Author Interviews

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.

Best-Selling Author Richard Laermer Talks about Writing Full Frontal PR

gA: Tell us about your best seller Full Frontal PR.

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 for our clients is no longer valid.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.

gA: How has PR changed since Full Frontal PR was first published? How is the book still relevant and what revisions have been necessary?

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.

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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.

interview with Denise Lee Yohn author of What Great Brands Do

In What Great Brands Do, you identify seven guiding principles for successful branding. How did you narrow it down to these key components for building a terrific brand?

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.

The brand examples that you chose—like Ikea, Starbucks, Google, Chipotle, and even Lululemon—are great demonstration of strong branding at work.

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.

And, what did they attribute their quick success to?

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.

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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.

Jeffrey Rohrs author of book, Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers

Could you briefly explain the theory of proprietary audience development for 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.

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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.

Andy Stefanovitch: Look at More

gA: In your book, Look at More, you credit inspiration with being at the root of innovation. What inspires you?

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.

gA: Please can you explain your 5 Ms and how they feed into innovation?

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.

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Last summer, Jonah Berger released his New York Times bestseller, Contagious. Its premise? To explain virality; in other words, why some things catch on and others, well, don’t.

Berger, a Wharton marketing professor, asserts that there is a secret science behind word of mouth and there are some almost fail-proof tools that entrepreneurs and companies can utilize in order to get more people talking about their product or idea.

We were quite taken with Berger’s “Viral 2.0” premise and we enjoyed his appearances on everything from NBC’s Today Show to Marie Forleo’s web TV channel (which consequentially made Contagious contagious). So we were delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with the Ivy League professor to ask him a few questions and have him explain Contagious in more detail.

Best Book Summaries to Read on the Plane
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In his best-selling book “Uprising: How to Build a Brand and Change the World by Sparking Cultural Movements“ Scott Goodson explains his concept of “Movement Marketing,”- a fascinating notion that lends brands some soul in our mass-marketed, mass-produced post-millennial world. At getAbstract, we wanted to know more, so we interviewed Scott Goodson to gain a better understanding of how every company can benefit by sparking their own uprisings.

Scott Goodson Speaks to getAbstract about Building Brands and Changing the World

gA: In Uprising you illustrate movement marketing with lots of powerful examples by the likes of Apple, Dove and VW. You also demonstrate how NOT to do movement marketing, via the KFC example, when they tried to align their brand with breast cancer awareness. In your opinion, what could KFC have done to create a SUCCESSFUL movement marketing campaign?

SG: I have had the privilege of building some of the world’s most iconic brands: IKEA, Heineken, Pampers, Emirates Airline, Sabra, and Smart Car. From my early days I believed that movements do more to build a business than advertising. Once you have a cultural movement you can do anything in an evolving media and technology environment.

Every brand can spark a movement but not every brand deserves a movement. When I coined the idea of movement marketing I envisioned that the brand should be aware of its own culture and connect to an idea on the rise in culture in an authentic way, i.e. in a way that aligns with the brand benefit or brand purpose. In the case of KFC they do good by enabling many people to eat. People don’t starve in America. KFC helps provide a consistent quality food product that is accessible to many people. And they do it in a safe and efficient manner. When I was in China recently it was evident just how vital this benefit is. For Movement Marketing to be effective, the key is to align with something that is relevant to the lives of your audience and that it is an issue that they truly care about in their lives. Education is a big one. So too, are empowering women… connecting families together in the age when technology is pulling families apart. Indeed, there are a lot of important issues and breast cancer is an important issue too. Was it the right one for KFC? You decide. Perhaps they should have aligned themselves with a brand that was relevant to their products and aside from chicken “breasts” there was no common ground. The purported linkage between KFC and breast cancer breaks down like this: KFC causes obesity, and obesity increases one’s risk of breast cancer. It can therefore be argued that KFC causes breast cancer. Compared this to Dove, which is a beauty brand that aligned itself with a movement related to beauty with their internationally successful “real beauty” campaign.

gA: Successful advertising and marketing has always tapped into the consumer’s emotional frame of reference via messaging and/ or imagery. How does Movement Marketing take this one step further?

