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EPISODE 092: Marketer of the Month Podcast with Mickie Kennedy

Hey there! Welcome to the Marketer Of The Month blog!

marketer of the month

We recently interviewed Mickie Kennedy for our monthly podcast – ‘Marketer of the Month’! We had some amazing insightful conversations with Mickie and here’s what we discussed about –

1. Role of Press Releases in ranking higher in SERPs

2. Obtaining the right media coverage to help boost your small business

3. PR credibility vs social media credibility

4. Starting out in the online advertising space

5. Future of blogging

6. Organic ways of gaining media coverage

About our host:

Dr. Saksham Sharda is the Chief Information Officer at Outgrow.co. He specializes in data collection, analysis, filtering, and transfer by the means of widgets and applets. Interactive, cultural, and trending widgets designed by him have been featured on TrendHunter, Alibaba,  ProductHunt, New York Marketing Association, FactoryBerlin, Digimarcon Silicon Valley, and at The European Affiliate Summit.

About our guest:

Mickie Kennedy founded eReleases more than 22 years ago after understanding the dire need for small businesses to have access to the media and a national newswire – all with a personal touch. Mickie’s press releases have led to the publication of pieces in the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Bloomberg, and numerous other esteemed media outlets.

Integrating PR Into Your Marketing Strategy for a Successful 2023

The Intro!

Saksham Sharda: Hi everyone! Welcome to another episode of Outgrow’s Marketer of the Month. I’m your host, Dr. Saksham Sharda. I’m the creative director at Outgrow.co. And for this month we are going to interview Mickie Kennedy, who’s the CEO of eReleases. Thanks for joining us, Mickie.

Mickie Kennedy: Thanks for having me.

Don’t have time to read? No problem, just watch the Podcast!

Or you can just listen to it on Spotify!

The Rapid Fire Round!

rapid fire

Saksham Sharda: So Mickie, we’re going to start with a rapid-fire round just to break the ice. You get three passes. In case you don’t want to answer the question, you can just say pass. But try to keep your answers to one word or one sentence only. Okay?

Mickie Kennedy: Okay.

Saksham Sharda: At what age do you want to retire?

Mickie Kennedy: 65.

Saksham Sharda: How long does it take you to get ready in the mornings?

Mickie Kennedy: 40 minutes.

Saksham Sharda: The most embarrassing moment of your life?

Mickie Kennedy: Pass

Saksham Sharda: What time of the day are you most inspired?

Mickie Kennedy: Morning.

Saksham Sharda: Favorite color?

Mickie Kennedy: Blue.

Saksham Sharda: How many hours of sleep can you survive on?

Mickie Kennedy: Five.

Saksham Sharda: Fill in the blank. An upcoming marketing trend is ________.

Mickie Kennedy: Using AI

Saksham Sharda: The city in which the best kiss of your life happened?

Mickie Kennedy: Baltimore, Maryland.

Saksham Sharda: Pick one. Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey?

Mickie Kennedy: Jack Dorsey

Saksham Sharda: The biggest mistake of your career?

Mickie Kennedy: Not getting out my way earlier.

Saksham Sharda: How do you relax?

Mickie Kennedy: Writing poetry.

Saksham Sharda: How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Mickie Kennedy: Zero.

Saksham Sharda: A habit of yours that you hate?

Mickie Kennedy: Eating fast food.

Saksham Sharda: The most valuable skill you’ve learned in life?

Mickie Kennedy: Split testing processes.

Saksham Sharda: Your favorite Netflix show?

Mickie Kennedy: Currently watching “Wednesday”, really like it.

The Big Questions!

Big Questions

Saksham Sharda: Okay. Well, that was the end of the rapid-fire round. Split testing processes seem to be one that stood out quite well. Could you talk more about that?

