Behind the Billboard
(0:00:01) KL: Have you found yourself in a moment where you have no clue what you want to do?
(0:00:04) Intro: Welcome to the Behind the Billboard Podcast, a living, breathing, interactive conversation about getting better as a leader, a team and as a person. We believe that success is all about people and we are on a mission to help you grow. Here is your host, Kris Lindahl.
(0:00:23) KL: As business leaders we all have personal brands. Would you like a few tips and tricks you can use today to elevate your PR strategy? If so, you are in luck. I had the honor of interviewing Kristi Piehl, the CEO and founder of Media Minefield. They simply do PR differently. They are news ninjas. There are so many takeaways that I took from this interview. Kristi is just an amazing human being and if you are a business leaders looking to go to the next level, you do not want to miss this episode. Kristi is crystal clear on how to lead a company and what is going to get their company to the next level. I hope you enjoy the interview just as much as I did.
(0:01:09) KL: This is going to be exciting. Lets go back to the beginning before you launched this company. What happened?
(0:01:17) KP: Well thank you for having me here. It is really fun to talk to you like this. In 2008 I was at the pinnacle, I thought, of my television career. I was a TV reporter. Had been for twelve years. Worked at five different stations. I just received a couple of Emmys. Which was amazing. I was actually in a full-page picture in a local magazine in Minneapolis. I was negotiating my contract. I had done a little bit of national work for Good Morning America. Things were going great. I got called in and was part of a massive lay off. I was in my mid thirties and suddenly was asking myself what do you want to be when you grow up? That was a position I never thought I would be in.
(0:01:55) KL: So what happened next?
(0:01:57) KP: I knew immediately that it was time for a change. I love media and I am passionate about news. I believe it has so much power and possibility yet I knew that the way that I had been thinking about news when it came to being a reporter. I was a mother at this time and still am and I knew that it didn’t fit with my life anymore and I didn’t know what to do because traditional public relations is what former news folks go into and I had never been impressed with the traditional public relations mindset when it came to securing earned media. The kind of media you get because of your expertise, because of your product not because you are paying for it. There was a disconnect. So I really took time away and spend time with my kids and just figured me out again. It was hard. I was on unemployment. I volunteered a lot. I took a very part time job at my church. I just needed to know who I wanted to be when I grew up and what I was gifted to do. I knew news fit into that so after a year and a half of volunteering, reading, doing some assessments and really understanding how I am wired, I took a class at my church about how to connect your gifts and passions with helping others because that is what I was missing. How can news help people? Especially in this environment when we hear “fake news” and that media is bad and bias. Some of that is true for sure, but I knew there was good that could happen. So about three weeks into the class the question was asked, what do you know well enough that you could teach someone else? I know news. I wrote on my paper, I am starting a company. My husband was in New York working at the time. I called him and told him I was starting a company. I am an English major. I had no business plan. None of the things that I thought you needed to do to start a company. Within thirty days I was legal in the state of Minnesota to be a company.
(0:04:01) KL: When you are in that moment of no clue what you want to do, you started volunteering and networking and I really enjoy that part of your story because I think too often when we are in moments of struggle or we are not clear on our vision of where we are going, the best thing you can do is go help other people or go do things that are acts of good to get you in a better place mentally. It is fascinating when you start to do those things what starts to show up. When I read your story that was probably the thing that stuck out to me the most because that is where you really start to get clarify. You mention something that I really like and that is that you had no background in running a business or anything else. So you start this company and we know there are challenges along the way and they do not go away. So you open for business and then what happens?
(0:04:51) KP: Right? So I guess I had a couple of really great things working in my favor. I had amazing people around me were saying, “Do it!” I had a friend, who is going to be an employee in like a week, and she was saying, “I know graphic design and I know branding. You need a logo. You need a website.” I was like, “No, I am going to do this from my kitchen table and I am just going to do word of mouth.” I didn’t think I needed any of that. I had the people around me pushing me to do more. That was mind blowing and game changing for me. The other thing is that once I told just a couple of people what I was doing, then they started saying, “Oh, I know someone who needs your help,” or, “I know this person.” At the beginning I really wanted to focus on non-profits because I knew that non-profits had some incredible stories to tell and did not know how to tell them or who to tell them to. I realized after doing, and we still have I do have non-profit clients and now we give them a way or offer a discount because I do have such a heart for the work they are doing, but you cannot build a business with the unpredictability of non-profits as your base. I learned that within six months. But, man, it is good for the soul. When I was unemployed, I could have thrown a pity party. There were days where you go from, for me, Good Morning America to one year later folding the church bulletin. That could mess with your mind and I just refused to let it. I felt really grateful that I got to realize my kids and being healthy and all of the things that I had. It was the economic downturn and other people were losing their homes. It wasn’t an easy time of my life but yet it was an awesome time because I really got clear on what mattered and I knew that if my business failed, my life was still fine. In fact, when people talk to me about whether they should quit their job, it is such a good thing to actually happen. Not because it all worked out for me but because you can really take a step back and say these are the things that I am really grateful for. That was the gift in the whole experience. The business did not need to work and I was still successful.
(0:07:02) KL: In our company our number one core value is Be Generous and give back our time, treasures and talents, and the one that is least talked about now is the treasures or the money. I think we are so caught up in this idea that we need this job and we need this money. There is so much more we can do in this world to make an impact. So, I love that you just shared that. Okay, so you start the company and you are working non-profits. Are you working the non-profits by yourself?
(0:07:24) KP: I knew from my TV experience that traditional public relations has a flaw so I set out to fix it. I didn’t want to take on any real clients until I figured out how do I get them from, “Okay, I have a good story to tell” to “I am doing a news interview and I am going to do something with that, that should influence the donors and should make some kind of impact.” Medias, as you know, time consuming and takes practice and takes coaching and all of these different things but if you do it just for the sake of doing it you are wasting your time. It should be done with a purpose. It should be done so you can increase your brand. Increase your visibility. There are reasons to do it, as you know. How do I go from step one, step two, step three in powerful, impactful media? So, I gave that away. I just figured it out. I messed around with it until I got to a very specific process and we have now protected that and named it. It is called Newsability. It is the same process. It works. We have a 100% success rate. All of our clients we have ever worked with have received press. My team is amazing. They took that idea. That is what good teams do, right? They take an idea and they say, “Okay, we can make it better.” It really was giving it away and messing around with it.
