Many entrepreneurs knew what they wanted to do from an early age, but what about some of the incredible business owners that pivot to entrepreneurship later in life? Kristi Piehl is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter who realized that she was meant to be a leader. Her full-service public relations firm, Media Minefield, now boasts startups and billion-dollar brands, but the journey wasn’t always smooth.
Piehl was confused when she got laid off from her job as a reporter, but she now looks back and thinks that it’s the best thing that could have happened to her. She is now focusing on growing Media Minefield and ensuring that it offers a supportive and flexible workplace culture. Kristin was named one of Minnesota’s 500 Most Powerful Business Leaders in 2020. She also hosts the successful Flip Your Script podcast.
Identifying As An Entrepreneur
Kristi ended up having a successful career as a news reporter, complete with Emmy Awards. She never even thought of herself as an entrepreneur until she got laid off due to the 2008 financial crisis when she was at the pinnacle of her career. She had to do a lot of soul-searching before realizing what she wanted to do and how she wanted to contribute to society.
Once she had the idea and hired her first employee, Piehl realized that she was “all in.” She had to be the kind of leader that she would want to work for, and cultivate an environment where people wanted to work. Finally, she realized that she had always identified as a “news reporter” – but that she now had to pivot and identify as an entrepreneur if she wanted her business to succeed.
Pitching Your Business
I asked Kristi about some actionable advice for how businesses can get more media attention. She thinks that it’s important for entrepreneurs to know who they are pitching, what they cover, and how/why it’s a good fit. She also emphasizes that the timing of the pitch is crucial, and that “one click can kill your whole great idea.” Kristi advises entrepreneurs to not add too much to the pitch, since PR professionals don’t really want to open up multiple attachments.
Kristi also warns against the press approaching clients, since they can take control of the narrative – which might not necessarily be good for your company. Instead, she believes in “proactive press,” where companies can help structure their own angles and fit their business into the story.
Becoming A Leader
Piehl was able to land a huge “national contract,” but she also knew that it would affect her work-life balance. She decided to hire her first employee, and quickly realized that she had to be the kind of leader that her employees – and other future talent – would respect and admire. She also realized that she had to stay on top of trends, competition, and the industry in general.
Kristi has been incredibly successful at growing Media Minefield, but Natasha had some questions about challenges that she was now facing. Piehl admits that the rapid growth led to challenges, and that the foundation of the company had to be “fortified.” She also elaborated that the pandemic helped her realize that Media Minefield’s future would operate on a hybrid-remote model. Check out our full conversation on the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast!
Transcript from Podcast
[00:00:00] Kristi: You have to know who you’re pitching and what their schedule is. If you send a strategic pitch at a certain time with an outright. Feel free to follow up on it. And once you get the press, make sure you leverage it on social media.
[00:00:15] Natasha: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and the myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.
I’ve written a book, a memoir that starts with my challenging upbringing with all the twists and turns and inflection points, including saving my company due to the pandemic. It will be published this year. So please go to natashamiller.co and sign up on my mailing list. So you’re the first to know when it’s available.
Today I have the pleasure of talking with Kristi Piehl who had a 12 year career as an Emmy award winning television news reporter. Then she launched Media Minefield in 2009. And as clients ranging from startups to billion dollar brands, Media Minefield moves beyond traditional public relations with its innovative new usability process, which I’m really interested in hearing about.
Now let’s get right into it.
[00:01:36] Kristi: So when I look back, my journey to entrepreneurship really started in middle school. I started in sixth grade selling my grandmother was a quilter and she made these pencil bags and I had one and everybody liked them. So I was like, aha, I can sell them to take orders, custom fabric. And my grandmother will make them and we’ll spit the Zambales.
It was certainly not a profitable endeavor for her, but I think she loved doing something to help me and I loved selling them. So I did that in sixth grade. Then in seventh grade, my friends started wearing makeup and they didn’t have cars. And this was pre-Amazon, of course. So I became an Avon lady and I started selling lipstick and mascara to girls in the middle school locker room.
And it was basically enough money that it paid for my makeup and I made a little extra. So I have always done these entrepreneurship sort of endeavors, but I never identified as an entrepreneur. So my professional career, I went to college to become a television journalist. I wanted to be a TV reporter. I did that for 12 years and that’s what I would always do.
And at December of late 2008 economic downturn, I got a call on my way into work. And one of my friends said, “I don’t know what’s going down, but I think there’s layoffs.” So I was in the middle of contract negotiations. I had just won two Emmy awards. I was at the pinnacle of my career.