Mickie Kennedy: Right. So, when I first did, pay-per-click marketing, coz I started my business about 25 years ago or closer to 24 I’d say at this point. And I was mostly just on bulletin boards and talking, and that’s how I got customers. And then I think Overture, which became goto.com or vice versa, started Pay Per Click, click Marketing, and started paying for traffic. And then I did that with Google when they launched. And it brought in sales, but I didn’t know what I was doing. And so I would run ads and landing pages and I get three orders in a row from a new ad. And I was like, this is the winner. And then finally, I found some marketing groups and they explained that you have to have enough results to be statistically relevant. And once I figured that out, I started splits, and testing landing pages. And then I always say like, I can apply this to other aspects of my business. So, we split-tested, sending customers a letter, with ideas for their next release, compared to those that we didn’t, we split-tested whether to send a crazy shock and awe package to people or just send them a book and a professional letter. And, you know, over time we’ve tried lots of different little things and tested them and it’s not just advertising. You can do it with all the processes in your business or a lot of processes in your business. And so I’ve found that very valuable.

Saksham Sharda: And how do you go about selecting a particular audience for split testing? What are the average audience sites that you select usually?

Mickie Kennedy: Well, when it comes to advertising, you kind of have the losing ad or the losing landing page have probably like 40 or 50 conversions for it to start, you know, to have really strong statistical relevance. When it comes to like sending out whether to send a letter to customers, that was a bit more, that was over a six-month process and we ended up, you know, look at 300 customers got the letter and 300 didn’t, and then we would measure them over the next two to three years. Same thing with the shock and awe package, compared to just sending them a book and a professional letter. That one was the biggest, “aha moment” for us because I was sending out this box that had like, old Bay Crab chips in it coz we’re from Baltimore. Little Raven figurine, lots of fun little things and quirky stuff that I thought was amazing. It costs like $40, $50 to put this together. And I’d send it to all new customers. And one customer came to me and said that she felt it was unprofessional. And so rather than get angry or just say, I’m the boss, I could do what I want, I split-tested it. And so for six months, we sent half the people, new customers a book with a professional letter. And the other half we sent that shock and awe package. And then, over the next six months, we saw that the people who received the professional letter and book were coming back and ordering and resulting in 30 to 40% more revenue. And then we measured that for the next two years. And it was like before it was over, they were spending three to four times what the population who received the shock and awe package. So the customer who told me it was unprofessional was exactly right with at least my, customer base. They don’t want to have the press release distribution company that they use, send out something wacky and, you know, zany even though that matches my personality. A professional book and letter send a much stronger signal and it costs a lot less.

Saksham Sharda: And speaking of press releases, then, according to you, what is the importance of a press release as a contributing factor to ranking higher ones?

Mickie Kennedy: So when you sent out a press release, you want it to be meaningful and newsworthy so that people will write articles about you. And as people write these original articles about you, that sends a strong signal to the search engines. When it comes to ranking, even when they don’t link to you contextually, Google has a patent where they said, we can determine in an article that a company that’s mentioned is this particular website and therefore will pass along that ranking even though their’s no domain name or URL in the actual article. And my clients see that all the time, as they get articles written about them from these websites, generally they’re within their industry, which makes it, you know, sends a signal to the search engines that this website is very strong and relevant within their industry and it helps. And the things to avoid are getting distracted by the press release companies that just focus on syndication, where a copy of your press release is duplicated on a website that happens with everybody when you send out a release, but it doesn’t convey any SEO benefit to you to have a say, the same press release on multiple websites. The real goal is to have a journalist look at that press release and turn it into an original article about you and your company.

Saksham Sharda: And do you think press releases are the only way to spread the word about budding startups and small businesses?

Mickie Kennedy: I don’t think it’s the only way, but it is a very cost-effective way with the ability of leverage. For example, during the pandemic, we did a press release for the dining bond initiative, which was set up tohelp restaurants that were closed down during the pandemic. You generate one press release that would’ve cost three or $400 and generated more than 10 million in revenue, over 150 articles, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, a lot of the food trade publications, dozens and dozens of newspapers, across the US and it even spawned international pickup as well. And they expanded their scope to include international countries as well. And so, you know, that just shows that if you have something that’s very newsworthy, you can generate a lot more from it than you ever could through an ad. Coz if you set up an ad and spent $400, I don’t think there’s any way that you could have that kind of reach and that kind of revenue, resulting from it. But potentially with PR and press releases, you can do that if your message is newsworthy and spot on.

Saksham Sharda: And so press releases in a sense, do they add more credibility than if you were to compare them to, you know, social media or influence credibility? How do you compare these?

