Simon chats with Pace PR President and Founder, Annie Scranton on being your brand's own publicist.
Pace Public Relations (PPR) is a full-service media relations and communications agency. PPR strategically customizes & tailors each client’s publicity plan and PR campaign to meet their specific goals while maximizing their media exposure.
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Simon Dell: Welcome to the Cemoh Marketing Podcast, Annie Scranton, in the good old US of A. Whereabouts are you today, Annie?
Annie Scranton: I’m currently in New Jersey. We are based in New York City, but because of the pandemic, we’ve sort of relocated for the short time being to New Jersey.
Simon Dell: And tell us who you are and what you do. Why are you here today?
Annie Scranton: [laughs] I don’t know, you tell me. I run a public relations firm, a PR agency and we help clients to get featured on television, to get featured on podcasts and radio programs, and to get featured in newspapers, magazines and major websites. So, I am here to talk about all things media and PR.
Simon Dell: So, let’s talk about your journey before we get into that because you’ve been doing that for about 10 years now. You founded a business. You’re the president, obviously the company, not the president… And America kind of has different corporate roles, but you obviously started this. Did you start it on your own? Was it just you? How’s it grown? What do you look like as a business?
Annie Scranton: Well, today, there’s 10 of us full-time, there’s 5 of us part time. We have more than 40 clients, most based in the States, but we are international. Our clients are ranging from political pundits, to financial analysts, and wealth managers, all the way to the other end of the spectrum: lifestyle products, CPGs, authors, and we have corporate clients as well. So, the common sort of denominator is all of them are looking to get featured in the media because they believe that a great clip on CNBC, or on a major morning show, or to get featured in The Wall Street Journal will help to raise their legitimacy and their credibility, and just add that raw brand awareness.
But my story is, I worked the first part of my career, first 8 years as a TV news producer and as a print journalist, and in that 10 years ago, almost 11 is when I started the company, just kind of took a leap of faith, quit my job… I felt like because of the connections I had made in the industry, that I would be able to help clients to get featured in the media. And so, I started it by myself, you know, out of my studio apartment in New York and here we are all these years later.
Simon Dell: At some point, you must have had your first employee. That, certainly for me in the past, has been a bit of a nerve-racking moment. All of a sudden, you’re responsible for somebody else. How is that for you?
Annie Scranton: It was a long time coming. I think it was a year and a half or so, or maybe even close to two years. And the moment I knew it was the right thing to do is when I was just like so overwhelmed. And I mean, and I was working already 12 to 15 hours a day, but there was just too much to do, and I was in a fortunate situation because there was just too much new business coming in for me to really handle.
And the money was great, you get to keep it all to yourself, and you know that part was great. But I was like, “You know what, I have to think about what is going to allow me to scale the business.” But it was scary, but I think if you believe in yourself and you’ve been doing it for, like I said, I was doing it for almost 2 years by that point. I had felt like, “Okay, I trusted in myself that I could do it.”
Simon Dell: Are you at a place now where you’re at the size that you want to be as a business, or is there – you potentially want to grow? Where do you go from after 10 years doing this?
Annie Scranton: It’s funny you’re asking me that, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and trying to figure out the right answer. I don’t know. I mean—
Simon Dell: Maybe we can work through this together, Annie, whilst we’re here.
Annie Scranton: Maybe you can help me with the answers.
Simon Dell: I always reverse this around, yes. I guess, do you see, for you to expand, you obviously need more clients. Do you see that there’s an opportunity within New York or would you move to other locations?
Annie Scranton: I would certainly because the type of PR we do, which is traditional media relations, we can apply it to any market globally. That wouldn’t be a problem. I think it’s having even more new client acquisition certainly. But I think also in my industry, a lot of times, agencies grow and scale by adding in other services. So right now, really, the main service we add is, we offer as media relations, but we could potentially think about adding in social media, or SEO, or advertising, or content creation, video production.
I’m open to all of that and I do want to grow. I don’t know – but at the same time, where I am now is really great also. And so, if this was as good as it got for the next however many years I have, I would consider myself to be very fortunate and lucky. But knowing that type of personality I am now which is like kind of a go-getter and ambitious. I don’t think this will be the answer for the next 20 years or whatever.
