Media relations and Getting the company’s story out

An interview with Heath Fradkoff founder of Ward 6 Marketing

B2BNXT: Who are you and what do you do?

HEATH FRADKOFF: I run a PR marketing consultancy based in Brooklyn, New York called Ward 6 Marketing. At the end of the day, what I do is I help companies tell their stories and I create opportunities. If you want to a little bit more granular with it, a lot of it is heavy on media relations. So, I’m working every day with reporters and editors and folks in broadcast to help get my clients into those stories and make sure that they’re part of the entire news landscape or their chunk of it anyway.

I also help a lot with writing, with messaging, helping them really establishing figure out who their brand is. Because the messaging and the brand, part of it, is really at the core of everything that I do. If we don’t know, collectively me and the client, if we don’t know what that message is and what that story is, then we have a lot of work to do.

B2BNXT: What’s the most important part of a strategy?

HEATH FRADKOFF: The story is the most important part. If you don’t have that, then you’re really just going out to the media and saying, “Hey, we exist.” Sometimes you can get away with that, sometimes just the mere fact of existing if you are an extremely new company, or an extremely new kind of product, or an extremely new industry, sometimes you can get away with that. But more often than not, you’re running a business that has competition.

You’re running a business that might be great at what you do, but you’re still building on a whole legacy of things that have already been in the marketplace for a long time. So the very first step, and probably the critical step is getting that story straight and figuring out what the messaging is, what differentiates you and what the media is going to really, pick up and what’s going to resonate with them.

B2BNXT: What’s your “Secret Sauce”? What makes you different?

HEATH FRADKOFF: The secret sauce, it’s going to sound funny, the secret sauce with me, largely is curiosity. The best people who do what I do are the ones who are intellectually curious, who want to learn and everything they can about their clients work, their products, their industry, what makes them tick, because it’s from there that you build the best stories, right. It’s not just looking at a one-page brief and saying, okay, I guess that’s everything. It’s really digging deep. It’s really finding ways to become part of the team. And not just, who your day-to-day contact is, but it’s another sales people, get to know the product people. Because they’re the ones who know things that maybe not everybody else knows, and something that can make for a great story or a great piece of messaging.

So I’d say curiosity is actually something that really, really helps me. I’ve never been one of those practitioners who has stuck in just a single industry. There is an advantage to spending a lot of time in an industry because you can develop specific contacts and you sort of know the larger landscape, but context change, people change beats all the time. One thing that has really helped me and that I think my clients tend to benefit from is the fact that, yes, I’ve done a lot of tech, I’ve done a lot of B2B but I’ve also worked for book authors. I’ve also worked for media outlets like the Associated Press and PBS. I’ve worked for consumer electronics clients, I’ve worked for enterprise.

Knowing all of that you get a larger view of different kinds of media, what works, what doesn’t. You can bring something from one industry that maybe folks aren’t thinking about, but work very well in another industry. So between those two things, the curiosity and the ability to work across multiple different industries, I think that kind of makes me a little special.

B2BNXT: How important is understanding the journey?

HEATH FRADKOFF: The more entrenched you can become with a team, the more you’re going to learn. If you get that institutional knowledge, that history of a product going from part A to part B, to the final product that the market sees, that can be really helpful. In fact, I know columnist who focus entirely on that journey. It’s not just about this product because it exists. It’s What did it take to get there?

And yeah, I mean, you spend enough time with the old guard the, the sales folks who are on the floor of the trade shows, you hear their war stories, they’re the ones who actually know what the problems are. They’re the ones every day who are out somewhere at a conference and somebody taps them on the shoulder says, do you have a solution for this? Knowing the problem is halfway to being able to tell the story about why you are the solution.

B2BNXT: What is a great tactic you use to drive growth?

HEATH FRADKOFF: I wouldn’t say I have a formula or a go to tactic because frankly, every company that I work for is very different. Different stages of product development, different market share. The key thing that any company can do is to make sure that they have their story straight before they go anywhere with it. You want to make sure that you have all your facts behind you, have all the anecdotal evidence that you have all the data that you can get.

A mentor of mine once told me that everything in B2B is either aspirin or rocket fuel. You’re either solving somebody’s headache or you’re getting them to move faster. It really just comes down to knowing who your company is before you go anywhere else. And then once you have that, it’s not an easy thing. But once you have that, everything else falls into line. So I always counsel people to not start too quickly. I mean, I’m good at starting fast, but let’s make sure that we know everything about us and where we headed before we start going out to the media.

