The Importance of PR
Cheryl Snapp Conner
Effective PF is the key to successful funding and volunteer recruitment. Cheryl Conner shares secrets for effective communications and publicity.
Hugh: Greetings, it’s Hugh Ballou. My guest today has been a really wonderful friend. She knows how to write the right message. The first time I met Cheryl Snapp Conner, she interviewed me. The next thing I knew, there was this article about me online on Forbes. She understood what I do. When people asked me what I did, I just sent them to that article because in one hour, she got it. We have an important topic to talk about today. Instead of wasting time telling you today about Cheryl, she is sitting in her office today in Salt Lake City, SnappConner PR. Cheryl, welcome.
Cheryl: Thank you. Happy to be here, Hugh.
Hugh: I have all kinds of people on this interview series, and I am going to ask you the same question I asked them. What makes you qualified to talk about this topic? Tell me what the topic is. How are we going to tell people what this subject is?
Cheryl: We are going to talk about communications, which is essentially everything. I am an expert in communications. It’s how I make my career. What a fortunate thing. It was only my minor in college. Most people are not aware of that. I had a different major topic. It was the minor that saved my career bacon. I thank my entire career and every gray hair I have earned in the field of communications. It matters. It is what has been essential to my career, how I have supported my family, and how we have developed our business. It is the core of every business.
I have been an advocate and proponent of what we call thought leadership communication. From the very core, it was not always known or understood. Even in the earliest days of technology, where I got my career start, it was vital. If you think about those early technology products, they did not have an audience. There were IT people who attempted to communicate to each other, but that was only so useful. In fact, the very reason I was hired by my first technology job—actually second, I was an editor for IBM—but Novell, the leader that premiered local area networking, had a concept in place called networking of PCs. People who needed it or could benefit from it didn’t know what it was. I was specifically chosen as someone who could communicate well and didn’t understand a thing about technology so I wouldn’t have lost my ability to talk about these topics in a way that the general public could grasp and understand. Press releases, not that helpful. Feeds and feeds of something people don’t care about or know about anyway is not going to help. We began by telling the stories of real businesses: law offices, medical practices, education organizations. What do you do? What was the problem? What were your choices? The kind of things you tell your best friend. As you make this decision, who did you have to convince? How much did it cost? If you did this over again, what would you do better next time? Those are meaningful discussions, and that helped. The same is true for every company since. Every entrepreneur has a topic. They have things they are experts in that others could be very pleased to know about.
Hugh: I invite people to go to Forbes and search Cheryl Snapp Conner. You have a whole series in this entrepreneur channel. Those articles are just so helpful. You really helped me understand what communication is all about, especially with words. You talk about being outside of the technology so you could talk about it differently. Our audience is social entrepreneurs. They are running a business, and we are so intimate with everything that we don’t know how to tell people about it. It seems silly, but we don’t. It’s the same thing with churches and synagogues and local charities. We do great stuff, but the world doesn’t know about it. You are sitting in SnappConner PR. Is it snappconner.com?
Cheryl: Yes, snappconner.com. But if you just Google my name, you will find it quite easily.
Hugh: You have a team of highly skilled entrepreneurs. You are strategically placed in a very nice facility, a very good, warm, friendly workplace. I was quite impressed with you and your staff when I visited last week.
There is also a gap between the professional agency that does it for you and how to raise the bar on creating our own. That is a passion for you: helping all those people who are out there and don’t need a full-time agency as they aren’t ready for one. Content University.
Cheryl: The legions of entrepreneurs, particularly social entrepreneurs, shouldn’t hire an agency, as they can’t afford it yet. But they do need a bit of savvy. If they do what they can that is free or very low-cost, that is what they should do for as long as they possibly can. Get the help where it is truly needed. Don’t over-spend. That applies to every entrepreneur. Too many will either ignore communications and PR entirely because they feel like they will do that when they become profitable, and then they never do. Or they make mistakes that are just costly or hard to recover from. Or they go whole hog and spend way too much money on the wrong things. That is a waste in another way. In part, it is a waste of the impact you could have had if you used the investment more frugally and with more savvy in the first place.
Hugh: Well put. These leaders run a charity like a community foundation or a purpose-based charity; they run a church or a synagogue; or they have a small business. We are thinking outside the box. We are doing something innovative. People need to know either to buy from us or to be volunteers or donors for our organization. What is the single most important thing to learn about developing and publishing content to make sure that their vision is really clear?