Simon Dell: I remember when I had an agency… So, you’ve got 10 full-time staff and 5 part-time. There’s a funny thing that happens around 15 staff, right? Somebody often says to me that there’s some strange things growing a business around 3, 7 and 15 numbers of staff. Those points, and it’s not black and white, it’s not the same for every business, but those points, there is a change in the dynamics of the business. And I think the 1 at 15 is where all of a sudden, I know for me, all of a sudden, I was sending out invoices at the end of the month to clients I had no idea what we were doing for.
Annie Scranton: I don’t necessarily want to admit to that. Like an…
Simon Dell: No, of course. Let’s not admit to that on this podcast. At least, let’s certainly not admit that their name, the name of the client, but yeah.
Annie Scranton: I know exactly what you mean, but that has to be part of scaling. There’s just no way, when you have so many clients, that you can know every single thing that’s going on with all of them. And for me, the sort of letting go process is still an evolution. I am so fortunate I have the most wonderful number two and number three deputies on my team who really manage so much of the day to day and do such a great job at it, that in fact, there are many clients that I don’t really know exactly what’s happening because I just trust them now.
For me, that really happened when I gave birth to my daughter 2 and a half years ago. Before that, I was like micromanaging every little thing. And then after I had her, I knew that was obviously never going to be the same iteration again. And so, my role has continued to evolve. But in this place now, where like pre-baby, I knew what I was doing every day. I was knee-deep in the client work. And now, I’m at this higher level where I’m thinking about scaling, and growing, and whatever, and it’s not as tangible. It’s little more, you have to, I don’t know – so I’m still figuring it out.
Simon Dell: Let’s go back to the PR side of things. The majority of our listeners are in Australia. America is a very different marketplace. It seems to me when I look at it from a PR perspective or a media perspective, at least, it is a vastly fractured different landscape. You mentioned morning shows earlier on there. How many morning shows must there be going on in and around America any given time?
Annie Scranton: Well, there’s three major national morning shows on CBS, ABC and NBC, but then every cable network has their own, so there’s a multitude of those because now you’re adding in streaming and other networks. But the big three are still CBS, which is CBS This Morning, ABC which is Good Morning America, and NBC which is The Today Show. So, those are still, in the States, very much considered like the holy grail in terms of TV.
Simon Dell: From your perspective, what does it take to get on a show like that? What does it take to get on a morning show? Obviously, you’ve got to have something that’s unique and something different, but they must have some sort of check boxes that they think about when people approach them. What are they looking for?
Annie Scranton: Well, a few things. It has to fit into the new cycle, so there’s very, very limited real estate for feature stories or stories that are sort of not in the mainstream consciousness of the American viewers, number one. Number two, you have to have already done television because they need to see a clip of you, and they need to make sure that you’re good on camera. You’re not going to look crazy or say something off-colour or whatever.
And then even more so now, like the way that we get most of our clients on is via sound bites that go into a taped package in the morning show, because live guests even before the pandemic, they use a lot more of their own reporters and their own correspondents, so that’s really the way to do it. And you have to be an expert and have real credentials to back up what you are an expert in.
Like this morning, we represent Fast Company magazine, which some of your listeners may be familiar—
Simon Dell: Yeah, First Company.
Annie Scranton: And you know, the GameStop stock is like a little bit quirky right now.
Simon Dell: I was going to say, any one of your clients who’s a financial expert in stocks and stuff like this, you must have to queue them up right now to talk about what’s happening with that.
Annie Scranton: That’s what we’re pitching right now, and so Steph Mehta, who is the editor-in-chief of Fast Company, she was in one of those taped packages I was talking about this morning, giving her soundbites and giving her expertise. And that’s a great hit for Fast Company.
Simon Dell: Just to take a step back there. If you are a small business and you want to pitch something like this, finding yourself… When you say they want to see that you’ve been on TV before, any video or they just want to see that you’ve done, potentially a local show, a state-based show or a city-based show?
Annie Scranton: So, any video is better than no video, and if you have no video. I would recommend doing a mock interview where your friend, or your colleague, or something is off camera and you’re just sort of giving the – because that’s the first non-starters. They have to see what you look like and they have to see that you can actually string together soundbites and intelligent thoughts.
