In this episode, PR wiz Amanda Lee, sits down with Jeff to show MSPs how they can use PR proactively to break through the noise and get noticed. Amanda answers the age old question: Is all press actually good press?
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In This Episode
0:14 – Jeff introduces Amanda
4:27 – Diving into PR
5:45 – “Break through the noise and get noticed.”
12:07 – “Is it ever too soon to engage a PR firm?”
17:24 – Is all press good press, yes or no?
22:44 – “You know, you don’t have to answer every singe question.”
25:06 – Have the PR mindset!
[00:00:14] Jeff Cummings: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the MSP Ignition! Podcast brought to you by Axcient, where it’s not about the backup, it’s about the recovery. Axcient protect everything. Be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes and please give us a review while you’re there. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, social stuff and make sure you share these podcasts as well.
I am your host Jeff Cummings. Today, we’re going to add something to your arsenal that many businesses just don’t use effectively, if at all, and that is PR. We’re going to tackle this untapped potential, there’s no one better to help us get started than Amanda Lee, the CEO and founder of ARL Strategic Communications. Welcome, Amanda, and thanks so much for joining us today.
[00:00:56] Amanda Lee: Thank you so much for having me, Jeff, I’m excited to be here.
[00:01:00] Jeff: Happy to have you. Some of our listeners might not realize how familiar– Can I try that again? Some of our listeners might not realize how familiar you are with the MSP market. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in PR and how did you find yourself in the MSP space?
[00:01:17] Amanda: Yes, of course. I feel very lucky to have found a career in tech and especially the IT channel, it’s such a wonderful community of businesses. These MSPs are so dynamic, their ability to be able to evolve to the changing IT landscape is really incredible to me, I love hearing the stories and listening. I have been in the channel for seven years.
[00:01:44] Jeff: Seven years? Wow. I didn’t know that.
[00:01:46] Amanda: Before that, I ran a communication shop for two different members of Congress. One in North Carolina and one in Tennessee. Very interesting background going from political communications to the tech world, very fast paced.
[00:02:02] Jeff: Especially North Carolina and Tennessee, right?
[00:02:04] Amanda: Oh, yes.
[00:02:04] Jeff: That probably created its own unique set of challenges.
[00:02:07] Amanda: Definitely.
[00:02:08] Jeff: What got you to the PR thing in the first place? What got you started in that industry?
[00:02:12] Amanda: That is a great question. When I was in the university, I switched my major seven times. I could not figure out what I wanted to do like many university students. I was working one day–
[00:02:24] Jeff: Such a millennial answer by the way.[laughter]
[00:02:24] Amanda: I know. I was working one day, I worked at a clothing shop called “Express” while in the university.
[00:02:31] Jeff: I remember Express. Is that still around?
[00:02:33] Amanda: I think it is. I think it’s still around. It was super fun. The coach of the football team of my university walked in with his daughter to do some shopping which is very cool, for all the dads out there to take their daughter shopping, and I was talking to him about a career. Somehow, we got into the conversation of what I should pick and he said, “Marketing, you should do marketing.” That’s what happened, folks. I chose marketing. I’m glad I did.
It’s really interesting too because I always chose creative writing classes as my electives, it was always really challenging to me to get the high A in that class, whereas in math, it was something that I was very good at, it came easy to me. It’s interesting that I selected a career that was always going to be challenging to me but rewarding in the same sense.
[00:03:29] Jeff: That’s awesome. I know you do some work for PAXS 8. You’re pretty involved in the channel. Are you helping out anybody else in the MSP space beside us as well? Just the shameless plug there, but yes, us too.
[00:03:42] Amanda: Absolutely. We do, we work with an RMM and PSA provider out of Israel which is really cool, they do some neat things. We do work with an HR tech company in Denver as well. My husband owns a business so we work with him as well as a general contractor, that’s a little outside the scope. We do special projects for Cisco. In the past, we’ve done a ton of work for them as far as case studies and enabling MSPs to incorporate public relations in their practice, Cisco does a really good job of that. They offered MDF, money to for these MSPs to be able to leverage public relations services.
[00:04:27] Jeff: That’s interesting. You usually hear MDF for events and content or whatever, but maybe not necessarily PR. Let’s dive a little bit into that. For our listeners that might not have a firm grasp on PR. What is it? How do you describe it to somebody when they say, “What exactly is PR?” We think that PR is just a person who stands in front of the press when you’re in trouble or whatever.