Cheryl: I am so glad you asked. There is one thing, but that one thing has two components. One is to really pan down your message and understand it yourself, to verbalize it in the best way possible before you begin. If you think about it, your messaging—and I have a template that I provide free of charge for anyone who’d like it—if you have the best words possible to express what you do and the value proposition for those who should participate, that is a big key. Do that first.
If you are in the press two or three places, you have probably moved the needle right there so long as those places are credible and the message is consistent. If your message was random or, heaven forbid, conflicting in those places, you could have done a negative to yourself. Think about how frustrating it is for someone to be in my chair and ask, “Hugh Ballou, what do you do?”
And if you paused and said, “If you have an hour, I could tell you. Anything less than that and I would be selling it short because it has so many facets,” you’d be absolutely right, and I’d be absolutely annoyed. I would not be able to walk away and write that article.
I would say, “Figure it out. Come back and send me a note when you’ve got it figured out.”
Having that message clear, which we have a template for, and—this is the golden rule of communications—think about your readers, your listeners first. So many people just can’t get over this author’s ego. It’s my voice, it’s my persona. I need to be true in my authentic voice. Nobody cares what you dreamed about on your motorcycle trip, even if it was inspiring, or your innermost thoughts about Martin Luther King. Yes, again, inspiring, but your readers care about what’s urgent and high-priority to them. That could be that they want to make difference in an area you are passionate about. Okay, tell them how. Give them something to grasp on. Give them something they can do, something they can know, and a way for them to get on board that is not a hard sell but an invitation that allows them to go as far as they’d like.
Another aspect of getting over that ego is thinking about where it should appear. Maybe your ego and your credibility would be well-served if you are an author for Forbes. That is great, but the people who say, “I need that. What’s it going to take? Hook a fella up. Make that introduction because I need the credibility of the masthead next to my name. I need that marketing megaphone.” That is the very reason that publication would flee from your presence. They are not there to provide you with a marketing megaphone; they are there to serve their readers, just as you should be. So yes, maybe several articles, like the one you gave the interview to me for. That is an anchor. That is a great thing.
For the bulk of your communication, put it somewhere where people can more readily engage with you on LinkedIn or Medium, where legally and appropriately you can put a full italicized paragraph (so you are not misleading people that it is a part of your article) that lets them know what they can do next to reach you, engage with you, and subscribe.
Plus, people who get onto those platforms are ready for a dialogue. They didn’t have to go register for a profile on a magazine where they are kind of semi-nervous or embarrassed and their comment is likely to be, “Nice article. Thank you.” They are ready to engage in a dialogue, and they are more than halfway down the path to getting on board and actually doing something with you.
There is a gentleman I wrote about recently. You can find my article about him; his name is Benjamin P. Hardy.
Hugh: I saw that one.
Cheryl: One of the three most-read writers on Medium. 50,000 subscribers that he gained in a period of 16 months. He made some mistakes in that process, which he was open about. That is key, too, that he was authentic about it. What he did and how he did it, he gave me in this interview. That is gold information. Golden information. One of the things he said is while he has been published in Fortune, Business Insider, and Huffington Post, that is not where he got his subscribership. 99+% came from Medium. Isn’t that interesting?
Hugh: Fascinating. I heard a couple of things there. One being a Scottish Presbyterian, I heard the word “free.” Could you send me the link? Or send them to where they can download the document. Also, I heard “consistency.” That is something we as entrepreneurs are not very good about. If we want people to buy our product or service, or we want donors to stay donors and raise our donations, we need to be sending them consistent content about what is happening. I encourage leaders who are building organizations to have what I call “advocates,” people who are so important that you send them updates. They are successful people who are in a position to connect you to other successful people. They need information. We call that top-of-mind marketing. They remember you because you stayed in touch.
Cheryl: I call that influencer marketing.
Hugh: I love it.
Cheryl: Those advocates have power; it’s exponential. Everybody wins. They win if they share valued information, and if you are the conduit of that, everybody gains.
Hugh: What we talked about in my interview in 2013, I reframe leadership as influence. People think that a conductor is a dictator. We cannot influence people with a little white stick, but you can influence them, too. Leadership is influence. Being able to articulate that in words is a great gift.