SG: Traditional advertising finds a creative way to present a product so that it’s memorable and distinguished. Movement marketing starts with an idea on the rise in culture and ties it back to the brand benefit. Advertising is exclusive; movements are open. Advertising is about inspiring people to buy, movements get people to do something or change their behavior. Movements are all about crystallizing and curating consumer passions, advertising is all about the product. Advertising starts as media dollars flow and stop when media dollars are shut off, whereas movements are sustainable. Advertising happens primarily in traditional media; movements start by honoring the community, using social to spread the message like wildfire, and traditional media to amplify that message to a wider audience. Movements tap into core beliefs that individuals have a passion for outside of the consumer market. And now there is a movement for movements. Some of the greatest marketing minds of our time are arguing for a deeper use of brand such as Jim Stengel in Grow or Denise Lee Yohn in What Great Brands Do. Indeed, Daniel Pink, Adam Morgan, John Gerzema, Guy Kawasaki and even Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, all touch on this in their recent literature. They are right and it is true.

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Derek Sivers is the quintessential serial entrepreneur and TED speaker who time and time again has successfully challenged the status quo. Sivers has given three short and concise Ted Talks including, “How to Start a Movement,” “Weird or Just Different” and “Keep your Goals to Yourself.” He’s let us know that the way we think about leadership, motivation and goals or the notion of weird is all wrong. This is a recurring theme in his career which started with the creation of CD Baby – a start-up that changed the way independent musicians distribute their music. In “Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur” Derek described his motivation for selling CD Baby for $22 million and donating the proceeds to charity.

Sivers grew up in the United States but moved to Asia in 2010. In 2013, he launched his new company Wood Egg, which publishes guides for entrepreneurs interested in starting a business in Asia. He now resides in New Zealand where he focuses on his latest project MuckWork, a business designed to help musicians with the “mundane, boring work that wasn’t (about) making music.” He recently talked to us about changing his “operating system” and his experience preparing his TED Talks.

Derek Sivers Changes his “ Operating System” but Will He Do Another TED Talk?

You had the idea for MuckWork the day after you sold CD Baby. What happened in the time between selling CD Baby and your decision to create MuckWork?

For the first time in 10 years, I had free time. So I thought of what seemed to be most needed next. In all my conversations with musicians for 10 years, the main thing people said they wanted was someone to help them with all the mundane, boring work that wasn’t making music. So I got inspired to try to solve that problem.

That said, I got halfway to completion before pausing it, and deciding to go explore the world instead. I felt that if I started another company immediately after selling my previous company, I’d just go right back to my workaholic ways, without making a real change in my life.

So that’s why I started travelling the world, going to TED, speaking at TED, moving to Singapore, learning about Asia, and basically changing my operating system.

Can you talk about that concept – changing your operating system – in relation to your decision to move first to Asia and most recently to New Zealand?

We all hit a time in our life when we feel we need to make a major change. Maybe it’s a breakup, a graduation, or quitting drinking. For me, it was when I sold my company. Literally the day after I sold my company of 10 years, I started the next one. I incorporated it, registered the domain, started programming it, and even hired a manager. A few months into it, I realized that if I stayed on this track, I was in for another 10 years of the same thing I’d been doing for the previous 10 years. That’s when I decided I needed to make a major change, instead.

I call it “changing my operating system” because it’s about looking at the way you do things and make choices, and replacing your previous habits with new ones. For years I had been very head-down in my work, so I decided to go head-up and take in all kinds of new experiences. Say yes where I used to say no, and say no where I used to say yes.

Moving to a very different place is a great way to make a big change. That’s why I moved to Singapore. For three years there, I immersed myself in every new experience I could.

Then, after three years, I found I wasn’t getting any real work done, because I was so busy immersing myself in new experiences, and meeting with everyone who wanted to meet. (Singapore is a very small and very social place.)

I felt it was time to go “head-down” again, and focus on my work. So I moved all the way to New Zealand, where I don’t know anyone, and nobody comes to visit. It’s a wonderful place to work without distractions, and also a great little country I’m really proud to be a part of.

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