(0:08:44) KL: So you mention team, which is the most important part of it. We can’t get to where we are today without the help of amazing people at whatever company you are with. That was why I was asking at the beginning. So you have the non-profits and then at some point you have to start hiring people. What types of positions were you hiring?
(0:09:00) KP: This is where it gets crazier, I guess. I lived it so it doesn’t seem that crazy. Within about a year, word spread that what I was doing was different and it was working. My clients were getting press and they were seeing results so we got a couple of for-profit clients. It was going well, and yet I was getting busier than I wanted to be. I still had this thinking that my kids were little. They are not going to be little forever. I don’t really want to be working full, full time yet. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Someone heard me speak and she wanted to have coffee and she had just moved to town. Similar background as mine. Television background. I thought we were talking about where our kids get haircuts and I could tell her where the best place to go grocery shopping is and that kind of stuff. Literally on my way to Caribou I called my husband and said, “I am getting too busy.” I don’t want to be this busy. I have this new business. I don’t feel like I should say no, and he is like, “We will figure it out.” So, I go have coffee with her and we have our conversation and I kind of tell her like this is my idea and this is what I am doing. I never put two and two together. She sends me an email that night about midnight that says, “I think I need to work for you.” It never dawned on me to hire people. I just didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur or an employer. I just didn’t. When I speak now to young entrepreneurs, especially women, I tell them dream bigger. Think bigger. Push yourself. Thank goodness, Andrea raised her hand first and said I see where you are going and I want to be on board. She is still with the company and the folks that have come after her in the media coaching roles are all former TV reporters, producers, and news decision makers. We have several differentiators but that is one of them.
(0:10:42) KL: There are a lot of business leaders who listen to this podcast who are moms. You mention that you were getting a bit busier than you wanted to be. What advice would you give for balance? How did you start to balance this out? Being a mom is obviously super important to you. What advice could you give to those that are listening who might be struggling a little bit with that balance?
(0:11:02) KP: I think the term balance in general is wrong. We think about, okay, I am always going to have this equal balance. There is no equal balance and it is also frustrating to me that women and men get different treatment. I mean, your daughter is very important to you. It bugs me a little bit when we have this conversation because women struggle with this more but there are lots of dads out there that really want to be present. For me it was about what are my non-negotiables? What am I not willing to change? I knew that when I was in television, I remember I went to cover a tornado and no one knew I was pregnant and yet I knew I was pregnant and they were sending me to where ever, which is fine, but the photographer was not going to stop to get me water or go to the bathroom. I was like, “Dude, pull over. I am pregnant!” I was laying in my bed in this hotel room in God knows where, and I was like, “Gosh, I hope I don’t lose my baby.” I hadn’t slept. I was barely eating and I thought what is wrong with this? That is a really extreme example but that is the news business. I love the news business and I am not ripping on the news business. So, when I came to that point of now I am going to have an employee and I am going to have more employees. How do I want to treat them? How can I think about their families in a holistic way? What happens at home comes to work, and likewise. For me, I have to model it. It is really easy for me to say to folks, “Right. I know. I own the company so I have to work late. But you go to your kids basketball game.” If I am not modeling it, they are not going to do it either. That is what kind of keeps me honest because I could certainly go down that workaholic path easily.
(0:12:1536 KL: For sure. Your point about balance was spot on. I think people forget fathers have to make sacrifices as well. It seems to me, and I am just judging this based on my organization, which is a smaller sample size than obviously the entire country, but I feel like from what I have seen, it is the moms that have more guilt.
(0:12:57) KP: The mom guilt.
(0:12:58) KL: Yes. The mom guilt.
(0:12:59) KP: We put it on ourselves. We put it on ourselves. I was at a retreat this year and a gentleman talked with us and one of the things he said I took away was ask the people who are most important in your life if they are getting the best of you. If they say no, then ask them what that looks like, but be prepared for the answer. If you are going to ask, you have to be willing to deal with the answer. So I did it. I went home and I asked my husband and I asked both of my sons, “Are you getting the best of me?” My youngest son said no. So I said, okay, what would it mean if you were getting the best of me? And she said can you pick me up from school once a week? Totally! Absolutely I can! If I wouldn’t have asked that I wouldn’t have known that was the thing he wanted because a lot of the moms and dads are picking the kids up from school and they are not going to after school care. Fine, buddy. And it is important to him that I do pick him up.
(0:13:54) KL: What a great question. That is helpful for a lot of people to just ask that question. You said you have to be prepared for the answer because I think when I look at the growth of myself as a person, but also as a leader, asking those tough questions and being willing to hear the answers are not always easy.
(0:14:08) KP: Right. If you don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question because you can’t be mad at the answer.
(0:14:14) KL: That question has obviously helped you become a better mother, but they are intertwined like you had said earlier. This work life balance thing that people talk about does not really exist. I get home and I am still working, but I would call it personal time but it is not really personal time. They are intertwined. When you look at your organization, you have some special things that you have done. What things are you are doing differently to help people in their personal life as well as their professional life?