I had done some work for Good Morning America. And then all of a sudden I walk into work. I just had set my stuff down and someone came for me and I followed them in own conference room and there was tissues and a Manila envelope. And I was like, “All right, I know where we’re going here.” And so because of that, I got really forced into making a decision about where my life was going to go.
It started for me with what am I here to do and how can I help people? And that led me 18 months of soul searching and volunteering. And I took a part-time job at my church, which is a weird thing, but very valuable and then took a class in my church basement. That was about what are you gifted in? What are your passions, your talents, and how can you help other people?
Cause that’s where I was like, I really want to help people. I really don’t like traditional PR and its approach when it comes to my world of media and storytelling. And I can’t figure out what to do, but I know I have something to offer. And I know my background is interesting and valuable to someone. So week three of that class, they asked me a question, everyone in that class, a question, I still have the paperwork and it was, “What do you know?”
So well, you could teach someone else. And I wrote down news and immediately I knew the name of the business immediately. I knew what we were going to do. I called my husband who’s in New York. At the time I had two little kids in the back of my car, my sons, not strangers. They were my children.
And I called my husband and I said, “I’m going to start a business.” And he said, “Great.” And within a month in the state of Minnesota, I was legal. And that was how my path to really identifying as an entrepreneur began.
[00:04:42] Natasha: Okay, amazing. We’re going back to Avon lady. That was not legal, but were you signed up under your name or was it under your mother’s or your grandmother’s name?
[00:04:51] Kristi: It could have been my mother. I don’t remember. I remember the regional woman coming to my home and interviewing me and talking to me. And I remember selling the product. I remember her checking up on me. I remember buying like the little nail polish, like plastic things. So I had samples and I had bags that were branded Avon and it was really a wonderful endeavor until I was old enough to get a quote real job and be legally paid, but it never dawned on me. And there was no conversation about it not being legal. And my father is a CPA and was very careful that once you hit a certain amount, it were filing and you’re paying your taxes. I know I never got there. I never reached the threshold, but we talked a lot about how I had a great time doing it.
[00:05:40] Natasha: So while you were doing your job, was there anything in your mind that was tickling saying, “Oh, I could do this better. I could do this on my own.” Or was it simply really that layoff situation that made you think about having your own business?
[00:05:57] Kristi: This particular thing when I speak to people, this is exactly like the area where I talk about, because for me, my identity was a news reporter. I had worked at five different stations, my husband and I lived in three different states doing it. We had people taking care of our kids and walking our dogs and mowing the lawn and all the things that it takes to live a life where at any minute a tornado could disrupt your entire weekend.
That was my identity. And I valued myself that way, which is incorrect, but that’s where I was at that time. And then it was wonderful when I was in my twenties and even my early thirties. And then I had these two children and I knew that something was really off. I knew that deepened my core. I wasn’t honest with anyone about it.
And I was scared. So I never dug into that because I think it was like if you don’t do that, it’s sort of all you can do. So what else would you do? So I think that’s why I didn’t ask myself the hard questions. The layoff forced it, the layoff was the best thing that ever happened. I’m grateful to the people who released me, because I think I would still be doing that right now.
[00:07:06] Natasha: And it’s a dangerous job now being a news reporter. I have a friend that worked for KTU and the story she would tell me about what would happen to her. She was an Asian-American woman, so it was even worse for her. Itsy bitsy tiny. So she had to travel with security and people are getting spat upon and beat up and equipment being stolen. No one knows that.
[00:07:29] Kristi: Every station I was at some sort of weird stalker disgusting emails, got letters that were inappropriate. I had a police escort for some time and the funny, not ha ha, but at that time there was this weird stalker guy. It was in Ohio and the city chief said, “Okay, you need to have someone drive you out of the city.”
So a police officer every night at 11:30, when the news is over, would escort me to the city limits and drive. And then I would get myself home. It’s that you’re just like allowing the abduction to happen in another city. Thank you. But that’s the reality of that lifestyle, that career path. And it isn’t fair and it isn’t right.
[00:08:09] Natasha: So the next thing I want to talk about is for our listeners who want to secure publicity for themselves, but also for people that may find themselves in a situation similar to yours, or have had some background that would lend them too or lead them to starting a publicity PR media branding company. So what is the strategy for securing media attention for your clients?
And can you give some tips to those who are currently not in the position of hiring a company like yours, like Media Minefield? And then I have a follow-up question, which I’m going to ask you now, because I think you’ll incorporate it. Do you always send a press release or sometimes just a targeted pitch?
[00:08:49] Kristi: So one of the things that I saw and the philosophy of the business, especially when it started, because social media has been new since the business has started in how important it is so we can get to that. But I saw traditional public relations firms, every station I worked at, come in to where the facility, they would send us pizzas. They would send us cookies. They would send us gifts.
