Charlie Dougiello, CEO & Founding Partner, The Door | idea house, shares insights on undertaking a creative led approach to PR.
He emphasizes the importance of having a diverse workforce to come up with the best ideas. Charlie also discusses how his agency has become a resource for clients beyond public relations.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CHARLIE DOUGIELLO
DOUG: Charlie, one of the hallmarks of your agency is you really take pride in starting with the creative idea. How do you go about doing that and what impact does it have on the work?
CHARLIE: I mean, it has a tremendous impact on the work. When you start with an idea from a creative approach that you know is going to be able to get the earned media that you want and achieve the goals. So, we build that thought process in that way, similar to how you would do it at an advertising agency. You start with a great creative idea that, you know, solves the problem and then you build the campaign backwards against the execution of that idea.
DOUG: It is easier once you’ve got a better idea. But is there a specific process to coming up with good ideas because so many people, communicators want to say, oh, we’re creative, but how do you sort of differentiate that to make it real and make it have meaningful impact on the client’s business?
CHARLIE: I mean, you have to start with great employees who have diversity of thought. And that’s sort of the hardest part. You’ve got to find people who come from really diverse backgrounds, have had lots of different jobs, inside and outside of PR. We’ve got folks on our staff who are journalists, producers, executives at nonprofits and a whole bunch of different categories. So, you have to start there. If you bring a bunch of people who look the same, sound the same, think the same into a room, you’re not going to have an idea that’s going to be worth anything. So, I would say, first and foremost, you’ve got to do your job in recruiting and bring in the right people. And if you don’t have those people, not to be embarrassed about bringing in outside help to help round out the field, and we do that all the time.
DOUG: And that aligns with the transition you’ve been talking about making, especially since COVID, you hinted at before with more of an ad agency model to be able to have the capabilities your clients need.
CHARLIE: Yeah, and again, we’re in a place where we’re all doing this, right? We’re sitting on our computers and we don’t know exactly where everybody is, or who’s in the background running around. We’re all living in this new world. So, when you apply that to the thought process of how can my team expand, and how can I use people who are freelance, or consultants, or collaborators, or other companies who are, again, looking to increase their relations with clients as well, how can I bring all those things in and create a better product for our clients? So, we’ve kind of started to do that a lot more than we ever have before. Really saying to a client, hey, what’s keeping you up at night? What are the things that that you go to bed and you sweat and tell us what those are? They might be things that we can solve with earned media. But if we can’t, which is obviously what PR companies are founded on is finding a way to tell the stories, but if we can’t do that, and we can’t do it through influencer relations, and we can’t do it through social media and some of the other services that we provide, well then we still have a thought process about how to go about getting them from A to Z. And that might be through digital strategy or SEO or through a million other opportunities that we can bring in the right people to help them get there faster.
DOUG: You’ve mentioned the versatility to provide different sort of tools and approaches to achieving client goals. Is creativity different depending on what type of tool and approach you’re using? Or do you find that when you really hit on a good creative idea, it works across platforms?
CHARLIE: Yeah, it does. But I mean, not every idea has to solve every possible goal either, you know? I mean, we’re all watching ocean spray right now. Very creative thought process, like super agile, the ability to do something really, really quick and have a tremendous amount of impact. And whether you love that concept or not, there was someone sitting there with the creative thought process of taking advantage of something they’re seeing in pop culture and knowing that for a minimal amount of spend, really, that it had the potential for that kind of impact. So, you have to understand channel strategies and think about how an idea can pull through to earned, to a social idea, how do we put paid in back of it, how do we put social influence behind it? And not every idea has to, again, accomplish all those things. It can be small enough, but mighty enough to just achieve something in a single channel.
DOUG: And taking a look at the effect of the pandemic, separate from the personal suffering that people have experienced from a business point, it’s been pretty unequal as well, with some industries devastated, some industries having more opportunity. What have been some of your thoughts with industries that are in different places? And obviously you might have had to reimagine your own focus of who you can help in these environments?
CHARLIE: Well, the advice I would give on that is, I started picking up the phone early on and talking to other executives at likeminded agencies, or friend agencies and places I’ve worked in the past. And it makes you feel a lot better to understand that, again, your troubles and everything that you’re going through and having to change course of your own business due to everything that’s going on, that we are all here in the exact same place. And you talk about, well, some industries have fared better than others… everybody’s hurt. No one escaped this without some business interruption. So I would say if you’re… my best advice is pick up the phone and call those people that you’ve worked for in the past. Hear how they’re advancing their businesses, hear how they’re, I don’t want to use the P word, but how they’re pivoting. I got a lot of great advice on things that we’re doing. My firm in particular, we represented a ton of clients in the hospitality space, in the culinary space, in the epicurean space. And a lot of that on March 18 disappeared a little bit. And we moved into very quickly into, OK, let’s forget about bottom lines for a second and figure out how to help those businesses and do as many different things by any means necessary to help them. Obviously, none of that had to do with earned media at all. Who was picking up the phone and talking to a journalist about a new restaurant or a hotel property, maybe on a thought leadership side, but I mean, there wasn’t much of that. So, we were thinking about, OK, well, what are the programs that we can help you build now so that when diners do want to come back that they feel safe. What is the content that we need to create for your hotel to show when people enter the space, the steps that you’re taking for sanitation and for things like that? So, very early on we started to think about, well, how do we set those things up? It all goes back to, and you asked this question earlier, to me, it all goes back to we’re waiters and waitresses in this business we’re servers. That’s what we do. And so, you pick up any tool that you can. You’ve got a lot of arrows in your quiver, and you just figure out how to solve a problem. And a lot of cases, at least for us, that’s not through earned media. It’s a huge piece of it. But when you can when you can really just figure out with creativity how to solve a problem, you can really showcase to a client your value.
DOUG: Yeah, that makes sense. And what we’ve seen is, we’ve seen for a lot of clients it’s been harder and harder to get the earned media. And fortunately for our business, local TV news has been a spot where they are hungry for content and open to speaking to brand spokespeople. So, we’ve been fortunate in that. But to your point, one of the things we did at first was when we had a whole bunch of business go away in March and it was quite scary and that was, OK, how can we educate our customer base about what’s going on? And we literally contacted our TV station contacts, surveyed them and kept reporting back to clients what they were saying, what they were interested in, when they were open, how they actually wanted to get the footage, because that’s changed almost overnight, and no one was going into the studios to do an interview. So, I think you have to be ready for change. If you want to leave folks with a final thought on sort of your crystal ball for 2021 of some of the changes to the communications field and some of the best ways that we’ll be able to help clients going forward?
CHARLIE: Sure, I would. I would say learn how to be a salesperson more than we’ve ever had to before. I’ve been meeting with a lot of friends that sell a lot of weird things and really hard things to sort of market and promote and sell… technology software… Tell me what your process is, how do you go about it? Because I think that’s going to be even more necessary now when you’re having to have a conversation with a client to get them to agree with you and take on new products that you’re offering or new services or new pivots they use that you see for them. That’s the hardest thing with creativity, right? It’s like you’ve got this great idea, but I’ve got drawers full of great ideas that no one wants, and no one’s ever done. So, it’s really about how can you find a way to be a really great salesperson and take those ideas and get someone to buy into them, get some of the buy into those products. So, talk to your sales friends.
DOUG: And you can even help your clients with that task themselves and how to better position what their offer is to increase the perceived value so it matches the real value. Thanks so much for giving all of us some real value who watch this segment. I appreciate it.
CHARLIE: Thank you, sir. Always good to chat with you.