(0:14:48) KP: Let’s talk about family first. For me, that is my children and my husband. Some folks choose not to have kids so it is their significant other or it is their pets. If your child is sick or your spouse is sick and you need to talk them to the doctor, that is paid time off. Same with your pet. Your pet is sick? Paid time off. You love your fur baby like I love my babies? That is fine. We really try to be inclusive. We give paid time off for moms and dads the same when they have babies or adopt. We allow people to bring their babies into the office until the baby is mobile. It is a great way to transition back in and it helps with the daycare costs. Everyone loves having a baby in the office. Every parent that has taken advantage of that policy has done it a little bit differently. But, as a company, we are willing to take a conference room and turn it into a nursery. You bring in your own crib and that sort of thing and we feel like if our clients are uncomfortable with hearing a baby, perhaps, on the other side of the phone or having a baby in a meeting then they might not be a right fit client either. Certainly, if the baby is having a meltdown, the parent is so aware and always removes that baby. We have never had an issue and we have never had a complaint. We have unlimited vacation and we haven’t had issues with that either. In fact, we have force some people to take vacation. When people are aligned with their core values, they are passionate and they love what they do, they don’t want to leave. We really have a flexibility mindset. If it is a snow day and it is going to be two hours to get into work, if you are listening to this from somewhere warm, enjoy the warmth because this is about to become our reality here. I really want people spending their time used well. I want them to get home and be able to give their best to whoever it is they are going home to and then come back the best they have and then give what they have to us at the company. I am really passionate about learning and developing people. I always tell everyone, I want them to leave whenever they leave the company being a better person than their first day. I want them to leave a better person than when they walked in. I tell everyone that on their first day and I am passionate about it. We have book club. People pick a book and then read about it. We have a leadership development school that I wrote and developed that our leaders go through and there are papers and assignments and books and that sort of thing. We have open door day once a quarter where all of the executive team’s calendars are completely cleared and we have snacks to bribe people to come visit us. They can talk about whatever. You want to show me pictures of your baby? Awesome. You want to talk about something bugging you? Fine. I just want folks to know that there is an open door. We have, on every Friday, an anonymous survey. How did they stack up against our core values? How did the executive team stack up against our core values? Anything that the executive team could have done positively or negatively that impacted their job? So every week we are getting anonymous feedback that we can then make decisions about. Then, on Monday mornings we start with an all standing all company meeting. Every team shares their weekly wins. Any team that has a challenge, we share it, and we try and brain storm together. We give core value awards. We give core value awards and someone wins an all-inclusive paid trip for two every year. We are always nominating each other for core value awards. We do a lot because I just feel like employing people is such a privilege and we can influence for good someone’s life and I don’t take that lightly.
(0:18:15) KL: That was incredible. That was literally incredible and I think that is going to provide amazing resources to so many people. I can see why your company is so successful and I think, a lot of times, and it is exactly why I titled this entire podcast Behind the Billboard because a lot of people don’t see behind the marketing. They don’t see behind all of the things that you do. All of the things that you just shared led you up the award you have received. Tell me that award and what that means to you and to your company.
(0:18:43) KP: The Inc. award?
(0:18:44) KL: Yes.
(0:18:45) KP: It is so fascinating. One of our clients told me I should apply for The Fastest Growing Companies in America Award, The Inc. 5000 award, that I thought, “Well, that is ridiculous. We are not that big.” He said the event is amazing. You should go. Just apply for the event. So we took the time and we applied. Because we are a privately owned company I have never given numbers. To apply for this award you have to give your numbers for them to consider and your accountant needs to verify the numbers. Based on his advice we applied. I was shocked that we made the list. It was the most amazing few days to go to that event and hear those speakers. The founder of Panera. Kendra Scott Jewelry. Casper Mattresses. Brené Brown. Gretchen Rubin. It was just one speaker after another and to be around entrepreneurs that all want to grow and get better, that kind of energy is unexplainable.
(0:19:38) KL: I followed all of those social posts so it was really fun to watch the journey of you being down there and congratulations. That is super, super exciting. Then you also have this other award, which is Best Places to Work, so all of those things that you shared that you do for your company. It is not just you; obviously, it is also your leadership and your entire organization. Tell me what that types of awards mean to you?
(0:20:02) KP: We have won Best Places to Work several years in a row and it is such a job because I do not get to vote. It is not like I am stacking the deck. You know? Everybody votes. They all have to answer questions. You can pay to get all of the answers. I don’t because I tell people it is anonymous. Please be honest. I don’t want to breach that trust. When we win, it just means so much because I really want to create a work environment that I want to work at. I have pretty high standards, so I think if I want to work there then other people will want to work there too. And that is an award that means more to me than the other award.
(0:20:44) KL: What you said is all about your team. You mentioned the leadership training that you had wrote and along the way you didn’t really have any experience being a leader, so what things have you done throughout the years to help yourself become better prepared and a better leader for your company for your family and really for everyone who is a part of your life?
(0:21:01) KP: I am glad you asked because I think there is a misnomer that leaders are created in masters programs. I love that people go to masters programs and have business degrees. I love that. My message to entrepreneurs is that you don’t have to have it. That doesn’t mean drop out of school it just means whatever path you are on don’t let your degree or your bank account hold you back. For me, because I was a journalist, I firmly believed in new. Okay, I don’t have the answers, so I have to go seek out the experts. I brought that into my mind about leadership. I don’t have any of what it takes other than a desire and a passion around what I do. Therefore, I have to go seek out advice. I read a lot. I am a crazy reader. Fifty to sixty books a year. Podcasts. I just love to consumer information and apply what works into my company and learn and also share because there is that be generous piece because if I can share it with other people. If that one person feels like, Okay, if she did it, I can do it. That is what it is all about. So, it is about reading and it is about consuming information and seeking out help. We have occasionally hired consultants. We implemented EOS. I was a few years into the company and I realized like, oh my goodness. I have really got something here. The market needs this and our approach is so different. You can’t tell your employees that you don’t know what you are doing. They need to think that you do. I got into a group where I am with four other entrepreneurs and they are all men and they are awesome. We get together once a month for most of the day. We go on retreats out of town. We are all very like-minded. I also am part of C200 Prodigy group. It is a women’s learning group. There are eight of us from around the country. I am part of WPO in town, Women Presidents’ Organization. That is fantastic. So it is really about being with other people and not for the purpose of getting business or trying to get something or putting them on an email list. There is a place for all of that, but this is to really come with all of the vulnerableness of this is what I am struggling with. Can you help me? Let me help you.
(0:23:20) KL: I am the only male in the leadership team and it is the most important thing to me and I love interviewing really strong women and I love what you have done. I love how humble you are. You are like, “I don’t know…” but you do know something at this point. You have built an amazing company. What was great about what you just shared there was that I think too many people go in trying to take deposits out of these groups like networking. Networking I can’t stand. I go in trying to learn and share what struggles I have had so people don’t make those same mistakes. Too many people show up in groups and organizations, maybe not the ones you are in, but looking to network and short side like how do I get business out of that? The ROI of investing and growing your brain is far more significant than one transaction or one opportunity. So what types of things have you learned in these organizations?