And they had no idea what we actually needed. No idea. So every time they would circle the office, I would always say if you’re hiring a PR firm and the only time they’ve been in the newsroom is on a tour elementary school children get tours of newsrooms. So you need to hire a different PR firm.
So I honestly hated the industry. I still have a visceral dislike for parts of it, which is why I really want to disrupt the industry because there are better, more modern ways to do it, which brings me to your question. How? So press releases don’t work unless the goal of the press release is to, when someone searches you name, see it partially so that you put out or to put it on LinkedIn, or if you’re the governor and you got something. That works. But for most companies who think it’s really important that they achieved whatever, and that valuable. Now I will tell you that for my company, when we were on the Inc. 5000 list, the first time we did a press release and I did it very strategically and we put money behind.
If you want to extend the reach of it, you need to pay a service to extend the reach of it. We did it. And the sole reason was that I wanted to mention some of my larger clients and I couldn’t figure out a way to do it in a way that wasn’t like, “Look who we’re working with.” So that press release was an ideal way to say, “Here are some of our clients, we’re a legitimate agency we’re growing quickly without,” and it feeling very legitimate cause that is a legitimate piece of news.
I never expected that alone would get me any news interviews or newsletter. And it didn’t. So to get legitimate news coverage, so much of what you read out there is not true. It’s lies. You can potentially get some press, maybe one here or there. If your company or your business is doing something interesting, you could get one or two.
My position is that the most valuable type of news coverage is that which continues on an ongoing basis. People need to know that you’re relevant. They need to know that you have something to say, and they’re going to forget because the public memory is about as big as an ant. So we have to make sure that we’re continually giving them the messages we want.
So how do you do that? First of all, it’s identifying what you are an expert at. So your business is doing something, but each leader is an expert at something. So figure out what you’re an expert at. Position yourself as an expert in whatever that. And then pitch yourself to the news, but not in a way that says, “Hi, I’m Kristi. I have a media background. I’m an expert in media and PR want to talk to me or I’m a resource for you instead.”
So right now I’ll give you a real-time example. Right now, there is derek Shovan trial happening in Minneapolis, where I am now. There happened to be a terrible killing of an unarmed black man in my state as well.
So I would not pitch this right now because there’s a lot of important conversations that need to have. And the media’s coverage of the Shovan trial is not number one today. It could be in a couple of weeks. So I would not pitch this today. However, there is a valuable pitch out there to go to the national press was all in town or the local press or the business press.
And to say the Derek Shovan trial is happening. How is the media covering it? What kind of bias can people watching look for? And how could that potentially influence the outcome? “Kristi Piehl is a former news reporter. She is an expert in media bias, media news, trends and a PR expert and she could provide insight.”
And that should be done in an email form. It should not be done in any sort of attachment in an email because nobody wants to open one more thing. One click could kill your whole great idea. Also Natasha, and this is a very long answer, so I apologize, but I’m very passionate about this. Cause most people do it wrong and I believe in the power of media.
So strongly, you have to know who you’re pitching and what their schedule is. So what time of day are they interested in new pitches? What time of day are they already decided? And what do they cover? So sending a blanket pitch to 500 people on a list that you can buy, don’t buy the list, P.S. they’re not accurate, but if you send a strategic pitch at a certain time with an outcome, feel free to follow up on it. And once you get the press to make sure you leverage it on social media, I had a bunch of tips in there. I hope that was helpful.
[00:13:31] Natasha: Yes, it was. And I would love for you to talk as much about everything because really I love being able to be a vehicle of information and not entertainment.
You’re fun to listen to and watch, but also education is really important. And I think I know a bit about publicity and thankfully the position I’m in right now, the media is coming to me, which is crazy. I was just last week in ink two times and also The Wall Street Journal. One of those times I will admit, I did write a piece through the ink masters, but most of the press that comes to me. But not everyone’s 50 and has had a business for 20 years.
So thank you for talking about that. And then the pitch, I’m assuming that your business, like so many businesses are based on relationships, but you can’t have relationships with 10,000 people in the various news outlets. So how do you manage that?
[00:14:29] Kristi: Sure. So two things I want to talk about. The first thing you said, and then I’ll talk about relationships. First of all, you said the press is coming to you, which is awesome in my world. We would consider that crisis communication. And why? Because that’s a pretty counterintuitive way to think about it.
If the press comes to you, you have no control over what they’re asking you, they are assigned an angle and they’re looking for people to fit into their angle. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means you have to ask more questions. What’s the angle? Who else are you talking with? That sort of thing, because is it ultimately good for your business?
Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. On the other side, proactive press of here’s the angle. Here’s what I can talk about is, better for you because then you’re helping structure the angle of the story and fitting yourself in. So again, I agree with you. It’s fantastic that you’ve had the type of career that people come to, especially national brands.
So that’s awesome. On the relationship front. So we will really believe that it’s critical to understand our client’s message. And one of the things that I did in the first year of the business, which is one of the accidental, really amazing things that happened is I never expected to. Company and employees, that was never, again, I didn’t identify as an entrepreneur.
So I was looking for the term that I hate immensely is mom job. I was looking for something to structure. Like I’m going to change the industry by myself at my kitchen. And it never dawned on me that’s not a one woman job. So I was working on a process by myself, giving it away quite a bit, really discounting it, just figuring out if my premise is I don’t like the current way the industry does it, then I can’t look at them.
I’m going to look at what ultimately would work for a client. So I’m looking at the outcome. I want results. And then what do I have to do to get them results, ongoing results? So that was what I worked on the first year. And that became a process that now has a hundred percent success rate. Meaning every client we’ve ever worked with has press and we have about 150 news interviews happening a week. A lot.
[00:16:31] Natasha: Who runs your logistics and your company for that?
[00:16:35] Kristi: Really amazing people here. I’ve really amazing people here. Yes. So we have just about 40 employees and it’s a whole show from small clients to large clients to all over the map, but we get thousands of interviews every quarter thousands. So how do we get the relationships, which is where we started.
It started at the very beginning when we would get a client and we would know their message, and this is still what we do now. But it was, if we know their message and we know their audience, then we know where those people might be. So we have to figure out what reporters are covering that and where our client can provide value.
Because at the end of the day, and I didn’t mention all of our media folks are former journalists, so I still believe strongly that storytellers are the best to you. Can’t win chess. If you have never played it. So media people have played the game. They understand how it works. They know the rules of engagement.
So once we understand who our client is, what their messages, who their audiences, what they’re an expert at, where they can provide value, then we go look at those reporters and we connect with them. We understand them. It’s a very manual process. One-on-one in every city we’re in. And we were in, I don’t know, 150 cities or something, including national press last year.
So all over the place. And it’s that very manual process of figuring out who’s in this market. And we do have some software that helps us so we can. If it’s on the broadcast print is easier, but on the broadcast side, we need to be watching entire shows. So we understand the climate of the market. And how can we appropriately pitch something in St. Louis, if we don’t know what’s happening in St. Louis, we need to understand the news cycle.
[00:18:10] Natasha: You have an analyst that does that? One person, is that a position or department? Or is that something that you require of everyone?
[00:18:19] Kristi: It’s a department.
[00:18:21] Natasha: Yes. So many more questions. So let me say, for instance, I’m your client. And I really want to be covered by this one reporter with this one outlet that you don’t actually have a relationship with. And then furthermore, you don’t have relationship with anyone in that particular office.
How do you build a relationship so quickly that there’s a response or do you just give them a great pitch and it doesn’t really need a relationship?
[00:18:49] Kristi: I would say two things. One, if you came to us and said, I only want this one thing by this one person, we would say, we wish you all the best. Please find another agency because you’re limiting yourself. If you could be, had get 12 interviews and one of them could be this person wouldn’t you want 12, as opposed to-
[00:19:07] Natasha: Let me rephrase. How about if you wanted this one person to interview me from this one place, because that would be a slam dunk. How would you approach that interaction?
[00:19:19] Kristi: Most people think and ArchiTeam does as well, really big. So if we know that there’s this one reporter at the Wall Street Journal, that would really do an excellent job.
First of all, we would never tell you that because you’re going to be disappointed if we get you on The Today Show, which is ridiculous, but let’s just say. We would start if you’ve never done any interviews, let’s go local. Let’s go podcasts. Let’s make sure that we are coaching you along the way to make sure that when we pitch you to this one reporter who we think is perfect for you, you’re ready and you’re going to be excellent.
And you can deliver a great message also means for, especially for a larger media outlet that your social profile is aligned and that is clean and matches because organizations do not want to align themselves with people whose social profiles are counter to what they’re going to be an expert in or could be arrested for.
This is a crazy world we live in right now and anyone who’s heavily, if you’re blocked by social alone, odds are a news organization may not want to touch you, not a mainstream. So those are some things to think about, but in terms of building the relationship, we would go to this person and probably have a conversation with them and call them.
We were former reporters. We understand your lingo. We really want to give you some, a valuable expert. We’ve seen that you’ve written some stories like this. We believe that this person would offer your audience value because we really view the press as our actual class. Of course there’s no money exchange there, but if we can give really excellent stories and resources to the press, our actual paying clients when every time, so we have flipped the model and how we think about that.