Because the media, they’re going to ask that question. The media is full of really, really smart people and really impressive people who see a lot of other smart and impressive people and they’re going to ask those right questions. So if you don’t know the answers yourself, you better get those answers before you start going out. So preparedness is key.

B2BNXT: What’s an important lesson you’ve learned this past year?

HEATH FRADKOFF: What I’ve learned in the last year, is the power of micro-influencers. Back when the word influencer started getting floated around, the agencies that I was working for, a lot of it was celebrities and thousands of dollars of money being passed along and then they would do an Instagram post or they would do a video for you. The best strategy is still very much in place.

But what I’ve learned over the last year is that there is a whole ecosystem of much, much smaller folks who are either A, just happy to get product and try it out. Or B, will take like a very nominal fee just to kind of do something. But they’re great content creators, they know the market, they’re not going to take anything from you unless they know how to represent it well, and they’re great to work with. The tricky thing obviously, is working with them at scale. Because instead of handing $15,000 to one person and hoping for the best, you’re trying to work with 50.

It’s a lot more pounding the pavement, sometimes you got to dig for contact addresses and sometimes you got to really try to grab their attention because they’re so accessible. There’s also a lot of clutter to cut through. It can be very good for a brand, it can wield a lot of influence because you’re not just counting on that one person, you now have a stable of folks who are all out there, hopefully, with your messaging, hopefully out there with your messaging, hopefully out there saying nice things about your product or your service. It can be very, very powerful.

B2BNXT: What is something that does NOT work well?

HEATH FRADKOFF: Something that does not work well is blanket outreach. A lot of companies that have been trying to dip their toe in the PR waters or maybe even have been doing it this way a long time before we end up working together, will just create a press release, or even an email and just sort of blast it off to a big list of industry reporters, or use a wire service distribution. That’s all very well and good, but it really doesn’t have the heft that building an actual relationship with these people the targeted pitching has.

It’s sad because I see it in the agency world where people are under so much that they’ll download a list from media database that everything that has technology in it, not nearly the total of those folks actually cover what you’re trying to tell them. And they get angry. It makes everyone’s job harder because the media’s inbox just gets everyone on, they just get flooded. It’s not a good strategy. It’s better to know the people that you want to engage and work with them over time.

I mean, I can’t tell you how many of my first pitches, I’ll send them like the stories for me right now, but thank you so much. It is my beat, and then they come back around. They say, remember that thing you sent me a couple weeks ago, or a month ago, or six months ago, I’m doing something on it now. Let me talk to your client. It’s because we built that relationship, it’s because they recognize your name as somebody who’s going to send them something that if not now they can use in the future. That trust factor is really, really important, especially when you’re dealing with or you’re trying to work with people, the media level or the influencer level who have to be cognizant of their own audience.

B2BNXT: Is “NO” always a negative?

HEATH FRADKOFF: In my industry, I always refer to it as a no is better than a non-answer. Because at least you made a connection and at least you know … Sometimes they’ll tell you exactly why it’s not going to work for them right now, and that’s even more helpful. It is similar in some ways to sales where you don’t want to burn any bridges, you don’t want to be too aggressive. You don’t want to keep piling stuff on people that they don’t want. The difference is, is that I feel like in media relations, it’s easier to avoid that pitfall than it is in sales. Sales, you know somebody is maybe in procurement, maybe they’re interested, potentially their company could use your product.

With the media though, you do have the advantage where we actually get to read what they write. If you’re smart and you’re diligent, and you’re actually really putting in the time, you know what they cover. You know before ever having this hit send on an email, whether or not it’s at least in their wheelhouse. Unless of course, there’s a big change or something like that. But for the most part, you can go into it with that knowledge and be pretty confident that you’re at least halfway there.

B2BNXT: Do you have a tip for the B2B community?

HEATH FRADKOFF: One of the most important things that B2B executives can do is to really get to know their customers. Really look at the data. In our society now in business, there is so much data. You can tell so much about the way people are using your product. You’re getting so much more feedback than anybody did decades ago. So you really need to use that. Number one, scrap for stories and you can spot trends. I mean, let’s say you have some sort of a beverage distribution product, it’s really easy to see who’s buying more of what and spot trends that way.