[00:04:52] Amanda: That is so true. I actually want to start with a short story on that. I was working out at the gym with my husband a couple years ago and a small business owner in St. Petersburg, Florida where we used to live, I thought he’d be a great client for us, I was talking to him about public relations and marketing, and how we could help him. I was really excited about it, he said, “Young lady, I’m not in trouble. I don’t need PR and let’s hope I never do.” It’s not for when you’re in trouble at all, that’s not what it’s for.
For me, what I do is more than a job, it’s more than a career in public relations, it’s an opportunity to help businesses really discover their uniqueness, and then break through the noise and get noticed. That’s what we do.
[00:05:45] Jeff: I love that, “Break through the noise and get noticed.” I love that. I’ve worked at companies before where their idea of PR is, “We paid PR Web 250 bucks and now we’re in the same press release as a million other companies.” That’s not really it, PR Web is what everybody does that.
[00:06:06] Amanda: It’s a lot more than that. It’s credibility, of course, getting your press or your news on the wire is a credibility benchmark for organizations, but it’s really just a conversation starter for your pitch.
To me, especially working in an IT channel, we have awesome media publications, I think some of the best. For them, obviously, they want to hear the news, but it’s really about relationships. Building those relationships with press, being available when they need you to comment on a story, taking the time to tell your story to that member of the media. Find out about who they are and their families, or their dogs or just connecting with them on that level, that personal and business relationship.
[00:06:58] Jeff: For our listeners out there in the MSP space, an MSP might be hearing this going like, “I’m just an MSP in Madison, Wisconsin. What good does the PR do for me and where’s a good place for an MSP to get start on PR? What are some of the places you tell them that they get start on?
[00:07:18] Amanda: I think that’s a really good question and I’ll answer the first question. I’ll start with the fact of why would anybody care. I can tell you that these media publications that we work with, they truly believe to their core that they are an advocate for the MSP. They want to hear from you, they want to know what you’re doing, they want to hear your story, that’s how we do so many case studies for businesses in the channel specifically because it’s a proof point, it’s humanizing the tech.
Don’t leave the tech and whatever you do with your business, don’t leave with the technology, connect with people, find that human connection, everybody’s a consumer, B2B marketing is boring, B2B PR is boring, it’s really important to make that human connection. If you want to grow your business, a really great place to start is getting somebody to advise you on public relations, brainstorming with you on ideas, and having that conversation about strategy around how to find that ideal client for you and then capture their attention, and then get them to start buying and trying you. It’s great.
[00:08:40] Jeff: It expands beyond like– If someone were going to call you from Fort Collins, Colorado, it expands beyond just getting in the local newspaper then? How do they get their voice out to their local clients? Because they probably don’t think– We already know MSP struggled with sales and marketing, it even seems like PR might even be a little more nuanced. How do they tap into that other piece of it? Is it more than just local press? What would you say to somebody who’s in their region that wants to be part of more conversations in their local community?
[00:09:13] Amanda: I think being a part, especially if you’re a regional MSP, it’s really important that you get that coverage in the local paper. A great way to do that it’s just telling that story around the community outreach you’re doing. I think that’s a great way to get noticed by your local media and dropping in, and getting to know them. They want to cover you in your local paper because you are creating jobs, that is really important for a thriving community, you’re a part of the very fabric of the growth in that community, so there’s always going to be a story to tell around that too.
Another thing that I really like clients to do is when they sit down with a reporter to offer to help with any story they’re doing, where you can offer expertise and promise to respond to them within their deadline. That’s a really good way to build that relationship and to get in different stories too, I think, and become that thought leader, which is really the next level, ultimately. If you want to be a thought leader. If you want to be a go-to for something that you’re passionate about, you want them to start coming to you, rather than you always going to them. A part of that is just offering your expertise in something that they need.
[00:10:30] Jeff: The local beat reporter is covering ransomware attacks or maybe bad weather in the area. We even see the flooding in the Midwest in areas where we’ve never seen it before. Certainly, we know that there is no borders when it comes to ransomware attacks. You could be almost like you would help them to be an adviser to local press and to different things like that to let people know, “Hey, I’m here to answer other questions than how can I sell to you.” Making local businesses aware of how to protect themselves and what to do the plan for or whatever the case may be.
To me, it’s a way in where you help advise your local community and then you become a thought leader and the business comes to you in other ways than your typical pay per click model or whatever you’re trying to do to drum up business.
[00:11:18] Amanda: That’s exactly right. If you want to get crazy, even becoming a national, somebody that– CNN or MSNBC or Fox News, you could even get to the level where you become somebody that they call if they’re doing a story, they’re covering the floods– these media publications want to keep the story going especially when it’s a crisis. I know that’s not great.