So then we would reach out to them and we’ve done this. I mean it’s for some people, a couple of years of us working on something, it’s the regular ongoing relationship building. The reporter will say, not today, maybe next week. Some of these things take a really long time and it pays off, but it isn’t an overnight process.
[00:21:18] Natasha: Thank you for answering that. It makes a lot of sense. And I know it’ll be so valuable. I’m thinking of one entrepreneur specifically who asked me, how do I get press and do I have a publicist to refer him to, and I didn’t at the time. And then I thought I would ask a friend of mine who’s the editor in chief of a large media outlet.
Who would you suggest for this person? And the editor in chief said, “I don’t suggest anyone. I don’t have anyone that I love,” which was not the answer that I expected, but I can see from how you’re talking about your industry, that you understand that person’s feelings.
I would want to switch back to your business. You as an entrepreneur, you as a newscaster. And then you as the mompreneur or the solopreneur or the lifestyle business, how on earth did you pivot from mom, mommy business to running business with 40 employees and a lot of clients? That is a whole different skillset that you, I’m just going to guess, probably didn’t have. You had some skills and some things that you were probably good at that rose to the top, but talk to me about how you made that work.
[00:22:34] Kristi: I would love to lie to you, Natasha. And I would love to say you that I had a very detailed plan. I did not, but here are the things that I’ve never to this day done a business plan.
I don’t have an MBA. I don’t have a PhD. I have an English major. And here’s what I do have is I have a lot of ideas and I believe that there’s a way to do everything. And that was the root cause of the why of the business, which drives me today. We can help people. If we can help people, don’t we want to help the maximum number of people.
To the point of how did I get from one to 40 to, and our plans, hundreds of employees for me, I got my first contract, large national exclusive contract that required me to not be by myself. And at that time, I was one person for about 11 months. And then I was getting busier than I wanted to be because I made a deal with myself that I was not going to go back full time until my youngest was in kindergarten, because I was really enjoying the balance of both.
And I’m an all-in kind of person. If I’m going to go full time, that’s all in. And I want it to be all in on the mom’s side for a little bit longer. So I was getting busier than I wanted to be. I met a woman who heard me speak and we went for coffee and we were talking about where our kids were.
She just moved here to Minneapolis where my kids get their haircut, where they go to the doctor and that sort of thing. And I was talking about the business. She has a very similar background than I did. She was TV news person and had moved here from somewhere else. And she sent me an email at midnight.
She’s probably up with her baby feeding the baby, “I love what you’re doing. I need to work for you.” And I’m not kidding you Natasha. Up until that minute, I never thought of an employee, which is my own limited thinking and small minded thinking, which I coach people now, or when I speak to them, I talk to them about this, but that was where I was sitting and I hired her.
She’s still with the company and that opened the door to thinking differently. So I immediately went to two places in my head. Now I have an employee, so I have to be the kind of leader that she deserves, which means I get to work on me. And number two, I need to make this the kind of place I would want to work.
That was where I was for a long time. Recently I’ve realized that I actually don’t want to be the kind of place where I want to work. I want to be the kind of place where my ideal employee, who isn’t me, would want to work. They’re usually not MIH group they’re usually, or my experience level. Usually there are some of them, but usually they’re coming out of newsrooms with five to seven years experience, which is different and their needs are different.
They come from a different generation, frankly. So those were the two things that I needed to do. So if I got to be the kind of leader that she deserves, I got to work on me. I got to stay ahead of trends. I have to learn. I have to read all these things that I already loved doing, but how can I stay one step ahead and be the kind of.
That she deserves and the next person deserves. And as the level of talent continues to increase, and as the kind of clients, we have billion dollar clients, they deserve a different kind of product and a different kind of service, which means I got to raise the game on my leadership.
[00:25:42] Natasha: That’s a lot and it’s ever evolving. I think as an entrepreneur, I was just coaching someone who’s a jujitsu teacher. He’s an incredible fighter. And I said, “Listen, let me just tell you right now, you are not a business owner. You are never meant to be a business owner. You’re great at teaching and fighting.” He goes, “I know.” For those people to really realize that they need to either educate themselves and, or get help.
But you’re at a place with 40 employees. That means that you have to be able to read, interpret and understand your financial documents, your balance sheet, your cashflow, your P&L, and things like that, as well as hiring, firing culture, reviewing those things are not things that you can do them by feel.
But it ends up not working unless you really have a system and process. So did you take classes on those kinds of things or did you just hire someone immediately to take care of those elements that you didn’t necessarily want to deal with day to day?
[00:26:43] Kristi: One of the gifts of my limiting belief, that I’m a journalist English major mother who has no business with a bunch of employees, which again, wrong mindset.