(0:24:05) KP: So much. I have done this in my company. I am thinking about getting more news space. Should I move? Should I not? Tactical. Right? These people that I am in these groups with, they know a lot about my business. They have been under the hood. They have kicked it around and they know some things. There are some things that they have taught me about myself. I do have permission to share this because what happens in these groups is confidential but I was with the four men that I am with. We have been together almost five years, as I have mentioned, and I would always say to them, “I don’t know why you keep me here. Am I your token woman? You guys are amazing. Why are I here?” They would always say, “C’mon Kristi, of course you belong here.” I didn’t believe it. It was worthiness. There are many. Imposter Syndrome. Whatever. We were at a dinner last spring and one of the gentleman said, “Alright, we all know each other so well. What is the one thing we don’t know yet?” Everyone shares that one thing. So we go around the room. They get to me and I say, “I really don’t know why you guys have me here. I don’t belong with you guys. You are so successful.” The gentleman got very stern with me and he said, “Listen, do you respect us?” And I said, “Of course!” And he said, “So either we are lying to you, or you need to leave the group.” In that minute, it was like, oh my goodness. I have been spending so much time thinking that I don’t belong here that I have missed out. Just having the confidence in that has just made such an impact. And also, in some of the other groups I am in there is an asking for help element that I think some people get into groups expecting to just be handed things. Sometimes it is business, but other times it is you telling me what I need to learn. No. You need to go and ask specifically. I am struggling here. How can you help me, or do you know someone who can? Be authentic about it. Through my C200 group, I met a woman who agreed to be my mentor. She is the former president of CBS. Liz Tumulty. I would have never crossed paths with her otherwise. I specifically reached out to her and said I would love to learn your perspective on how media is changing because I as the owner of this company need to be five steps ahead of what the industry is doing and you have seen it at a much bigger level than I have seen it and made decisions about station ownership and buyouts and all of those other sorts of things. I need to understand it. Within ten minutes of talking to me she said, okay, I totally get what you are doing. You are the right person. It is the right time. I am going to mentor you. We talk every other week. She is amazing. She has connected me to some people. When I met her for the first time I was very emotional and I said I cannot accept this. What your time must be worth, I cannot pay for that. She took her hands and she put them on my face and she said, “Honey, just give it someone else.” Just in the last week, I was able to make the gift to someone in town and she accepted, so now I am mentoring someone, and she said I am going to pay you back because I am going to give it to someone else. So, I went back to Liz and I was like, “I am doing it for someone else and she is going to do it for someone else. Your one thing, think about how many people it can impact.” It is about going in with the right kind of mindset.
(0:27:07) KL: That is a great story. Entrepreneurship and leadership can become very lonely too. And then you start to develop the thought that no one else understands. They don’t know what I am going through. That is why those groups are so important because like you said, they understand what is under the hood. That understand what is actually happening in your organization, and you understand their organization. That is really important to get people to have that perspective because if you are a trendsetter or you are trying to change the way things are done you don’t always make a lot of friends within the industry when you are doing things that way.
(0:27:40) KP: You don’t. It is funny about that. No, you don’t. It is hard because I have some greats friends and clients and relationships but I am not going to call Kris Lindahl and be like, “Hey, I am really struggling with this employee. What do you think?” You need to think I have it all together too, right? So I have to find some people that I can figure some stuff out with. Also in the time we have been together, kids have been sick, people have moved, businesses have sold. We have talked so many personal and professional things because they go together. It is such a gift to have relationships like that. I can just call them and say, “Oh my goodness.” “This is happening.” “What should I do?” And they will go, “Okay, give us ten minutes and we will get everybody on the phone.” People need that. I think the reason more people don’t is because we like to put on this façade that we like to put it all together. We know what we are doing. No need for help here! Nothing to see. But we all need it.
(0:28:36) KL: It is kind of like social media. We compare our entire life to someone else’s front end. We see their front end and we are like, “They are such a great father.” Or mother, or everything is together, and then we put this guilt on ourselves like why can’t we be on their level? I think so many times we compare ourselves to maybe another business as a leader but we are only seeing the front end of their business and we don’t understand the challenges that they are going through.
(0:28:59) KP: Even little things like, okay, we have self-financed. In the beginning, it was like okay I need to print some business cards and get a website. That is less than a hundred dollars. Okay, is debt a good thing? I was always taught debt is a bad thing. Who am I going to ask about this? It is the little things. Even also, I don’t think entrepreneurs, and I include myself in this, take enough time to celebrate. We have to have people we can celebrate with. I have some very close girl friends. I have very close guy friends. They will celebrate with me for all of the right reasons and like wise.
(0:29:27) KL: That is great advice. I actually talked about this on a previous episode on Behind the Billboard about successful leaders are always chasing something they can’t catch. They never really enjoy where they are. They always feel like they are just getting started. They are never really still and never really present. For me, it is really important to be still and be present now. That is a really big challenge for me. I am always wanting to be somewhere else and always chasing something I can’t catch. I wrote down that I needed to slow down and enjoy the ride and I am really trying to just enjoy where we are today and where we are going and celebrate the people that are along with me. It is really important and I think we really do have to slow down and celebrate. Sometimes some of your victories are not things you can celebrate publically. Maybe there are certain entrepreneurs that understand what you are celebrating. Sometimes we cannot find enough people to relate to, so we can celebrate some of those victories.
(0:30:29) KP: Absolutely. It is also so important to be in a place where you are completely safe and where people will call you out. You want to be called out because I think it is very common to build organizations where people are still going to filter what they are giving you. They might not give you the whole truth. They give you what you want to hear. Do they really want me to ask about how their spouse is doing? It is so hard to know because are people liking me because my name is on their check? It is just a weird place to be in and I am not saying it is a bad place to be in. It is just a weird place to be in.
(0:31:03) KL: It takes a long time to get comfortable with that. Especially when you are the CEO and founder and your name is on everything. It is different than the early days and now you are liable and on the hook and responsible for pretty much every single action that happens in your organization.
(0:31:18) KP: I still don’t really appreciate this, but my words have a different weight to people. When I said something they listen to it in a different way. They think about it in a different way. I have to be much more careful with my words in the organization that I did in the early years when it was just me and a few people figuring it out. People that have come onboard now they only know me like this. They don’t know me as the person sitting at the kitchen table going, “I don’t know. What do you think?” They only know that we have this great office and we have this great culture. They only know me as this and that is what they signed up for. I have to keep that on the front of my mind as well because they deserve a leader. These people are amazing. Where they are coming from and their potential. They deserve a leader that can bring them to the next level.