[00:11:44] Jeff: Yes, we know that sells, if it bleeds, it leads saying. [chuckles]
[00:11:47] Amanda: If you want it, find a PR shop that’s local to you or call me and I’ll offer complementary sessions and we can talk through whatever you’re comfortable with and get you noticed and through that, more business.
[00:12:07] Jeff: Getting you noticed in the press, getting you noticed even in your local community, it sounds like even being just involved in community outreach and making sure that you’re there and visible is a really important thing that you could help them out with as well as the messages. When did they start engaging a PR firm? Is it ever too soon to engage a PR firm?
[00:12:31] Amanda: I would say if you’re looking at growth, it should be one of your pillars for growth and to help drive that growth. With the clients that we work with, we are measured by the sales success of the organization or whatever their goals and objectives are. Everything we do is measured by those benchmarks and those standards. We believe that if the company is not growing and sales that we are not doing our job. That’s just not acceptable. We think it’s important that if you want to grow, that you should be engaging, somebody in public relations. More than that, social strategy and analyst relations, it’s more than just media relations when it comes down to it.
[00:13:22] Jeff: I could see sometimes maybe a tension between marketing and PR, but if it’s done the right way, then you’re more of a complementary piece of it, right?
[00:13:30] Amanda: Absolutely. Public relations is a perfect, we augment marketing. That’s absolutely what we do. We support marketing and sales within organizations that we work with. I think that’s the right way. The model when I set this up– I love what I do and so my model is a little bit different. We’re not a turn and burn PR agency. I think a lot of businesses don’t want to work with PR firms, traditionally, because they’ve been burnt. They spent thousands and thousands of dollars and didn’t get results. If we’re not getting results for you within the first month, fire us. Fire that person.
My contracts with the businesses that I work with, you can cancel in 30 days by rating us in an email. I believe that’s why we have been working with the same businesses that we have for as long as we’ve been around because we’re not that turn and burn. We view ourselves as that strategic partner and I really believe that that’s at the core of what PR should be. Public relations should be a strategic partner for the business and it should augment marketing and corporate communications and all of the things that help a business run smoothly, and it’s really exciting for internal communications when a company is getting noticed.
That is so thrilling. Makes you proud to work at the company, to see all this positive press coverage. If you get on the best places to work with, that’s also a really good way to get noticed, locally, especially for recruitment. We support recruitment and things that we do by getting on those lists, getting businesses on the 50 fastest growing companies in your local business journal. It’s very dynamic. It’s very fun and it’s not something people should be afraid of. You just got to find the right fit.
[00:15:26] Jeff: I love the idea of just– I know that a lot of MSP struggle with talent, especially as they grow in their operational maturity, maybe it’s time to top grade their talent, maybe Joe or Suzy who helped get them to where they are, isn’t going to help get them to where they need to go, and I always hear them talking about attracting great talent. Being part of one of those lists, helps make you attract really great talent— when maybe it’s time for you, either you’re just growing the company or you’re just top rating your team members to go to that next level.
One of the things that you’ve done with us is to, it’s been interesting is, prepping us for trade shows and things like that. I don’t think they really think about that. I know some of our MSPs, they don’t just go to the art trade shows where they come to the IT Nation and things like that but they have their own trade show in their local areas and stuff like that. Really helping them to maybe refine their messaging, getting interviews while they’re there, being part of maybe if they’re targeting a specific vertical, then you can help them with that as well.
[00:16:29] Amanda: Exactly. The reason why we have strategic in the line of our business is because we truly believe that you have to be prepared and strategic with everything you do in your business in order to be successful. That’s a big part of it. Preparing, maximizing your time when you go to these trade shows. What’s so great is a lot of these conferences are complementary for MSPs. They get to fly in and they get all this great education, but what they may not be looking for is the media that’s there that wants to talk to them and we can help build that PR or whomever you work with us or somebody else.
We help you build your confidence and talk through the messaging and prepare briefing documents so you can read through the reporters’ past stories and get to know what they like to cover and what they’re writing about so you can have a conversation beyond what your pitch is.
[00:17:24] Jeff: That’s great. I know when we’re working with you, we can’t just go stand at the booth. That’s keeping us busy the whole time. That’s really good. If you’re an MSP and your current strategy is to have people just stand at a booth, then you should definitely engage with a PR firm. Okay. We’re going to take a break and when we return, we’re going to ask the question, is all press good press?[music]
Okay. We’re back. Just as a reminder, please take a few moments to subscribe and review the podcast. Sharing the cast on social media really helps us get a lot of support for the show. We want to keep doing it. We want you to keep listening so make sure you subscribe and rate us and share it with your friends on social media, please.
