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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MICHAEL ROTH
DOUG: Michael, you’ve voiced some pretty strong opinions about the need to combine both earned outreach for clients with paid. I mean, what would you call it if an agency is only capable of doing one or the other?
MICHAEL: Well, up until recently, Doug, I would have said that you know, an expertise with earned and then, you know, allowing our clients to seek paid elsewhere was just fine with us. And when you have that, when you view communications through that kind of lens, I think it actually creates a disservice for your clients. There seems to be a focus, rightly so, on public relations agencies that offered earned and thought leadership. And we’ll go there and maybe cross over a little bit into paid opportunities. But. What I’ve seen, especially recently of working with Johns Hopkins and the Department of Defense in our work and Covid, is that to get highly targeted and to provide a real integrated experience and to delve deep into your audiences, you need both earned and paid.
DOUG: So, let’s dove into that a little deeper, if we could, because one of the questions and I have one point of view, but this shows about hearing your point of view as well. Do you think the pay that you do, do you have to start with sort of an earned mentality as in what content would be good enough that people would choose to air if they were producers or would choose to watch it? Is that the mentality or is paid completely different? So, is there some benefit from having sort of a PR approach as opposed to we’re just going to buy and make sure people see it?
MICHAEL: Yeah. So, I think, you know, client first right and their objectives and their strategies first. And you work with them to decide. In the case that I mentioned before, Johns Hopkins and the Department of Defense, we were looking to get people educated on convalescent plasma and teach them about it and have them go ahead and enroll in a clinical trial. So how do we do that? We can certainly work with local news, which we do all the time, and work with healthcare outlets. But the fact of the matter is, these days, a lot of people, you know, won’t see that, but they will see Facebook, Google, LinkedIn kind of ads. And I think it’s our job to use a combination of the two. So, yes, we use the earned lens where we think about thought, leadership and education. But sometimes when we want to get hyper focused on certain audiences, we need the combination of both.
DOUG: Yeah. Do you think the pendulum is sometimes swung too far where it’s like a pure digital and sort of giving up on the earned mindset? Is that as much of a risk?
MICHAEL: I do. I think it’s a big risk. I think that you do need the imprimatur and the trust of a third party. Right. Of the reporter. People follow certain news outlets and they trust their guidance. So, if you work with them versus, you know, just coming in with paid content, you get their angle and their skew on it. And I think that that is important. Sometimes it’s additive when you least expect it.
DOUG: Yeah, I know. That’s an interesting thing. And a key part of that is the value of strategic alliances. And I know you’re going to give us some great pointers on what makes a strategic alliance work and what makes it fail. Because if you’re not one of the major, major firms with the ability to have everything under one roof or under the multiple roofs that are owned by an umbrella organization, you might not be able to do everything. So how do you seek out the right strategic alliance first and then we’ll talk about how you can make it work?
MICHAEL: It’s a great question and at Bliss we are fortunate. We’ve been a privately owned firm for 46 years now. And this year, myself and another junior partner, Courtney Stapleton, joined in with Bob Pearson, who’s chair of the next practice group, which is a collective, a founder driven firms. And they offered a lot of things that we didn’t offer that at first. We like I’m not sure that we really need that. And I started to learn as an agency, and then I started to learn, you know, expertise in all kinds of areas are additive that we didn’t have, for instance, you know, NetSecurity is a group that that we used for cyber security issues. We as paid we as you know, we used to outsource. SEO we no longer do that. So, we have strategic alliances. And I have to say, analytics is part and parcel of everything I do. And I think every integrated group must do that. And I think that having that in our partnership is essential. And we’ve actually brought that internally and created a sub practice of analytics within. So, you through these strategic alliances, you learn to open up and offer more again for the client.
DOUG: And one of my staffers had drafted up a note noting that you were previously a lawyer and how that might affect you. But I think we should point out you were not disbarred. You still remain a function of what your practicing.
MICHAEL: I actually never practiced. But I am a member of the New York New Jersey bars. And I went to law school. I did great. I was on law review, but I realized it wasn’t for me. The reason why I went to law school, actually, I was very much right brained. I’m a musician and more of a writer and an artist and. And I needed to balance that out with some analytical thinking. And I found the law to be challenging. I was a paralegal for a little while I was being a musician. And it’s really been helpful in the beginning. When I started in PR, I was working predominantly on regulatory issues and things that I thought I was suited for. But really, I loved science. I fell in love with healthcare and science. And that’s where that’s where I went. But I will say that, you know, there are a couple of lawyers that I know in healthcare communications, and they’re all very good. They approach communications with a slightly different lens. So I think it’s helpful. There’s I think, more of a focus on the business overall rather than just the communications aspect of the business.
DOUG: Yeah, I don’t know if I get any of that benefit from being prelaw at Michigan.
And then when I received the application. So, one of them was interested, and said, why do you want to go to law school? And I was like, I don’t know if I have a good answer for why I want to go to law school. Putting in time and all this money and decided not to, which is an interesting take. I guess you got the benefit of the degree, and I probably wouldn’t have made law review if I went. So that’s an issue. But this is really good so when alliances can go wrong, because that’s a challenge, too. How do you make sure they work? What are some problems to really look at if you’re planning to work with a partner? I think that’ll really be something of a benefit to lots of members of our audience.
MICHAEL: Yeah, so it’s a multifaceted question. It’s not only cultural because you’re used to your own agency in the way you do things, but when you’re working with people, let’s say, in a more technical and more technical group, they may use terms differently than you use. And it’s really like a meeting of the minds issue. And it’s critical that you communicate and it’s also critical. That’s why I think next practice group at Bliss will work so well as part and parcel of one another, because we meet all the time outside, socially, we’re like we’re tied together in many ways. So, we get to know each other as people. And it’s hard to offer something to your clients and trust in what you’re offering without really knowing the people, providing all the services. It’s a very nice, neat place to just offer earned because you know, each other and you have the same mindset. But in order to really be an integrated agency, you need to really understand one another. So, I would say overcommunication is the key to that now.
DOUG: And I think transparency as well, especially if something isn’t going smoothly, because from an education point, you really then learn, OK, how should you maybe approach it differently because you are presenting different things to the clients. I was going to ask if you want to leave the audience with some final thoughts. And, you know, of course, congratulations on your success.
MICHAEL: Well, thank you. Yeah, I mean, this year has been revolutionary, Bliss has been built from a small firm when I came. We’re about half the size actually. I came about eight years ago to build the healthcare practice in Bliss. And I’ve learned so much. And I think that what we’re building now is something transformative. We’re looking for what’s next for our clients. And we’ve really evolved and we’ve really moved away from the PR and communications of where we’re just expanding out and exploring together. And I would just say, like, you know, to other professionals, you know, continue to expand out. Don’t get too comfortable because business keeps moving forward and you’ve got to be one step ahead of your clients.
DOUG: And one thing the pandemic has done is really increase the speed of that change. Thanks so much for being with us and sharing your ideas.
MICHAEL: Thank you Doug. Appreciate being here.