But most of the time, a local clip would be fine, but if you’re a real expert, then presumably you’re going to have done a national cable network or sort of a bigger show as you lead up to it.
Simon Dell: Okay. So, for the people that don’t want to be on TV, does radio kind of work in the same way? They want to hear your voice before they actually let you anywhere near your microphone?
Annie Scranton: No, podcasts are much easier, and so is radio, but it’s the big podcasts that you need to have the same type of chops behind you as you would for a national tv show. Like, the Joe Rogan podcast, clients ask us to pitch to him often. And we do, but it’s hard because—
Simon Dell: Tell me what Joe Rogan’s looking for. Because normally, every time I watch Joe Rogan, it strikes me that I need to be at a, you know, smoke a lot of marijuana or be drunk or something. I may be generalizing somewhat there, but I’ve watched a lot of Joe Rogan. What is he looking for just out of interest?
Annie Scranton: He does just a lot of very topical, newsy, current cultural commentators, I would say. There’s comedians, there’s celebrities, there’s people that are involved in different writing for different outlets and publications. People that have like a good personality because his podcasts are really long and so—
Simon Dell: Yes, they are.
Annie Scranton: He needs to have somebody on his show who can carry an hour or sometimes longer conversation, which is not easy to do for everybody.
Simon Dell: Okay, podcasts are easier. We’ll talk about why they should use a PR agency and why they shouldn’t do it themselves, but let’s assume that they want to do it themselves. What’s the best way of doing it? Is it just sending someone an email or just badgering the shit out of them until they say yes?
Annie Scranton: Well, you don’t want to – it’s a fine line between persistence and annoyance. And so, you certainly do not want to be annoying because you’re definitely going to piss off the producer or the reporter. I mean, listen, if you hire a PR firm, you’re not going to have to carve out time of your day every day to do this work. You’re going to have somebody doing it for you, and you’re really paying for the connections that that PR firm has.
What we do is not rocket science, as you said. Yes, the simplest way is to send an email, just to send a short email to a producer, a reporter or whatever. Introduce yourself and give your pitch of why they should care about talking to you more or less. But what people forget often times is that you have to really do your research into the outlet that you’re pitching and the reporter that you’re pitching because you need to know who you’re reaching out to and what type of stories they’re interested in, what they’ve written on previously, what kind of angle they take in certain things.
And so, all of that, as I said is not hard necessarily, but it just takes time and thoughtfulness. And so most people, if they’re thinking about PR, they’re busy running their own business. They don’t really have time to do that, but if you’re trying to do it on your own, I would say, first make sure that you have really buttoned-up whatever is your pitch, whatever is the way that you’re going to brand yourself in that sort of elevator pitch way.
Like, if people say to me “Annie, what’s your elevator pitch?” I’d say, “I can get you on TV.” And that’s enough where people usually stop and they’re like, “Oh, okay. Maybe I want to be on TV, tell me more.” And then the conversation gets going, but you have to remember that when you’re pitching a journalist, you’re not only trying to get them interested, but you need to think of the reader of that publication or the viewer of that program. Why should they care?
And most of the times, they’re not going to care about you or your company. They’re not going to care. But if you can position yourself as a thought leader in the space that you’re in, so if you’re a tech entrepreneur, and you could talk about whatever stories are trending in the tech space, or if you’re in finance, GameStop, like whatever is happening, that’s a really good way in. And the other advice that I would say is to start small and try to build up. Like, every industry has trade outlets, so I would say to start with the trade publications that are in your industry, those are usually an easier get, and then also to start locally.
A lot of people, producers at local markets, will be more likely to interview you if they know you’re local or you grew up there; they’ll just have more of that feature-y bet to it.
Simon Dell: Okay. What’s the result? Let’s say you get somebody on one of those big three morning shows. Is that make or break? Do they go from zero to hero overnight, or is it something that they’ve got to keep repeating doing over and over again?
Annie Scranton: Yeah, the latter for sure. I think everyone feels an immediate boost. They have people reaching out and it feels good. It helps, it drives traffic to their site. But at the end of the day, the media is so fleeting, and you’re on one day and it’s great, but then the next day, they have to produce a show, there’s another big story, they want somebody else. So, for my clients, it’s more about the sustained presence in the media because that sustained presence then every quarter, if they do say an e-newsletter, they’re able to send out to everyone they know in their contacts. “Hey, check out this interview I just did on X outlet.”