Mickie Kennedy: Right. So when people get media pickup, it’s not unusual for people to say, “Hey, we got only 240 visitors from that article, which isn’t amazing, but it converted at 30%, which is just off the charts because our best landing page is like 5%.” And the reason that happens is that when people read an article, their defenses aren’t up. Like when they see an ad or a social media post from a particular company, and there’s an implied endorsement that happens in an article and it creates this goodwill that people want to do business with this company. And, then they’ll immediately go and find them or click through to a URL to them and purchase. They don’t create a new tab and say, can I get this cheaper on Amazon or somewhere else? they’re not price shopping. They’ve already been sold just by having that article there. And that’s the real magic of having these original articles written about you. It’s also, I think, one of the reasons that so many people on social media are using influencers coz they’re trying to leverage that credibility and implied endorsement. And, it works and doesn’t work for some people to do social media marketing and paying influencers. But the great thing about doing PR and press releases is the only cost is the sending of the release and getting it out there. There’s no payment made to the New York Times for writing an article about you.

Saksham Sharda: And so, to what extent do you think the gods of people are also now put up against news media in today’s world?

Mickie Kennedy: Yeah. I think that the media is changing. Where people get media has changed and will continue to evolve. When I was in this business 15 years ago, I had to really fight with the news wires to accept, bloggers as journalists. Some bloggers are more influential than trade publications. They had more traffic and they had more sway. But the newswires weren’t seeing it at the time. And so, it’s funny because now they’re very accepting of people, as journalists from all different walks of life. For example, they will give an Instagram influencer journalist access to the wire, you know, because they have a following in fashion. And so where people are getting news is evolving and changing, and the news wires are changing and evolving as well. And, you know, it’s creating more potential opportunities for people to get their message out there.

Saksham Sharda: And how exactly does, like, what part does your company play in this?

Mickie Kennedy: So what we do is we are a press release distribution platform. We send out all of our releases to the media through a news wire. And we use PR Newswire, which is the oldest and largest Newswire, of press releases. And they charge like $1,200 to move a 500-word press release. And you get that through us for substantially cheaper. And, the reason is that our customer base is entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses that just don’t have the funds to send out $1,200 press releases. And, the wire when they approached me, was looking for a way in which we could work together and they could support small businesses. So we do have rules on the types of companies that we can work with. If you’re a large company or a publicly traded company, we’re gonna send you directly to the wire, to work with them. But, we work with authors, speakers, and all different types of small businesses, helping them get the same leverage and opportunity potential that would normally cost considerably more.

Saksham Sharda: Have you had companies come up to you wanting to do a press release because they want to get a Wikipedia article published or because I think that’s one of the criteria for Wikipedia articles to have releases about your company that are not strictly promotional?

Mickie Kennedy: I see it occasionally. I see it more from small marketing and PR firm agencies that are doing a campaign to build articles and stuff so that they can then generate the Wikipedia, you know, listing. And so there are people who do it and it does work because it gives you credibility for Wikipedia. So when they’re measuring whether to include or exclude you, they’re more apt to include you. It is a way to stand out. It is a way to get recognized, within your industry, with potential customers and, be defined by someone, by having them write an article about you. One of the things that I always recommend for clients is when you get media pickup, share it as much as you can. Put it in front of your customers. Also, put it in front of your leads. A lot of people who are on the fence about working with you, they’re always in the pipeline. And if they read an article about you and realize that this journalist has written about you and put this implied endorsement out there, it makes them more likely to work with you. So it makes converting your existing customer base even better. I had one customer who is an offline, carpet company in New Jersey, and they ended up generating a considerable amount of media pickup about, more than 20 articles in floor trade publications, which is not their customer base, but it’s their industrial base. And they also got some, local newspaper mentions and magazine mentions as well. And they put that into what they called a brag book. And every time they went out and gave someone a quote for a carpet install, they would go through it with them a little bit and show them that they’ve been picked up in floor Trade weekly and this publication and that publication and, increase their conversions more than 15%, as a result of just having that brag book. So it makes it easier to convert, you know, people that are in your pipeline or potential customers as well.

Saksham Sharda: So how exactly did they go about getting those placements?

