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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: MICHELLE MEKKY
DOUG: Michelle, with your former career as a journalist, you really bring something new and refreshing to the show. How important is it that agencies and their people think like journalists in this challenging time to get the best results for clients?
MICHELLE: I think my news background has been incredibly helpful to our success and ability to withstand all the challenges that COVID brought to us. Mostly because I come from a live TV background and we had to jump and move super fast and change direction and book guests day to day and cancel guests if news hit. So, I’m used to that kind of having to move fast background. And when COVID hit all of a sudden I’m looking at my client list and I’m thinking, how am I going to continue to get these people media coverage when all the media is talking about is this crazy pandemic and how are they going to fit into what’s being covered? I was under a lot of pressure to keep our clients and make sure we can provide value. So, it took a lot of knowing how to fit them in the news cycle and re-evaluating and being able to move forward.
DOUG: And I apologize for not giving you a stronger affirmative nod that I was going to go for. Thanks to my docs, I just had some successful surgery and I’m expected back on the softball field in May. So, I apologize, but definitely that makes a lot of sense. So, as a boutique firm as well, is it easier because of your experience to bring that to the other members of your team and for larger organizations, both corporates, for their internal team as well as agencies, how did they bring that sort of journalistic PR mesh together to help earn media for clients?
MICHELLE: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. Just to start, I have to be honest, when it hit it last March and April, I’m looking at my team, and not only were they panicking about how are they going to pitch their clients and continue with the campaigns, but they were afraid for their own survival and health. And so, as a leader in a boutique firm, I had to really instill calm in everyone at the same time, teach them how to pivot and how to move with our clients and really become partners with them. So, I think the benefit and being a boutique agency is, and being in charge, is I didn’t have to say we have to stick exactly to the scope and exactly to the budget. Crisis wasn’t part of a lot of our contracts, but I have that background. I know how to deliver crisis messaging. And so, we start to look at what do these clients need. Maybe they needed communication support to how to tell their customers that they’re doing extra sanitizing in the stores or they’re communicating safety protocols, or even just informing customers if someone comes down with covid, how do they handle that? So, a lot of the work shifted a bit. And I just educated the team and telling them, listen, guys, it’s OK. We’re approved to handle other things that come up right now because we don’t know exactly what the future is going to be. So, I really feel like being flexible and not being afraid to change the needs of the client helped us a lot in the initial months.
DOUG: That’s huge. And I was going to say in the media from the data we have has changed quite a bit. We’re even now post-election the cable news networks, they’re still only covering the politics of the moment and the battle for ratings. So, it’s much harder to get your story out there. You come from the background in Chicago local TV news, and we good fortune of working with you while you were in that role. How does that inform you about the opportunities to get on local TV news, even in the local market where clients are, but also even around the country?
MICHELLE: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s definitely a lot more challenging, especially in January with the election and even continuing now, politics take up 75% of the news, and then you have COVID coverage. So, there’s not a lot of room left for our restaurants, or our chocolate makers, or some of the fun stuff. But to be creative, a few examples. I mean, people are still celebrating Valentine’s Day, right? They still want to do something. They still need that shred of hope right now to celebrate something, even if it’s in their home. And so, we looked at different angles, how do you celebrate at home and how to still make it special and find unique hooks that typically we might not have been pitching in a regular year without all of this crazy news. And then other things like, I have a lot of nonprofit clients, and when COVID hit that was super challenging because they had to cancel their galas and cancel their fundraising events that we’ve been planning, but there was a big issue in the news about how our non-profits going to sustain during a pandemic, and how are they going to raise money, and what options are there, and how can we be creative and be online through social media, or webinars to really hit their donors. So, it just added another layer of complexity, I think, to the thinking, to how to be a value to them.
DOUG: It’s interesting that you mention the nonprofits. We’re actually doing a number of virtual galas to create good content that can also integrate fundraising into the program. That’s actually a growing part of our business, and the program and can really be fantastic. That is cool. It’s interesting for local news, we’re actually seeing, especially in the morning, it’s different throughout different day parts, but in the morning they shy away from covering politics locally because they know they can’t compete. Even during the week of the election, local TV news from our survey spent only 36% of their newscasts on political coverage. They know if someone wants politics, they’re going to go to FOX, CNN or MSNBC, or one of the more extreme networks based on their own political beliefs. Final thoughts to wrap up. What can some of the larger agencies learn from a boutique agency like yourself? What would the message that you would say obviously COVID, the pandemic, the social justice challenges have forced everyone to be more creative. Change on the fly, recognize that the status quo just can’t work because there’s so much upheaval. Do you have any advice for people maybe who are working not at the top of the bigger agencies, but working throughout how to grow their own careers?
MICHELLE: How to grow their own careers? Absolutely. As a boutique agency, we really can move fast, can change direction, can grow scopes if needed, or change the services that we’re providing. And so, I think we’re paying a lot closer attention to now video and how we can shoot a video, as you know, and send that out to get coverage because local television stations don’t have the crews at all right now, or they weren’t even going out for a while and everything was via Zoom. And so, really look at beyond traditional media relations. How else can we grab attention for brands and individuals and all the different ways that have developed like podcasting now has become so top priority for a lot of our clients because people are at home listening to podcasts and digesting information differently, and video especially, doesn’t have to be a fancy professional video anymore. Stations are asking to send us any video, and we’ll get it on the air. We had a COVID clinic that we were doing PR for, and I literally took my daughter to get a test, I filmed it on my iPhone, I sent it in to all the stations and she was on almost every station in town because of it. It wasn’t a fancy video, but it just shows you how being scrappy and delivering exactly what we know they need is really helping us achieve success.
DOUG: That’s great advice and thanks so much for being with us and continued success.
MICHELLE: I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me and happy healing to you.
DOUG: Thank you. I’ll let you know how I do on my first football game… softball game and then hopefully there’ll be a second one after that.
MICHELLE: Take care.
DOUG: You got it.