We’re back with Amanda, Amanda Lee, she’s going to answer the age-old question because you’ve heard it a million times that all press is good press. Is all press good press, yes or no?
[00:18:27] Amanda: Obviously, the answer to that is no, but as a true PR leader, we can find a way to spin it.
[00:18:35] Jeff: We can find a way to spin bad press into good press, huh? All these attacks recently– You and I were talking about one during the break here, on MSPs and the high stakes surrounding data loss and ransomware, how can a PR firm help a company who ends up in the news for all the wrong reasons? That is part of a PR job, right?
[00:18:57] Amanda: Yes, it is. It is my hope that businesses have already that relationship with the press so if they take that proactive approach, they’re going to be in better shape in my opinion, because those who have relationships with the media, you want them to like you and then maybe they’ll be a little gentle at you.[laughter]
[00:19:16] Jeff: There is still a relationship in the community aspect to this?
[00:19:19] Amanda: Exactly. We’re all human and we all want to be ourselves and treated well and with respect. If you do that by building these relationships, it could help you if something like that happens, so get started now. Do not wait until something negative comes up. Get started today.
[00:19:36] Jeff: Yes, I think it’s really important. Just to use a recent example, I’ve been at a few conferences here recently where people talk about the Kaseya breach, which is interesting because then when you really double click into it, people say it wasn’t really a Kaseya breach or a ConnectWise breach, you’ve heard these things and all of a sudden, you get the deeper information, but the fact that that’s the name that you keep hearing associated with it is a perfect reason why you might want to have PR, right?
[00:20:01] Amanda: It’s so true.
[00:20:02] Jeff: You’ve got to be careful that your brand might get attached to something like for instance, you might be a local MSP that’s supporting a product that there’s a big breach. We heard about the Intel breach. You might want to able to be in front of that and make sure that your name isn’t attached to it. That you’ve already got things in place or whatever and people feel safe about the solutions they’ve chosen, right?
[00:20:22] Amanda: That’s right. I was at the Denver Business Journal a couple of weeks ago actually talking to the technology reporter about this. What is really hard to grasp right now is there’s just such apathy around security and, “Well, my data’s out there anyways. Everybody’s been hacked.” It’s just we’ve really have to do a better job of protecting everything and that’s why I love and admire all the MSPs that we work with because they are that strategic partner to the businesses they work with to make sure that they’re protected. Their own business as an MSP and then their clients’ businesses, and that’s really important.
[00:21:03] Jeff: I agree. Shameless plug our last episode of the podcast was all about how MSPs should protect themselves and make sure they’re not getting hacked. You said earlier something I want to– offline you talked about never let anybody say no comment. I want to dig into that one a little bit. That was such a great little story you told. I’d like to hear that one again if you don’t mind.
[00:21:24] Amanda: Absolutely. It’s so hard to do especially in political communications too because one of the members I worked with early on in my career. I was 24 years old working and one of the toughest elections in the country at the time. I would literally wake up every day at 3:00 AM to read the news cycle to find out how to spin and to protect my boss and Figure out what our positioning is going to be that next day and how to get ahead of it because it seemed like you can never get ahead of it, when you’re in a tough election.
Even in those instances, we never would say, “No comment.” I think that that’s a really negative thing for a business. There’s always something that you can say. There’s always value you can add and it’s great that these reporters are thinking of you for a story so give them that value statement and try to answer their questions best as possible. However, if you’ve ever attended a media training session, not to veer off, but we do give really great bridge– we do really great bridge exercises so you don’t always have to answer that question directly. You can say what you want to see in print and what you want to see online so we help with that.[laughter]
[00:22:44] Jeff: Okay, that’s a little insider information, but I did an interview once and Amanda was listening in. I called her afterwards for some feedback and she said, “You know, you don’t have to answer every single question,” and you gave me some great techniques to use like, “That’s a great question,” and then answer the one that you want to answer.
[00:23:02] Amanda: That’s right.
[00:23:03] Jeff: Little things like that, we don’t think about, right?
[00:23:04] Amanda: Right.