This is so helpful, thank you. How do we measure results? We send stuff out, and it just goes out there. How do we know it’s working?
Cheryl: There are multiple metrics. In the final analysis, it’s going to be the growth or success of the program. But to know where I am specifically getting my best return for the efforts I am making, there are multiple things you could consider. One would be increasing subscribership. In the case of Benjamin Hardy, he noted that even when he was getting 10,000 new subscribers a week, a lot of them were passive participants who were interested and compelled by what he had to say, but that was the extent of it. So he developed a process.
First of all, he recognized that when he had a really viral, home-run article come out, several hundred thousand people would be hitting his website. He said that his website sucked, he was not prepared, and he had no way to gather in the traction. Now he has learned. Instead of sending people direct to his homepage, he sends people to a landing page that says, Here is how to subscribe. If you do, you can have my free e-book. His e-book is really good: Slipstream Time Hacking. He put a lot of thought and energy into that book. It is high value.
Give something of high value when people subscribe so they are compelled. In his case, he sends people five email notes in sequence after they have subscribed, describing five of the principles he considers important for productivity. On the sixth mailing, he sends them an invitation to purchase his first product. It is an intro course that is $19. It teaches his seven productivity principles but does so in a high-level way. It’s not like he is giving away a store of everything he could provide. It is high-level, but it is high-value. People get on board and have purchased something. Now he has an active, engaged audience that he knows.
For example, he is a big proponent of the principles of Stephen R. Covey. Those were an influence for the most viral article he wrote. While he doesn’t have a business or an agenda yet, he knows that he will, and he knows that it is a foregone conclusion that he will need to write, so he is honing those abilities. He is 28 years old for one thing. With that massive audience that he has amassed, those who have subscribed and those who have purchased something, whatever book he introduces next is ordained to be an instant best-seller. Imagine what you could do with that level of influence. What kind of change could you enact with that power behind you?
Hugh: When I work with people building out these enterprises, we redefine leadership as influence. Underneath that is building relationship. I will also tell them that underneath communication is building relationship. What you have just described is him building relationship with a tribe of people.
Cheryl: He has.
Hugh: We tend to want to rush and get to the sale rather than creating value for people. That is what I heard you say in that. He has created some unique value for people who are now poised on the edge of their seats for the next piece.
Cheryl: Another influencer, Dean Graziosi, is in the area of real estate. But there is social entrepreneurship in some of his thinking and some of his offerings. His motto, which I love is, “Provide insane value.” Insane value, isn’t that cool. Because he has been successful in doing that, he has attracted people. It’s inevitable.
When you get that much traction, there are going to be a few vocal people who disagree, who have a bad day and need a hug, or maybe who are just plain turkeys. He says never to ignore that vocal minority. Listen to them. While it is painful, what is the kernel of what they said that maybe you should learn from? Consider that. Consider the source, but also consider that maybe there was a kernel of a message in there that you really did need to hear. That is a little humbling, but important as well.
Hugh: I like to go another step and have dialogue with them. Sometimes it’s not the words that is the meaning, but something behind the words. Understanding building relationship and value in that communication.
Cheryl: Sometimes they just want to be heard. They know that you heard them, that you cared, that you listened. Maybe that’s enough. Often it is.
Hugh: You don’t have to debate the issue. Just say, “Thank you.” Getting over ourselves, as you said earlier, not everybody is going to hear us the same way, and that is so helpful.
You mentioned earlier thought leadership. Digging deeper, what separates that? Do organizations have more than one thought leader?
Cheryl: That term maybe is jargon to some, but the term “expert source” is another. “Influencer” is another that everybody understands. Thought leadership would mean that you are somebody with authority who is regarded, who has a following that respect and anticipate and listen to what you say.
In fact, there is good reason for there to be multiple thought leaders in an organization. For one, suppose there is only one thought leader, who is the CEO, and the CEO leaves or makes a misstep. Think about that. If there are multiple employees, there is another name for that kind of phenomena that not everyone understands, but I think it is powerful: the term is “employee advocacy.” Yes, if there are people in your organization that not only are allowed, but also are invited or compelled to join with you, they gain authority and skills that make them promotable, and they are magnifying your message in a way you could not achieve on your own.