I mean, things in restaurants and hospitality change so quickly, that that those kinds of emerging trends which are likely within your very own data are easier to spot and really of interest to the media who cover those areas. I mean, that can be anything. That’s oil and gas, it’s finance, it’s everything. The biggest tip that I can give is just take a hard look at yourselves. Look at the information you already have and see what’s great about it. And what can you learn from that about the world at large or your industry at large.

Having said that, today, because there’s so much data, and because there’s so much automation, especially in marketing, people are more likely to just want to blast things out or to work with a platform that has a lot of turnkey tools to them. I mean, Facebook is one example where you can do highly, highly, highly, highly targeted ads. And there’s a lot of benefit in that. I work with that in some of my clients as well. I bring it higher, the big guns to handle sort of large products as well. I work in tandem with a number of different other companies.

But it’s really easy to fall into the trap of wanting everything to be automated based on data. Where you’re actually not really telling a great story. You don’t really have the space to tell a great story, and you’re not really building relationships with your customers. You’re just looking for something that you can just flick a switch and get leads. Sometimes it works, but it’s never really a long term solution. It’s more of a short term solution.

It’s great for testing. If you’re creating a new product and you want to sort of AB test a different approach or a landing page or something, that’s great. But when you’re thinking long-term strategy, you also got to go with the type of tactics and the type of work that really helps you tell a story and really build relationships with your customers, the media, stakeholders, partners, investors, that kind of stuff.

You also have to think about marketing as a multipronged endeavor. Yes, you can get a lot of general awareness, buying ads and targeting and that’s all great and it’s very, very necessary. But when you’re trying to get someone to buy a product, if they’re not already familiar with that product, or they don’t already know somebody who’s using it with good results, they’re going to look elsewhere for affirmation.

That’s where you want the media who’s a valid third-party to really be out there, including you in bigger stories or having your executives out there at a thought leadership level, or reviewing your product and saying great things. It’s one thing to know about something, but to actually encourage somebody to go the next step and actually purchase, you need a little more support that way. So it’s helpful to think about marketing as not just any one thing.

B2BNXT: What is your favorite business book?

HEATH FRADKOFF: There are couple business books that I really like. One is The Snowball System by Mo Bunnell. What I like about what he’s done is he’s a business coach, and he kind of came up through analytics and a sales background. He kind of had to teach himself almost how to really ingratiate himself as part of the sales process. What he teaches others now is really how to be useful and really how to have a conversation about how people can work together. It’s not just the like, hey, I have a thing, please buy it. It’s more about what is it that we do? And what can we do together? And how can we help each other? Here’s what I can offer maybe just up front, just a little small thing just give you a taste of how great this could be.

What I take away from that book, it’s applicable both in business and media. It’s when you’re pitching media, it’s not necessarily about, I have somebody, please write about them. It’s about, I have a story that is great for you. Because it’s what you cover. It’s what your editors want. It’s what your audience is coming to you to read. So that really resonated with me. I think it’s a great book on many levels. It’s good for anybody.

The second book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. That’s less of a business book than it is sort of … It’s more of a sociology book. It’s kind of a marketing book. It’s kind of a science book. It’s kind of a self-help book. That’s all about how we as humans rely on habits. How our brains are developed around habits to essentially save energy on mental processing, and how those habits can be detrimental or how they can be really effective and how we can sort of break them down. There’s a couple parts in that book where he’s talking about how companies have managed to sell to consumers by actually creating a daily habit around their products.

Toothpaste is actually one example where for years people were told to brush their teeth with baking soda, and it kind of just tasted awful. It was just sort of one of those things where they tell you just do it, it’s good for you and people kind of never really picked up on it. Until some very savvy marketing and product people started putting very strong mint in their toothpaste. What that did was to create a sensation in the mouth that people picked up and would become a habit. They’d look for that sensation and they’d feel like they needed every morning and every night. That’s why now billions of people across the world, hopefully, brush their teeth every day.

So that book has a lot of those kind of examples. It’s good in many levels. Not only in thinking about marketing, but also thinking about personal productivity and how to create the best habits, which is something that I’m always working on and I think a lot of entrepreneurs are, and now I can highly recommend that one too.

Ward 6 Marketing

Kosta BoardStudios.com

Founder of Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. Specializing in B2B makes a big difference because we know what information your clients need, what works and what doesn’t. B2B communications can be very different than B2C, so if you get your video explainer from a B2C agency you may not get the results you deserve.

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