(0:32:10) KL: As leaders, too, we are always on stage with our words and our actions. I think about the President of the United States. Whatever the President of the United States does or says it has an impact on so many different things. The economy. The Nasdaq. Whatever is said, I mean, you think about the feds and if you think about it, when they say something that might happen or might not happen, it impacts the markets. It is the same thing with a leader. What we do makes an impact, not only on the people in the organization, but on their families and our client’s families. There are so many families that are involved in every decision we make. If you are a leader and you are listening, make sure that you really understand that impact that you have on people because it can be very positive and if you do something that is not so great it can be very negative.
(0:32:53) KP: Absolutely. You know, last week… We have help days. We close down the office and we all go and volunteer some place. There was a little mix up in the scheduling with a non-profit and it was an accident, but it meant that we were on the west side of the twin cities and it meant that we would be finishing up at 5:00 in St. Paul. I pulled us out of it. I thought, my goodness. We have people picking up daycare. Spouses are switching their workarounds. I get it. We are doing something really great for the community, but we can reschedule that. If I am saying, we are all going to go do this amazing thing, they are going to do it, like it or not, and it is so important because you are on stage and people are listening and people are watching.
(0:33:37) KL: Help days. That is incredible. So, someone in your company said something that really…
(0:33:44) KP: We are going there.
(0:33:45) KL: You said nothing was off limits! So you said, you can do whatever you want but no one will want to work here. It stuck with me because I look at the early days of my company and I remember decisions that I was potentially going to make. I was making them and I wasn’t even 100% certain why I was making them other than I thought that was the direction. To your point, like you said earlier, you are not at the beginning anymore where you have just a few people. Every decision that you make impacts a lot of people and their families. What happened when that came up?
(0:34:14) KP: So, Mark, who is our COO now. This was a couple of years into the company and to this day neither of us can remember what we were talking about but we were in a closed door meeting talking about some kind of policy. I am more restrained now and more controlled because I genuinely… and we just took another company assessment and confirmed it again. I move fast. I have a lot of words. I am onto the next idea. I am just all there. That means sometimes that I don’t think about impact to people. So I made some decision, and I said it, and Mark goes, “That’s fine and we can do that, but no one will want to work here.” The reason I love that he said it is that he is right and he said it. I love that he isn’t a yes person because if not, someone has to keep me in check and those words have stuck with me and they are so important because I could do whatever and we could make whatever kind of policies we wanted but I don’t want create a place where people don’t want to be. I want them to their best self to work and their best self home and that is on me.
(0:35:28) KL: When I read that, the thing that came to mind and what is the most critical pieces of leadership is trust. He had your trust to be able to say that. There are a lot of organizations where they don’t have someone who will tell them no or challenge them. If you are in an organization where you don’t have any checks or balances and you are a visionary, that is a super dangerous place to be in your organization. That trust piece was, when I read it, I was like I like that because there is a trust associated with him being able to tell Kristi directly, like this is how I feel.
(0:36:02) KP: That is so true. I tell people like Mark and my leadership team, don’t tell me what I want to hear. You are the only people I know and expect to be completely honest with me. Not all of my ideas are good.
(0:36:15) KL: Even though you think they are.
(0:36:17) KP: In the minute they are amazing but it doesn’t mean we should do them. The more clear I get about how I am wired. I can do all of the ideas. When we talk about it with the whole company. I am in an island way over here. Mark is on the ship. I want the right people on that ship with him, and then he has to figure out with the other leaders, how to get there. When they get kind of close to me, I am going to jump to the next island because that is the path. We have the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote several places in my office. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” That is what we are trying to do. Leave a trail. I want it to be easy for the people to come after us. We are out there in the woods sometimes with knives hacking stuff down Rambo style. Come bleeding. Right? That is the fun of building something.
(0:37:12) KL: Take credit for where you are at because it is really phenomenal. I have interviewed a lot of business leaders and it is really fascinating what you have built and the person you are. So you mentioned earlier your business model is unique in sense of the former news reporters and the way that you do things. One of your core values is to be a news ninja and then you mentioned earlier a 100% placement rate, which is absolutely phenomenal. Then I read something about you had a story about how to pitch a story, which has changed too. Maybe share how a little bit on your strategy on hiring and what type of people you are bringing in, and then how you get a 100% placement rate and how to pitch a story.
(0:37:50) KP: It is all crazy.
(0:37:54) KL: I feel like it is kind of all wrapped into one. Especially with my experience with your organization which has been phenomenal. They are all sort of connected.
(0:38:01) KP: Right. Well, thank you. You can’t win the news game if you don’t know the rules, and unless you have been an active news journalist, you don’t know the rules. It is little things when it is pitching the news. When I was working in media, all the stations I was at, pizza would show up from someone who wanted press. Or cookies. Honestly, no one asked who brought the food, they just ate it. Sending swag to places… okay, unless like in Minnesota, the Timberwolves released their brand new Prince inspired jerseys. That thing is sweet and I am sure that they sent it around and it probably made news. It is totally worthy. The pizza that Kris Lindahl Real Estate wants to send is not going to get him news. The reason that he is going to get news is he is a real estate genius who is worthy of being an expert in that space…
(0:38:50) KL: Well, just to add something really quick to that… I actually tried to get media before I hired your company and it didn’t work. I can relate to the swag that doesn’t make any sense and trying to send emails to random reporters and going online and trying to see… I can’t even remember the sites. HARO or whatever. There are different pitches on there and trying to respond to them on there and never getting a response. I didn’t mean to interrupt you but I have lived on the other side of this and that is why it is really enjoyable to listen to what you are sharing.