Mickie Kennedy: So they were interesting because they had approached me and they wanted to do a press release a month. And, I told them that I didn’t think that PR was going to work for them. They were a local carpet company, more of a commodity-type business. They weren’t doing anything unique. And so I just told ’em, I didn’t think this was going to work. But they said, we’ve got the budget, we wanna do it. And after four or five months of sending out releases and nothing happening, we were having a brainstorming call just to figure out what could we do that would be meaningful. And one of the things they talked about, I was going through an exercise and I was like, who’s your biggest enemy? And I expected it to be, you know, this other carpet company in their community. And it was the big box home improvement stores, the Home Depot and Lowe’s of the world. And they talked about how bad they are at, you know, they do not vet the people who install carpets, they just ask do they have a home improvement license. So if you’re someone who’s used to framing out a deck and a patio and you get a call from Home Depot asking if you can install carpet, sometimes if your business is not doing well, you’ll say yes and accept the job even though you’ve never installed carpet before. And so we wrote an article, about the challenges of competing against a Home Depot or Lowe’s, and it was a David versus Goliath thing, and it talked about what they were doing to make meaningful actionable changes and education in the quoting process. And it got picked up in over 10-floor trade publications. That press release was turned into more than 10 articles right out of the bat. And we continued to talk about that challenge over the next few months, and they continued to get media pickup, in total over 20 media pickups from floor trade publications. And they also ended up getting local newspapers as well as New Jersey magazines picking them up as well.

Saksham Sharda: So are case studies like this available on your website for any listener who wants to like check them out?

Mickie Kennedy: Yes. We have case studies on the website, I think it’s either on their case study or reviews or something like that. It is one of those things where finding out what to send to the media is important. In the case of this carpet company, my reaction was I didn’t think that they would be doing anything meaningful or interesting. And I’ve since discovered that there are times when you can do an audit of your industry and try to determine what are the things that they’re not talking about. They’re industry blind spots. And for the flooring trade, community, no one was talking about Home Depot and Lowe’s, you know, the big box home improvement stores, but it was something that resonated with the readership, which is all mostly local and regional carpet companies, independently owned companies. And so it created a lot of buzz and interest. Several of the publications said they got more letters to the editor and inquiries and kudos from that article than anything they had published in the past year. So, sometimes brainstorming and thinking outside the box can get you there. Another thing that’s come to the forefront is doing a survey or study within your industry, you know, putting together, really good questions that are relevant right now. I mean, we’re coming out of a pandemic. We’ve got, supply chain challenges for people. There are hiring changes for people who worked at home during the pandemic and don’t want to come back into the office. So, you know, things like that could be put together in a survey. Asking how, if they plan on spending more or less in the next quarter, or two quarters, the marketing budget can indicate the economic, horizon, and whether there are going to be economic challenges down the road. And so if you put together questions that are interesting today and live for a very small time, the media wants to know the answers. And so, you can do this through SurveyMonkey, I’d like four questions per page, build out four pages, so you have 16 questions, maybe on the last page, put a couple left field or crazy or wacky questions. Because if they don’t complete it, they’ve completed 75% of the survey and you still have those results. But I sometimes find that those can be very viral and work well. Those, you know, weird questions. An example of that is we did one for a local auto repair shop in Pennsylvania, and the question towards the end was, what’s the strangest thing? A customer left in their car while being repaired and it was just an open field, but they wrote something statistically relevant. It was not, but it was like 50-plus wacky anecdotes that we were able to share in a press release. And more than 10 auto industry publications picked it up and I think over a dozen newspapers picked it up as well. So it did well. And that’s just a local auto repair shop in Pennsylvania. Again, not very newsworthy in and of itself, but by authoring the survey and sending it out, it did well. A lot of people like them said they don’t know who to send it to. And I’m just like, there are lots of small and independent trade associations and they belong to a couple. And I said, just ask them and tell them that you’ll promote them in a press release that you’ll be issuing over the wire. And the small and independent trade associations see this as a win-win. The large trade associations don’t seem to care very much. So I would stick with the smaller and independent ones. They sent the link out to their members and got a few hundred responses and did extremely well with that. And it’s something that anybody can replicate and do. And what I see most often when you do a really good survey in your industry is you usually get anywhere from 6 to 14 articles on average, which is just an amazing return to be able to get that many articles from one press release. It does take a little bit of work, but it’s not extremely difficult and it’s something that anybody can do. You just have to make sure you’re asking really good questions. I did have one customer who, the question that they asked, they only asked a couple, was, they were a dating website and they were asking basically, do you prefer men who were six feet tall and, you know, six feet or taller or less than six feet tall? And most people said six feet or taller. It wasn’t an interesting outcome. Nobody was surprised by that. So that one sort of fell flat. But most of the time when you ask compelling questions or interesting questions, brainstorm with colleagues, people that you work with go back to when you go to conferences, what are the things that you talk about with other colleagues that don’t make it to the trade publications? Like, there are always things that people complain about. Like, have you noticed that people aren’t paying on time lately? That we have all these challenges like that’s something you can put in the survey and get some people’s feedback on. And that makes it very actionable for the media to report on it.