But the gift in that is that it had the gift of being a journalist. So the gift of being a journalist is there’s always someone who knows more. And if you ask them, they will happily share their information with you. I, 100% believe that as a journalist and I still believe it today. So that put me in positions to talk to people, have conversations.
“Can we have coffee? I’m curious about this. Could you help me here?” And people are very generous if you ask them, they want to share typically. Okay. The second thing that was a gift is that I knew what I was getting and I knew what I wasn’t. And I knew the minute I could hire someone who was better at me than I was going to.
So that has helped me. So for example, I was doing all the payroll at my kitchen table, the trustee kitchen table, after the kids went to bed. So there was five, six employees. I was doing it. I had outsourced some of the tax stuff, of course, so that I could that part, I didn’t know, but I went and paid someone by the hour to help me set up QuickBooks so I could understand it.
I wasn’t running. I knew what our cash was. And I have this weird thing, which the COO makes we joke about it. My back of napkin math is really close usually to our actual P&L. So I have a running thing going in my head, but it isn’t like we could never give that to the government, the IRS.
[00:28:07] Natasha: And I want to stop you right there, because that is a truth for a lot of entrepreneurs. And I will say that up until about 1.5 million in revenue. I could do it that way as well. Once you start getting up into the more millions, the ability to do that, isn’t so great. Especially if you’re focusing on the thing that you’re really good at, then you really do have to lean on reports and such.
[00:28:34] Kristi: Totally. So I was doing all of that myself. I hired now the COO, but this was eight, nine years ago. And he came in and the first thing he had, I gave to him was like a Manila envelope of all of my receipts that I had saved. All of them. They were not documented. I was doing long form expense reporting.
Cause I knew I needed to do that, but I gave it to him and said here, and he put the processes together and he’s done a lot of things and we meet every week. I have a dashboard. I know what’s happening. And as sales are coming in, I have a general sense of where we are and what we need. And so I always have a general sense, but I know my limitations.
And I also know that when I say yes to something, I’m not an expert at, it means I’m saying no to what I actually.
[00:29:18] Natasha: So right now in your business, what is a challenge that you’re facing right now that I love to ask people this, because it just shows everyone that no matter where you are, Inc. 5000 up-and-coming Forbes, there’s always something that you’re working on.
So is there something you’re focusing on right now that is giving a little bit of pushback?
[00:29:41] Kristi: We’re growing really quickly. We’re growing so quickly that there’s a lot of change happening, which is energizing. What my next big hurdle, which when I say my, the company, it’s not my, but we’re all remote still.
And I’m in the office because there’s a couple of things here that I need. And there’s one or two people here that are similar. And based on what the governor of the state of Minnesota has said, we will soft launch. Some people can start coming back at the end of this week and there isn’t a date for when we can all be back.
And I’m really concerned about the mental health of my teams. There’s a pandemic happening that is scary for people. You have no work-life balance. When your office is your home, is your library, is your kids’ classroom, is your entertainment, is your gym. So that takes a toll. And then in Minneapolis, the racial unrest and reckoning is really difficult. And when there isn’t an outlet to talk about it. I’ve got quite a few people that live alone and there isn’t an outlet. And I know that my job is not to be their friends. I fully realized that, but this is a place for them to talk with their team members and what I found, even in coming back.
And if some people have come back for things that they’ve needed to do here, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of things that aren’t zoom or. So therefore they just go and said, and when we’re in the office, I can say, “Hey, what did you think about this?” And then I get a really good bit of information that goes to another team that’s valuable for them.
So there’s a lot of missed things. Yes. We’ve been very successful in growing remotely. Yes. We’ve taken on a lot of new clients. We’re so fortunate because so many businesses like yours have not been able to be actually doing their business unless they pivoted a year ago. So that has been really fortunate for us.
However, I’m worried about people and people are because I’m in Minnesota. I can use the farm machinery. If I was a farmer, I would take really good care of my tractors because that is what takes care of the product. And if I can’t take care of my people and I can’t make sure they’re good, then how do I make sure that my clients are being well taken care of? So that’s where my brain is.
[00:31:51] Natasha: And will you allow for in your business, a remote work force plan, ongoing?
[00:31:59] Kristi: Yes, we’re coming back hybrid and a couple of benefits. First of all, we have 8,000-9,000 square feet. We’re out of cubes. So we were going to, if everyone had wanted to come back full time, we would have had to expand, which we could have done.
It turns out we surveyed everyone because we really wanted them to see where people were. And most people only want to come back two days a week or three days a week. Fine. And I think it gives us the collaboration and the culture. That’s really important too. We’ve been fortunate to be best place to work for several years, and I want to maintain that.