It just kind of – what it does is it doesn’t make or break, but it can help a lot of people, like if you have a client who’s deciding to go between you or someone else, and they see that you’re doing media, a lot of people think that then, “Oh, I’m going to go with this guy because he’s legit. He was just on CNN.” And it just kind of helps build that legitimacy and that credibility.
Simon Dell: It’s something when I talk about marketing to people, I always say to them, there is three types of marketing. There’s lead generation, nurturing, and there’s branding. And lead generation is defining the people that are ready to buy right at the moment, that’s fairly obvious, and nurturing is once you get them in the system is just reminding them about who you are, and that might be especially through content, and social media, and that sort of thing.
And then branding is the one that people often kind of get scared of, you know, spending money on signage and spending money on T-shirts and things like that. They don’t ever see a direct response. They go, “Right. Well, if I buy a T-shirt or buy T-shirts for my staff, how’s that going to suddenly make me more money?” And it seems to me often that PR is like that kind of thing, and the thing that I always say to people with branding, and that seems to me you’re saying with PR as well, is that when it comes to the lead generation, if people recognize your brand, when they do the Google search, and they see brand in the Google search, they go, “I saw them on TV the other day.” They’re so much more likely to click on that result and follow through.
And then they get on to the front page of the website, and there’s the little video from the morning show. They’re much more likely to make an inquiry, or pick up the phone, or send an email, or whatever it is because you guys have done that work for them prior.
Annie Scranton: 100%. I mean, and PR is much more qualitative than quantitative. It’s very hard to measure because someone could see a clip of you on TV from a year ago and then they’re calling you to hire you for something like that. It’s very hard to track those things except for when it’s in the immediate. When you get like an immediate boost, but I just think it’s more about the dribs and drabs, just kind of putting it out there.
And then collectively, I think, it makes an impact. And it’s not the right move for everybody. It has to be the right time because you are investing in it, it costs money and what people don’t realize is that just because you hire me, doesn’t mean I’m going to guarantee you results. I can’t control what a producer reporter wants to cover or who they want to interview.
Simon Dell: And that’s I think the big challenge when people talk to PR companies, is that you spend this amount of money on Google ads, I know I’m going to get this amount of clicks. But you spend this amount of money on PR, doesn’t necessarily going to translate into a particular traffic or whatever.
Annie Scranton: It won’t, but the types of clients that we take on, we feel good enough about the clients that we choose to work with where we feel like we have a good chance. And at the end of the day too, we always get results for our clients, so they’re going to come away with a body of work. It may not be The Today Show, but they’re going to have – and they’re going to learn from that experience as well. But yeah, timing is very important.
Simon Dell: Is there any particular industries that worked better for PR or… I mean, obviously, fashion and food, and consumer goods and those kind of things, but maybe I’ll turn that question around. Is there any industries that you struggled with finding PR coverage?
Annie Scranton: None that are coming to mind because like I said, there are publications and outlets that cover basically every industry that you could possibly think of. Like for us, working with folks in finance is usually easier because there’s three business networks here in the States, and they need market commentators all the time. So, that’s kind of easier.
When you’re talking about more of the lifestyle like food, and travel, and fashion, those hits are much less frequent because there’s just not TV networks that are covering those things all the time. But when you do get a big feature saying departures, or in Cosmo or whatever, that’s their sort of holy grail. But that may happen only once a quarter or twice a quarter or something like that. So, it just depends on the industry.
Simon Dell: Last couple of questions for you. Outside of your clients, who do you see doing PR really well out there?
Annie Scranton: There are a few firms in the states that probably – I don’t know if your listeners would know, but they’re also former TV producers like myself who have a foothold sort of in the TV industry market. There’s a lot from Alison Brod to Edelman. There’s big firms that I think are doing really good work because they’re representing Coca-Cola and major company.
I think there’s a lot of talented people out there, but we do get a lot of clients that have sort of a sour taste in their mouth from past PR agencies that they’ve used. And the thing that I think is a red flag is if you’re not hearing from your publicist regularly. We talk to all of our clients almost every day in some form or fashion, and you pay – you’re writing that check every month for your monthly retainer. You deserve to know what’s going on, and I think that’s a red flag from some other agencies, I think.