[00:23:05] Jeff: I’m a people pleaser and I’m sure all these other MSPs, they built their business on relationships so they want to give an answer. They don’t want to say, “No comments” so you have to have a way to answer that question and that’s where a PR firm can help. Something else that we talked about earlier offline was, you talked about backing your Tech Data days when you were working with Tech Data. You said you had this concept of building a PR practice simply within a business for businesses that might not necessarily always want to have a firm. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:23:34] Amanda: It is. I, mean this is a huge passion of mine. When I was at Tech Data running their public relations, I wanted to do more for these MSPs that I really, again, begin getting to know seven years ago and I was admired. I admired this community so much and I wanted to help. I wanted to help with anything they needed help with and I think a lot of MSPs especially those listening can relate to, we don’t do enough marketing. We don’t do enough public relations or social engagements so as part of a lot of the Tech Data events, we would have a public relations session where MSPs could attend and find really simple ways to start a PR practice within their business simply. We just simplify that for them.
I would say the first step is, don’t overwhelm yourself with, “There are all these things I have to do.” Sit down, work with the leader in the space that can advise you, but just building that communications plan, that can be acted to a roadmap and keep you on track. There are so many examples, even online, if you don’t want to Google it. I mean, we got this World Wide Web out there, you could Google communications plan and go through and build your strategy. Then your goals and your objectives and your tactics to support that. Then what your measurements are. Your metrics. It’s that simple.
[00:25:06] Jeff: Especially for these businesses that are bootstrap and trying to build themselves up, they can still have a PR mindset. It’s not like you always have to engage a firm although obviously, you’re going to get a lot more help like we do by having a firm. There’s also some ways to be creative and do that as well. It’s certainly, I think it’s something that it’s a piece of the toolbox. It’s a tool in the toolbox. I just don’t think MSPs are using right now and they’re probably missing out.
If you’re competing with a whole bunch of other local businesses for business, you’ll probably get lost in the noise like you said and PR can help you rise above that and getting a good firm like yours really helps. I know it’s really helped us out a lot.
One little thing, off topic here a little bit. We talked a little bit about your nonprofit. The importance of women in the channel. I’m super happy that we have you here. You’re obviously a woman leader in the channel and have been really influential in the channel. Talk to us a little bit about your nonprofit if you don’t mind giving us a little plug and talking about that a little bit about what you got going on.
[00:26:04] Amanda: I’d love to. I’m again, really passionate about tech and supporting technology companies locally. What this nonprofit, it’s called TechStart Denver and it really focuses on being that education incubator for university students that may not be considering a career in tech.
Again, I’m going to bring up that word strategic because even university students, and I was one of them. I had no idea what I was going to do. Okay, I decided marketing, but marketing where and in what industry?
It’s bringing together university students that are interested across all majors to be strategic about a career in technology because a lot of us out there fell into this and never want to leave because it’s awesome. What we do every day is amazing. Technology is so exciting and I want to get these university students excited and thinking about a career in tech.
Another piece of that is connecting them with these great tech companies that are in Denver. Connecting them together and helping these businesses, it’s hard to find top talent. It’s competitive.
[00:27:15] Jeff: It is really competitive.
[00:27:16] Amanda: Yes, and think about how now, you get access to these great university students that want to have a career in tech. Now you get to cherry pick. You not only get to build your pipeline but you get to build your pipeline with the best. That’s really exciting too. Then another part of it, of course, is elevating the tech companies that are doing it right through an awards program. Also, as a part of that, something that is very important to Jeff and important to myself is elevating women in tech. It’s a great industry. We want to introduce it to all the talented women out there. I think we can do better. We can do a lot better and we need to be recruiting those women and bringing them together and educating ourselves on the best path forward. The current tech is exciting.
[00:28:13] Jeff: I agree. Shout out to my mentor, Carrie Cornella. The first one that actually ever saw me as maybe being a valued member of the team and all the mentoring she gave me over the years so I definitely would not be here without her so we need more of that. We need more women in tech for sure. I’m all about that. That’s fantastic. If someone wants to contact your company and learn more, what’s the best way to reach you? Get a chance to do a quick plug here.
[00:28:36] Amanda: Okay, sure. It’s ARLPR.com, The first three initials– my initials are ARL, A-R-L, and then PR which stands for public relations.com.
[00:28:48] Jeff: Awesome and then if they want to learn more about TechStart Denver, how can they do that?
[00:28:52] Amanda: TechStartDenver.com.
[00:28:53] Jeff: Awesome. Thank you so much, Amanda. This was so fantastic.
[00:28:56] Amanda: Thank you for having me.
[00:28:57] Jeff: You do such great work with us and obviously, PACS AID, hot company. Everybody hears about them all the time and I know you’re a part of that, that success as well so if you want to learn a little bit more, reach out to Amanda and get that PR in your toolbox. Thanks a lot everybody for listening.
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