I have told this story a few times, but I think it bears retelling. A Salt Lake organization had a successful IPO. A new Global Vice President of Communications comes in who is a powerful woman. She observes around her that her sales VPs were publishing on LinkedIn unbeknownst to anyone; they had gone rogue. Not because they were trying to be rebellious, but because it was working. They were gaining sales. Imagine how much better and safer that could be, now that they have SEC requirements to think about. But if they are given the ammunition to keep their brand and message consistent, it saves them the work of having to reinvent every wheel to decide what they are going to write about and share.
One individual I so admire is John Bowen. He works with financial coaches. He conducts an extensive study every six months so the people he councils and teaches are not having to think, “You have taught me what to do. I need to think of a topic.” It’s handed to them. It’s golden. Now they are walking within the brand, but they are creating their own influence, those power relationships, in a very effective way.
There is research currently that shows brand advertising. If you see me holding a Diet Coke, you would think I like Diet Coke, and you’d be right. That is not as effective as account selling, where you have a relationship with an individual or there is an environment of trust that is a head start of what you want to do next with that individual. Foster that, and foster as much of it as you can.
It’s also a reputation protection. If that message is told consistently by multiple people, and you will understand this, there is a polyphonic sound that occurs. There is an orchestra of outcome, not a lone voice. That is powerful. If somebody makes a mistake, we are human, and gets into a reputational mess, you are better protected that way because the whole organization and message did not come down on the back of one flawed individual.
Hugh: You have a symphony or choir of high-performing individuals, which you nurture. That is why I have reinvented leadership because what we have been taught is not working, is not right.
You have time constraints today, but I wanted to talk about Content University, your passion behind that, and content marketing.
Cheryl: We developed a program. The editor I wrote for for four-and-a-half years at Forbes, when Forbes moved headquarters, he took the jump into entrepreneurship and joined my team. He developed with us a curriculum. It’s not a lengthy curriculum; it’s ten lessons. My thought was: How could we put Tom Post in a box and provide that kind of counseling to everyone because they can’t afford it? We made it affordable. That program, which we have on a video book, online, and workshops with people, be it either in person or via Zoom as well, is $1,000. Thought leadership in a box. Every person or organization can manage that. It is honestly less than the price of one article you would engage with an agency to write for you, let alone get it published. Most people can complete that training in ten hours or less. We do provide some direct coaching with them to help make sure they succeed. At the end of that, not only have they completed an exam that gives them our certification—we are working with Hugh to see if we can get an Advanced Continuing Education credit for as many verticals as possible—and a completed publish-worthy article that we would help that individual publish if needed so that they know what to do with it. Even as valuable as a great piece of writing is what to do with it to advance your vision, your mission, your business. That is available and low-cost.
The last thing is our Snappington Post newsletter. Any of our columns or website will tell you how to subscribe to that. It’s free. That word you love. You just have to subscribe to it. It won’t over-burden you. Every other week, we will send you an email of the articles we have created of value. We are going to start to add to that the best of Content University, the best writing that comes out of our constituent base.
Hugh: That’s great. We just don’t know how to tell our story. That is priceless. Contentuniversity.com?
Cheryl: Yes. Or Content U. Either way.
Hugh: Cheryl, as we wrap up here, I want to invite you to give people a tip that is going to help them revise or rethink their whole communication strategy. But first, it’s snappconner.com or contentuniversity.com or contentu.com. Cheryl’s articles can also be found in SynerVision’s Nonprofit Performance 360 Magazine and lots of other places that are important on the web. Google her name and you will see some amazing articles. Just a few that she has referred to are important to learn from, but there are many more.
As we wrap up this great interview, I am inspired and want to go write something. As we wrap up this interview, what is a tip you like to leave people with? What do you like to tell people so they can go out and do something different? Give them a good tip.
Cheryl: You can do it. One of my favorite writers I met on LinkedIn, Chris Spurvey, 14 months ago had never written a thing in his life. Nothing. He became a best-selling writer of a self-published book. In the first 30 days, which was in last December, he sold 10,000 copies of his book himself. It’s Time to Sell by Chris Spurvey. Follow his story. I wish I could say he was a Content University graduate, but he intuitively discovered the principles and used them. He writes and shares freely how he did that. You can do it. If he can do it, you can do it.
Hugh: Cheryl, you are wonderful and amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your tips and your time today.
Cheryl: Thank you, Hugh.
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