Simon Dell: Another question I was going to ask was about writing a press release. Because again, I see so many people that think they can write a press release. It’s one of those ones that are, “How hard can it be? It’s a page of text” and that sort of thing. And I suspect you know as well as I do that there’s people are always going to try and do it themselves, and then there’s going to be people that are going to try and do it themselves and go, “Well. This is too hard. I’m going to get a professional to do this.”
Which is normally what we see. We get the odd client that’s been booked by another marketing agency, another marketing company, but we also get ones that have gone, “Well, I’d do it myself and I either don’t want to do it myself or I realized I’m not very good at it, so I want to get a professional to do it.”
But writing a press release always struck me as being a kind of a unique talent. There was a particular uniqueness to writing a press release. What are perhaps a couple of tips if someone is going to want to have a stab at it themselves?
Annie Scranton: Well, first and foremost, we don’t really use press releases that much anymore at all. And so, if there is a big launch, like a company’s launching a brand-new product line, or a major announcement then yes. But 95% of the time, we’re writing targeted pitches to the journalist. And so, the targeted pitch… So, my tips would be: Make it personal. How do you make it personal?
Find the reporter you’re pitching on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook. Check them out. Go to their page and read the last five articles they’ve written and then come up with, “Hey, I really loved reading your last story on whatever it was. I really liked the part where you mentioned this. If you’re going to be covering anymore in the area of whatever it is, I’d love to talk to you. I’ve done X, Y and Z. I can give you my thoughts on this.”
Just very short, to the point. Like, when I was a producer, I would get probably 200 pitches a day and I would just delete them If I didn’t know who they were coming from, and also if they’re too long. Nobody has time to read them so it’s just like, get right to it, because I think people – I think a journalist will know within the first few sentences if they’re even going to interact with you or not. You don’t need to kill yourself.
Simon Dell: A couple of paragraphs make it really, you know, that first couple of sentences make the point, you get on with it. And obviously, I’d imagine making it really clear how they can get hold of you. And I guess if you’re talking about TV, or radio, or even press, you kind of need to be a bit flexible for them as well because if they ring you up and say, “Can you be on the show on Friday morning?” And you go, “No, I’m having my nails done” or whatever. I’d assume at that point you’ve burned your bridge, that’s gone. You’re never going to get that one back.
Annie Scranton: 100%. And I always say, the relationship with when you’re pitching the media and the media is not 50/50, it’s 99 to 1. You have to give 99%, and the 1% you get is when you’re on TV, and then you get that interview, and you’re there. People may not like that, they may not think it’s fair or right, but I don’t even know if that’s necessarily 100% accurate, but that’s how I look at it. Because they don’t owe me anything.
Those producers don’t owe me to put my clients on. I’m there to make their job easier, and exactly, if you’re not going to be flexible, they won’t call you again.
Simon Dell: I assume contacts you’ve known for years and years, you’re pretty much starting from a blank page every time you talk to them with a different client. I guess, sure, they’re perhaps more likely to read what you’re sending them but there’s, as you say, zero obligation for them to actually do anything for you.
Annie Scranton: Zero, but I still practice what I preach. I will watch the show that they’re producing. I will try to think of a clever way that it would fit into their coverage, but they’re more likely to book my clients, but it’s not a guarantee.
Simon Dell: Awesome. Last question, what’s the best way of reaching out to you if somebody’s interested in potentially working with you in the US market? What’s the easiest way to reach out to Annie?
Annie Scranton: Well, our website is Pace Public Relations, pacepublicrelations.com or you could send me a message on Twitter. It’s @anniescranton.
Simon Dell: Awesome. Annie, thank you very much for your time today. I hope you guys sort out your COVID stuff out there. We’ve forgotten what COVID is here. We don’t even know where it’s been. It’s been that long ago for us, but as someone who has family in the US and my brother’s in New York as well, I keep half an eye on it every day to see how it’s going out there. So, good luck with the future, and also good luck with working out what you’re going to do and how you’re going to scale this in the next 10 years.
Annie Scranton: Thank you, I’ll keep you posted.
Simon Dell: Awesome, thank you very much.
Annie Scranton: Thank you.