Saksham Sharda: And so what do you think in your opinion is the future of blogging, where do you think that is headed? Because you were talking earlier about how influencers have been invited to become reporters or been given the credibility of reporters. So do you think more people are getting interested in blogging and will take it up as a career?

Mickie Kennedy: I think that more people are building followings on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and places like that, and I see fewer people building out blogs. But that being said, I still think blogs can be very effective. And I’ve seen people who started blogs that after a while they’re indistinguishable from news websites in the way that they’ve categorized and put stuff together. I think that there’s still always going to be room for blogs. I think that any place that people want to collect and go to is going to do well. I think that blogs also can work well because if they’re done well, they get a lot of SEO love, and rather than relying on a platform to feed the algorithm to get your content out there, you can sort of control it a little bit as far as the how search engines spider you and what kind of relevance you have over time as you build a following and more people linked to you.

Saksham Sharda: And what do you think is an organic way of gaining media coverage at regular intervals? Is there some sort of a hack or is there something people should be doing?

Mickie Kennedy: I think that one of the things that I recommend is to try to do a press release every quarter. And you know, there are also ways in which you can do it. If you can’t afford a press release distribution platform, your pickup’s gonna be meaningfully low compared to that. But you don’t necessarily even have to write an entire press release. You can just put together two or three sentences about what the hook is. And I always say, put a compelling quote in there, something that can’t easily be paraphrased. Cause a great quote, a journalist can build a story around and try to do that messaging four times a year. Send it to your local media. Just, you know, pick up a newspaper that writes about your industry, call ’em and ask for their email address. They’ll give it to you. People don’t try to hide, you know, they’re in the business of communication and so they are pretty accessible. The same thing with your trade publications. Reach out, you know, pick a couple that you feel would be a good fit and find out who writes there, who would be someone that would be sympathetic to your industry and get them on a list, and then just quarterly reach out to them. You’re probably not gonna have the results of 8 to 14 articles, but you can generate some pickup and by just writing, you know, a few sentences and a quote, the cost of doing that is very minimal, both from a time standpoint and a financial standpoint as well.

Saksham Sharda: Okay. So the last question for you is of a personal kind. It is, what would you be doing in your life, if not this right now?

Mickie Kennedy: Probably something with poetry. That’s where I have a master’s of fine arts and creative writing with an emphasis on poetry. And I suspected that I wouldn’t be doing that for a career. But I do love it. It’s my passion and I’ve, you know, been writing off and on over the past 30 years since I got my degree. And I do think that I would probably do something along the lines of that maybe even teaching as well. But I’m a very independent person, so I’m not sure how I would work being a teacher in a university with all the politics and things like that. But I do feel like I’d probably be doing something a little more, writing, and creative writing focused.

Saksham Sharda: Well, speaking of the wall, it looks quite interesting. Is that a dinosaur painting and from where?

Mickie Kennedy: Yeah, it’s a Velociraptor on the wall and I have a cave bear skull in the back.

Saksham Sharda: Wow. Like a real cave bear skull.

Mickie Kennedy: Yeah, a prehistoric cave bear skull. They’re extinct, they were quite large.

Let’s Conclude! 

Saksham Sharda: Okay. Well, thanks everyone for joining us for this month’s episode of Outgrow’s Marketer of the Month. That was Mickie Kennedy, who’s the CEO of eReleases. Thanks for joining us, Mickie.

Mickie Kennedy: Thanks for having me.

Saksham Sharda: Check out their website for more details, especially for those case studies. And we’ll see you once again next month with another marketer of the month.

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