(0:39:16) KP: I love that you are an advocate and an evangelist for us. It is knowing what time, whether it is print, or we talk about TV because that is what I love, but a lot of our clients get print and radio and online and blogs and we do some influencer work with social media and that kind of thing but it is really about knowing about going into the reporter or the decision maker’s shoes and thinking like them. If we give them what they want our clients win every time. Right now we know that should you sell your house over the holidays? That might be something people are wondering, so therefore, there might be writers and folks on the radio and folks on TV that might be thinking about that kind of story but they don’t have time to figure out what do the studies say and what does the research say? They are doing one hundred more things since I got out of news. Those reporters are doing Twitter. They better be on Snapchat. They have all of these things. So, if we can deliver them good content, you are going to go on there and you are not going to give a commercial because you are going to give them their expertise, you are going to mention the name of your company which helps you. You are going to be well coached. They are going to get great content. It is really about giving them what they want. The media. We need them to trust us and we have built that up after this much time. We are coming to them because these people are actually worthy of a story. We don’t take clients that we don’t think are news worthy. This 100% placement rate kind of happened by accident. We started and I was like, “You know that all of the clients we have every worked with have received press? We should probably market that.” And here we are. I checked before I left and our clients have had over 3,600 news interviews this year. Our big audacious goal over the five years to have 20,000 news interview by our clients. We have a digital counter in our office going so whenever the coach schedules a news interview anywhere in the country they are pinging that. It is super fun for them because we all have to work together. We couldn’t ever reach these goals alone. It takes everyone working together. Everyone going in the right direction. Everyone being on board. The right kind of clients. The right kind of mindset. All of it works together, to your point, and all of us love news. When people are out there, like the fake news, we see the good. We see what is possible and social media has taken us to a whole other level because it can be leveraged, which you do a great job at. We are getting more and more clients where we are handling their social media, just the messaging because we get the story telling. As a leader, you don’t have time, but you have stuff to say.
(0:41:49) KL: For sure. Leaders are in positions where there are interviews at all times. They are not always in the news like you said, it could be print, it could be social media. What are some really big mistakes you have seen leaders make when it comes to PR?
(0:42:03) KP: Sure. I am going to put you on the spot, okay?
(0:42:05) KL: Here we go!
(0:42:06) KP: Alright! My turn. Okay, you know the CEO at Amazon. Bezos, right? Who is the CEO at UPS? We don’t know! Because I use this, I don’t look it up. I don’t know if it is a man or a woman. I have no idea. I know that there is a leader. That person isn’t out there. Get out there. The leaders that say that they don’t have time. Their employees want to interact with them. If they are leading in some fashion, they have a point of view and it should be out there. They have an expertise and they have something that the world wants to see and what really pains me is that when people say, “Man, I have a good story to tell but the press won’t tell it because all they want to do is bad stuff” or whatever. I am like, well, have you ever tried? Have you ever told them your story? Have you ever tried to connect with them in a meaningful way? Have you ever given them something other than a press release, which spoiler alert, all go in the garbage? It is about a misunderstanding and I think it is just easy to blame media right now. That is the environment we live in. But, boy, they want to tell good stories, they just need to content. I think the mistake leaders make is believing that they either don’t have the time and, I now talk about when I speak about it, Media Mad Libs, right? There are blanks and that is what happens with the public if you don’t fill in the blank yourself, some else is going to fill it in and it is not going to be positive. If there is a void out there, and you are not filling it in, what is out there is not going to be positive.
(0:43:34) KL: I think the number one that is holding a lot of leaders back is fear. I actually personally know people who have been attempting to do maybe their own PR on social media or maybe it is on TV or there are a few opportunities that come along the way and most people are freaked out. They are absolutely scared and they are fearful of being on camera or they are fearful of being behind a mic, or they are fearful of doing a social media live, or whatever it is. What types of things would you recommend to leaders that are freaked out about being in those environments?
(0:44:10) KP: That is a great question. So over the course of the company, we currently have like one hundred and twenty or so clients. We have all those clients over time, and all of that time we have had one person who got to a news station and threw up and couldn’t do the interview. One person. He absolutely a panic attack. It is not for everyone, but he can certainly do print interviews. There is some kind of something that can be done. I honestly think, which easy for me to say, right? I did it for so many years, but I think television interviews are easier than live speaking because you are looking at one person, maybe two people, but that is it and you forget.
(0:44:47) KL: Yeah, you are not looking at an audience of a hundred thousand or a million people.
(0:44:48) KP: No, and you don’t realize how many people are watching it. It is really all about the coaching. It really saddens me when I hear that there are agencies out there that can get an interview and then just show up and then the person does the interview. Everybody needs to be coached. Everyone needs practicing. You have done tons on media. You still get coached. I got coached, I am not joking, yesterday for this interview today. It is important. The people around you, you should ask them before you do any kind of interview. We call it the verbal blanket. What do you say that is your filler work and lets word to get rid of it. We have little tricks. Every time you say “um” or “like” or whatever it is, have someone clap so that you are aware because until you are aware of it, you are just going to keep doing it. It just feeling confident and going in and knowing the material and the best advice if you are going to do any kind of interview is that it is not what you are asked, it is what you say. You control what comes out of your mouth. You can get asked whatever you want but you control what you say.
(0:45:47) KL: That is great. I love that you said the filler words. I have four filler words that I wrote down here today. Like, 100%, I love that, and for sure. I have been working on those for a long time and the reason I asked you that question about fear is that obviously we all have it to some degree whatever it is in our lives. I look back to the early days of when I really started to become a good communicator and I would sit in any office and I would lock the door and I would shoot a hundred videos a day by myself. Every time I would shoot a video, which was awful, by the way. I would run out in the hallway and hope that someone wasn’t listening in another office. I did that for years to try to get better. Even at the level I am at today I can continually get better. I did an interview that you guys lined up for me probably like three months ago and I missed one word that maybe people didn’t even know. It probably made sense to most but I know it wasn’t perfect. I was so upset with myself. It was the first time in a long time where I had been in an interview where I had made a mistake because I have put myself in such uncomfortable environments so many times where I have tried not to get that. Even if you practice there are just times where it is not your A game, and you know it, but sometimes others don’t. They might say, you know, “That was the greatest interview I have ever heard,” but you don’t feel 100% and I think those little set backs are what create that fear where we never want to jump through it. I have friends in leadership where maybe one thing went wrong when they were in front of a crowd, or they said one thing, or they got made fun, or someone said something to them on social media that really killed their dreams and now they are fearful to ever step through that.
(0:47:13) KP: It is a bummer. Right? Before you were doing what you are doing now, you had to sell your first house and that probably didn’t go very awesome. Right?
(0:47:20) KL: Oh no. No. I still remember that story.
