbstract. Finnernan turned to getAbstract and made relevant titles in our vast library available to employees of multiple levels, which he said has fulfilled his objective completely. And, while he acknowledges that, since the majority of getAbstract titles are in English, there are still a few hurdles, but the availability of titles in several other languages has been a huge help.
“We talk from the time an individual joins the organization about how their development is primarily up to them with the support of their manager and the organization. With getAbstract, we’re putting a tool in the manager’s hands to help them do just that.”
Andy Stefanovich, author of Look at More: A Proven Approach to Innovation, Growth, and Change (which was an Inc. bestseller and included in AdAge’s “Ten Marketing Books Your Should Have Read” in 2011) is a prominent—and much sought after—thought leader and innovator. Stefanovich, a TEDx speaker and guest lecturer, has been invited to share his ideas with some of the world’s leading corporations and institutions, including Yale University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, NASA, Coca-Cola, and Disney. He is also a frequently invited commentator on CNBC. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andy to discuss inspiration, innovation and life balance.
AS: Inspiration and passion inspire me. Inspiration is my inspiration and passion is my passion. These abstract, but critical, elements to anyone’s life can serve as fuel to create, innovate, and lead a great existence.
AS: My five Ms explained in five lines:
Mood: The company’s ethos, i.e. the climate for creative energy within an organization.
Mindset: The individual’s propensity, passion and capability for creating.
Mechanisms: The tools, techniques and technologies used to create.
Measurement: What are we measuring to drive innovation and what might we consider measuring that we are not?
Momentum: Assuring creative energy is not an event or episodic, but instead a part of an ongoing cultural underpinning.