And yet I think people value and see how productive and how much work-life balance they could have in the flexibility. We are coming back in a hybrid and I suspect that will stay there forever. In fact, we just hired someone in our search for talent. We’ve hired someone out-state and she is a moving here until I believe the fall.
I think I heard. And so she can work fully remotely. She’ll come back for some culture events and we’ll bring her in, but she isn’t going to live here. And I think that’s the future. We can do excellent work with people living remotely and not coming in. And then we can fly them in for things that are important.
[00:33:05] Natasha: Is there a strategy that you’re really focusing on? Doubling down on this year, in addition to trying to get your workforce back, that will be a multiplier for growing your business?
[00:33:18] Kristi: I have recently restructured, so because we grew quickly in the last year, we’ve had to move some people around and make some really fortify the foundation and.
That has been very beneficial. However, we’re still hiring and onboarding people and clients can’t see the growth pains that we’re having, they’re paying to get results. So we got to give them results. So for us, it’s sticking to the strategy that we’ve laid out. We’re working with the growth coach. We are working on a facilitator coming was by leadership team.
And so we have a plan. Are we have to stick to the plan and everything goes back to the plan. And I think it’s very easy to get sidetracked. What about this over here? What about this over here? And are we sure we should be doing this? So what we’re doubling down on is new strategy, new foundation, same results and sticking to being disciplined.
[00:34:13] Natasha: That’s incredible. And I’m assuming that within a year of that plan being implemented where you need to retune you’ll do that, but waiting to see how it all falls into place within that plan for a bit of time, it’s a very smart idea.
So you consider yourself a media publicity company? There’s so many terms, branding. If you had to say one thing about, what industry are you in?
[00:34:42] Kristi: We’re in public relations. But 10 years from now, we’re going to be the Media Minefield way. And other people are going to do it our way. We need to redefine public relations is this giant tent where you can get events and you can get social media and you can get a book launch and you can do all these things.
And it’s outdated. You need to be very strategic, be what are you good at. Like a general practitioner should not be doing open hearts. That isn’t what a general practitioner does and that’s not bad. That’s just two different things. So we really want to go into the marketplace in a more bold way, and we will be to talk about really understanding what do you need, what are your goals?
And then find an agency that is uniquely suited to help you and build your bigger agencies with experts in their smaller niches. So for us earned media, getting the kind of press that you don’t pay for crisis. And also on the social media side. So we have a trademark process that works excellently about how we can take over and executives, social media presence, and turn it into business for them in a, not an ad way.
We do have a paid part of our business paid ads, but our three things earned crisis. So earned, owned and paid is what a lot of people talk about. And we have that crisis element as well.
[00:35:55] Natasha: So within your industry, do you know what the benchmark for profit is?
[00:36:01] Kristi: Funny thing. A lot of people measure it, different ways.
I’ve read about it. I want to be an industry outlier. So I don’t know that I can find the true number because it’s one of these industries where there’s a lot of little players and then there’s some really big players, but those big players are advertising agencies also.
[00:36:20] Natasha: There’s a hybrid. They’ve got so many things going on.
Yeah. I love to ask the question because it goes back to we’re both on the Inc. 5000. That means that our revenue grew. But what about our profit? And I won’t ask you that number and I don’t ask that of anyone, but I think that is something that we as entrepreneurs really need to start looking at more and benchmarking.
And a lot of the people that I’ve interviewed don’t know their benchmark and there are ways of finding out. Of course, it’s a gradient. Who knows if it’s spot on, but the restaurant industry knows theirs and it’s not good.
[00:36:55] Kristi: No, I agree. And for me, it’s about ongoing profitability. We’ve had 26 straight quarters of profitability, which we share openly because without profit, I cannot invest back in the company.
And if I can’t invest back in the company, I can’t hire. And if I can’t hire. Then I can’t serve. It’s a cycle. So a hundred percent, the cash piece is really critical and get a line of credit, get a line of credit when you don’t need the money, because when you need the money, you can not get a line of credit.
So when times are good, you never know when that big client isn’t going to pay for six months. So it’s pretty important to have a line of credit. And I’ve learned a lot, it’s entrepreneurship by fire which is all entrepreneurship.
[00:37:36] Natasha: Exactly. Absolutely. We ride on that rough edge. That very dangerous precipice. Otherwise we would, I don’t know, just by existing businesses with existing templates and such.
So the last thing I want to talk to you about is the Flip Your script podcast, which thank you so much for having me on. I just listened to my episode today. And it was really good, probably because of your background and who you are, one of the best interviews that I’ve been able to do in the last couple of years. But was it a passion project or was it also in your mind as a business development marketing sales vehicle?