(0:47:25) KP: Yeah! I am so grateful that during my early days in news, YouTube was not a thing because there were some really ugly moments and you get through it. You have to just think tomorrow is going to be a better day. I can do better tomorrow. I think we are our own worst critics. I tell my kids this, and the older I get and the younger my employees get I tell them the same thing. If someone told you that you had a blue face, would that make it true? No. You decide if it is true. At home, I will tell the kids, “Blue face. Just because someone said that about you, you decide if you are going to believe it or not and that doesn’t make it instantly true.” I think you are right. It is fear. It is what if this happens or what if that. We have had clients who have done not the best interviews. Some interviews where we thought they would never get asked back, and so we coach them more and coach them more and coach them more. So much of doing media is marketing. You know this. You do this so you can get the marketing asset and you can do something else with it. That is the huge value of earned media. Attaching your brand to the brand of the news organizations. You can’t buy that. Lets say you have a terrible interview. The worst that can happen. Most people are most afraid of television. You have a terrible interview. It is awful. Your grandma, your spouse, your significant other, your kid maybe saw it. Some people in the office might be talking, but you probably have a quote in there that you can use on social media and take a picture and suddenly you are sitting next to whatever anchor and you still got something really positive out of it and the next one will be better. Media is one of those things… that is why the company is called Media Minefield. You can blow up your brand if you don’t know what you are doing. If you can’t afford an agency, say yes if you have an interview opportunity and then you practice with your friends. Practice and practice and practice and practice. Find the person that is not your yes person who isn’t going to tell you that the ugly tie is a great idea and work on it. Work it through. It gets better every time.
(0:49:26) KL: I have given permission to everyone around me to give me constructive feedback at all times. I am okay with that. My… and he is going to listen to this, my podcast editor, Josh. I said, “I want everything that you think I am doing that you don’t think is right,” because I want to grow. When you give people and empower people around you to help you become better, you have major breakthroughs. Sometimes if you don’t give you permission, they are worried that maybe they are telling you no, or your example earlier with the quote. You have to empower people around you to allow them to criticize you, because obviously, we are going to be our own worst critic, but we might not be criticizing ourselves in the right places or we might have tunnel vision on what those filler words are. I think empowering people around us is really important as well.
(0:50:08) KP: Yeah, because it comes from a place of I want to be better. So to be better, you can help me. Please, I welcome the help.
(0:50:16) KL: So this has really changed from your days of being a news reporter. Social media, you have mentioned Facebook and Snapchat and you are glad YouTube wasn’t around back then. Social media can help us and it can really hurt us. I say this laughingly, because I have been in situations like this because I have been in situations where I have had people try to suck me into environments where it would not be a good look if I replied or I had a response one way or another. It is just a place where it is better to not respond. What are some tips or some tricks that leaders listening right now should do and should not do when it comes to social media?
(0:50:51) KP: Sure. I am going to share a stat with you that I got out of Forbes recently and it is going to blow your mind. 44% of a company’s evaluation is based on the online reputation of the CEO. It makes sense. The Bezos thing. It does make sense.
(0:51:07) KL: When you say the CEO, here is what comes to mind right now. Your analogy of Bezos versus UPS was a great one, but the one that comes to mind that is far ahead of the rest is the T-Mobile CEO and his Sunday cook-offs that are on Facebook and social media. It looks like I could hang out with him. I could connect with him. He is wearing an apron and a hat and he is cooking every Sunday and he is in front of me every single weekend. I see those ads. They are really good because they humanize him as the CEO.
(0:51:38) KP: We have now started handling, as I mentioned, some online messaging and handling the social accounts for some executives because we have gotten really clear about a couple of things with them. The don’t have the time and yet they know that they need to be out there. We also want to think about their blind spots. T-Mobile, when you think about CEO, you don’t think about large CEO hanging out because that isn’t necessarily what is put out there. For our clients and anyone can do this, define what stereotypes might be out there about you or someone like you and who are you because it is so important to be authentic. If you ran into that guy afterwards and he took off his t-shirt and put his tie back on, someone would call him out. To know the key messages you want to communicate and only be on the platforms you can do well because if you on all of the platforms and you are not liking people’s things or if you are not engaged, then you are essentially doing the no comment is a comment. If you put something out there and 100 people it and you are never saying anything else and never engaging with it, now you are reinforcing the negative stereotypes about a CEO. If it is only LinkedIn and that is all you can do, no problem, do it really well. Know the difference between public and private. Know that if you want certain people to see certain things, that is fine, just be really aware of your settings and really intentional about if you are going to go out of town for a week and you can’t check it, you need to have someone else who can look at your social. The thing that is amazing to me about social media that is absolutely true is if I took a flight ten years ago on Delta and I hated it, I would never think to send or call the CEO of Delta. Now, that is exactly what people do. Last night, I had a really bad experience at a very well known restaurant in town. The manager was not taking care of me. It was really bad. I actually got injured. She wasn’t taking care of me, and I said, I have one option. I am going to go to social media. I posted something and within 15 minutes, the owner direct messaged me. Was very gracious. He knows I am loyal to that restaurant. I took down my negative, because I was not trying to take his restaurant down, I was trying to get him to know this could happen to someone else. I feel like it is wrong for me to tell everyone what restaurant that was and never tell him. He needs to know! We had a wonderful exchange and I am certain I will go back because I know he is going to take care of the problem and it won’t happen to someone else. We now have to think of these different platforms as a direct line to whoever we want to talk to, and if you are going to be on that platform, you better engage. I could have that tweet and it would have sat there for days and probably would have gotten some retweets and that would have been really damaging for the brand. I think we just have to know and understand the power and impact of social media, the good and the bad and use it. When I was live tweeting from the Inc. 5000, I tweeted something that Ron… I am going to butcher his last name so I am not going to try. The founder of Panera. He liked it while he was on stage. More and more people are having others manage their social media because we can’t expect that a CEO at that level would have that kind of time but I suspect someone on his team is looking at what is put out there just on his behalf. Just like it is not uncommon for someone to have someone going through emails, or answering a phone call. It is just a different world we live in.