And just talk to me about that.
[00:38:20] Kristi: I live in this tension between and every business owner I’m sure does the sales and marketing people and the delivery people. And there’s a healthy tension that is always there. And I was part of strategic coach, the 10x program with Dan Sullivan. And as part of that unique ability is something they talk about.
And I love the concept is actually through unique ability and a podcast that I learned about Dan Sullivan several years ago. And I went one-on-one for a weekend with someone who’s going to be an upcoming guest on the podcast, Julia Waller, who’s the unique ability kind of experts. And we one-on-one went through what is my unique ability and the reason I needed to figure that out at Natasha is because I can only run my business as effectively as I am able to be my best self.
So if I’m going to continue run this business and lead the business. I need to be focusing time in a laser focused way on what I’m uniquely suited to do, because there’s a lot of other people here. In a normal year, I could point around. There’s a lot of other people here who are better at a lot of the things that I had done in the past.
Being an entrepreneur, a growing entrepreneur means you’re constantly letting go and then you’re grabbing something else. It’s like the monkey bars. I remember doing the monkey bars that you go one to one and then pretty soon you’re jumping to, and then you’re jumping and you’re hoping you catch it.
That’s what for me being an entrepreneur has been is that I have to keep letting go and going to a new place. In all of that. When I did my unique ability, we got really clear on the fact that I can ask questions. I love stories, and I believe that stories have power. And I believe that stories with power can help other people and be better.
How can we be better? Some people would say, have a critical spirit I’m working on it, but there’s always a way to be better. And I just want to help people what are you capable of? And you can do more and you can be more and just shattering that mindset. In essence, by having different guests on like you and I’ve had actors and athletes and authors and all sorts of different people on sharing their stories and people that have are regular people.
I believe everybody, if you are honest with everybody around you and you’re vulnerable and other stories, everybody has a powerful story that could help someone else. Not everyone wants to share it. Not everyone wants to be on a podcast, but everybody has it. So the podcast came from this place of I’m going to lean into my unique ability.
I have this agency, we can do the creative, we can do the messaging. We can do the social we can do, because that’s what we do. And that was where it started. So I bring that back to the company, “Hey, leadership team, this is what I’m going to do.” Sales says, “We’re taking you out of our sales cycle, but when you talk to people, we sell.”
That’s a lot of your time sales says this, services says that’s a lot of my people’s time. I got to build a website. Like everyone is fighting for their own departments as they should. And I had to say, “Okay, I hear both of you, please trust me. Let’s give it a go and see what happens.” So what we found in doing it is that yes, it’s extends our reach.
We do not take any ads because that isn’t going to why we started. I find a lot of personal satisfaction. I really love it. However, it has to be good for the business, or it would be like golf. It would be a hobby of mine. So what has been really good for the business is it has extended our reach. We have had clients say.
I saw the podcast. I heard about the podcast and it like pushes them over the edge. That’s really unique. And also proves that we’ve got a lot of clients who want to be on podcasts. We can launch a podcast. We know how to do that because we’ve done it ourselves. We know how creative works, we’ve done it.
And we have been behind the curtain so we can better suit or help our clients. Finally, the thing that I’m most surprised that it’s done is every new employee says, “I heard you on the podcast.” And it gives these new people who don’t have, we’re 40 people and growing, they’re not spending a lot of one-on-one time with me now.
It’s important that I’m in the office and they see me when they’re here and in the future. However, they get to know who they’re working for. And when you work for an entrepreneurial company where the founder is deeply in the business and leading the direction of the business, knowing who they are. It’s really valuable.
So those are the things that have been very valuable for us in having the podcast and darn it, I love doing it.
[00:42:38] Natasha: I love doing it too. You started 2020, was it a moment within the pandemic? Or was it already the wheels returning and it just so happened we had a pandemic?
[00:42:52] Kristi: Yes. I went to Toronto for my unique ability session. In November of 2019, the podcast was set to start recording in may of 2020. We were supposed to be going to the studio and we had a full plan. And then they said, “Do you want to pause?” Because then we didn’t know, would this be a two week pandemic? Is this a month long pandemic? And I said, “Nope, we’re going to do it. Let’s figure it out.”
So my guest bedroom became the podcast studio, which as it doesn’t take much in the podcast studio that helps us do all the technical and edit it. They sent me all the equipment, we set it up and we launched it as we would have. It just looks a little different.
[00:43:29] Natasha: We learned about how Kristi is turning traditional PR on its head and forging her own path, one that she thinks will be industry standard in 10 years’ time.
To learn more about Kristi, go to the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.
For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.