(0:55:06) KL: That is great advice. That is what people do now, they go to social media. Even with this podcast the amount of private messages and the amount of posts and comments I am receiving from leaders all over the country. That is how connected you can be on social media. It is a great platform as long as you understand and respect how it is used. You mentioned something about the public versus the private. I have taken up the policy that I assume that every single thing is recorded and every single thing is screenshotted. I assume every single thing that Kris Lindahl does, someone else is going to see and if I am not willing for the public to see something, I don’t do it. That is just the way I am and I think that is the way our society has changed.
(0:55:46) KP: Absolutely. I think sometimes, back to your fear comment, people don’t get on certain platforms because they are afraid of it. There are a lot of teenagers that would love to spend some time with you. You could even throw fifty bucks at a fifteen year old and they will happily teach you how Snapchat works. I think as parents it is super important to know what our kids are doing. What platforms they are on. That doesn’t mean that we have to be constantly talking to their friends on these platforms. They don’t want that. Also we need to understand that our employees are on these platforms and they have a voice and they are the representatives of the brand on these platforms and it is good to have some policies about what is and isn’t acceptable for people to write about the brand when they are representing you. If you don’t talk about it I think people would be shocked. It is not uncommon when we talk about this. We call it at our company, positive online presence or POP because it is important that people have a positive online presence. Many people still haven’t Googled themselves. This is a tip. We did it all the time in news; if you put quotes on either side of the words you can see the exact phrase back. You can put Kris Lindahl without the quotes and you are going to see some things…
(0:56:54) KL: I have read some of them.
(0:56:56) KP: You should and I know you have. It is really important to know what is out there about you and then earned media and being active on social are some of the best ways to push the negative stuff down.
(0:57:06) KL: For me, what I love most about what you are doing, and how it has helped our brand is that we were really good at talking about ourselves, and marketing and talking about how great we were and we had a very different process and we built something that really no one else can offer at this point, but it was us orchestrating everything every thing that was happening, whereas earned media is where someone else that is orchestrating the message and they are interviewing us. That is a unique position to be in. Then, to repurpose that information and use it on social media to amplify the reach can make a huge difference. It has made a huge impact in our business. It is one area where we were really weak. We were really strong in terms of marketing but it was our messaging for everything. That is an area where people listening could probably grow, whether you are a leader inside an organization or you own your own company. Having others talk about you is a really powerful thing.
(0:58:00) KP: I have someone at the company who handles media for me because if we are out there saying everyone should do this and then you Google us and you can’t find anything about us. I was recently in the local business journal. It was fantastic. Really fun. I got to see what that is like, I have done TV, I have been in some other things, but I haven’t been in the business journal before and I had two current clients cut out the article and send me really lovely notes. One I had met, one I had never met, which was very thoughtful. I had several people send me emails or text messages and we had some clients that had heard about us. They were perspective. We didn’t know them, but they knew about us. They were perspective and weren’t sure and now are clients. We have gotten business. It has certainly increased the credibility and authority of what we are talking about and then BizWomen, which is national, picked up that story and now I am getting national engagement. This is what happened from one interview, and that doesn’t happen every time. It for sure doesn’t happen every time but when it does, it is powerful.
(0:59:00) KL: It is really powerful and if you don’t have some sort of PR strategy, I would highly encourage talking to Media Minefield, or if you don’t have the budget for it today, start to think about what that looks like because I think PR is a really important part of building a brand and I think about our company as a brand, but I also think about myself as a brand. Early on in leadership and leading this company, I thought the company, and I thought that the company was my identity and now it is two separate things. Even if you are listening and you work for another company, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have some sort of PR strategy and build some personal brand.
(0:59:32) KP: Right. Exactly. Amen! It is important to know what you want. You are aspirational. What are you aspiring to be and what would it like to get there? Write some things down. There are some things that on my social media and I only post about things in certain buckets and that is really who I am and my authentic self because people don’t want all aspects of my life but I have gotten some feedback where they are really interested in a few parts of my life. That is what I can bring. I know that, this company, another company, whatever it is. That is my public brand and it is not changing. Media Minefield needs to have it’s own identity that is certainly always going to be in some way attached to me, but I want it to live outside of me. It needs to have a brand. I need to have a brand. They should benefit each other.
(1:00:17) KL: Spot on. Thank you for being here. It has been fun to watch the growth of your business. You are an incredible human being and your company is fortunate to have you leading the way and it has been fun to watch.
(1:00:26) KP: Thank you
(1:00:27) KL: So, last question. What advice would you give you to your old self from where you are today?
(1:00:35) KP: That is a great question. Think bigger. It is isn’t about numbered and it isn’t about money and it isn’t about people. If I could have written the vision of we are going to change an industry. This solution is needed because I believe news is powerful and I believe people have stories to tell and I want to change this broken industry. If I could have thought like that, boy, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache along the way and I think I would have had more confidence in myself. I also should have taken a look back at who I was before news. In my mind, I was a news reporter, now what do I do? If I can go before that, I was a seventh grader selling Avon lipstick to my friends in the locker room because I knew they needed it and I could make money off of it. I was someone who had lemonade stands and I sold jewelry. I did all of these things and I was always inventing different things and most of them don’t work. We have established that I have lot of ideas, but I didn’t take time to go back and respect all of that and realize that I could lead something bigger than mom sitting at the kitchen table. There is nothing wrong with that, that just isn’t my path.
(1:01:46) KL: Phenomenal advice. I look back to the beginning for myself as well and there were so many clues along the way that we almost don’t go back and digest those and look at those. Looking back now, I am like, well no wonder I wanted to be a teacher. No wonder I had that passion. No wonder I decided I wanted to be in real estate and be an entrepreneur. There are so many things along the way that you can look at, so that is great advice. If you loved this episode, please share this episode on social media. Leave us a five star review if we have earned it. Leave us some kind words. Don’t forget to subscribe if you love the content we are providing. If you have anything else or suggestions on speakers, you can go to behindthebillboard.com and let us know who else I should interview. I would be so grateful. Thanks for tuning into the Behind The Billboard podcast, and thank you Kristi Piehl for being here.
(1:02:32) KL: Thank you.
(1:02:33) Exit: If you loved this episode give us a great review. Subscribe and share us socially so we can spread the word and build the community of difference makers. If there is a leader who inspires you, send your suggestions for future guests to Kris’s team at behindthebillboard.com so we can get better.
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