Ep # 103 | Blue Sky Ideas

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KATIE KERN

Katie Kern, partner and COO of Media Frenzy Global, is a passionate, award-winning marketing and communications professional who has led creative innovation and strategy for a variety of global brands and agencies for more than 15 years. Named a finalist for the Technology Association of Georgia’s Digital Marketer of the Year and awarded the City of Atlanta Phoenix Award, Katie seeks to reimagine the agency model that cultivates innovation and new ideas, in an industry that is slow to transform. At Media Frenzy Global, Katie focuses on branding, communications and marketing strategies that shape the agency’s services.

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Sophie: Hi, Katie. Welcome to the show.

Katie: Hi, Sophie. Thank you for having me.

Sophie: Thank you for being here. We're so excited to chat today. To kick things off, we'd love to hear a little bit about your background and how you joined Media Frenzy Global.

Katie: Yes, so I joined Media Frenzy in 2013. The CEO and founder, Sarah Tourville, she and I met here in Atlanta, Georgia. We actually had some very mutual interests. I actually had my own PR agency prior to joining Media Frenzy Global, and where I'm from... in Charleston, South Carolina, and when I actually moved to Atlanta, I wanted to do something different, something new, and fresh, and that was an opportunity for me to actually start working in another industry, and so my background spanned from working in the entertainment lifestyle and a lot of fashion PR, and I wanted to do something different, and jump into working with technology companies, so it was more of a challenge for me when I joined Media Frenzy Global. So fast forward a couple of years, I had various roles working at Media Frenzy Global, and this time last year, I officially became a partner of the company.

Sophie: Well, congratulations. Tell the listeners a little bit more about what Media Frenzy Global does and the different companies you work with.

Katie: Absolutely, so, Media Frenzy Global, we are a digital marketing and public relations agency. We work with clients like Comcast Business, PPRO, which is a Fintech company. We work with Verizon, work with a lot of different mid-sized to enterprise technology companies, and our main focus and kind of our area of expertise would be content creation, digital marketing, and also media relations.

Sophie: So what are some of the biggest struggles that your clients are facing when they come to you, and how do you help them solve them?

| DISRUPT AN INDUSTRY |

Katie: Wow, so, that's a loaded question, but majority of the time, our clients are looking to disrupt an industry. If you're thinking about some of the enterprise companies that we work with, like a Verizon, Verizon is very established and they're looking to disrupt their market in some sort of way. They want to tell their story in a different way, so they come to us to really think about how they can be authentic, how they can be relevant, and really come up with those big ideas to help them go there within their industry.

Sophie: I love the word, "Disruptive." I've just recently fallen in love with it, just kind of entering the marketing industry myself. I think it's really interesting, the perspective of big brands kind of humanizing themselves, so what are some of the main tactics that you guys use in order to help them feel more genuine?

Katie: So we like to start out... Our process when we're looking at working with a client, we always like to start with a competitive analysis, like really look and see what their competitors are doing, and then from there, it's always easy to see, okay, where things are going well, and where things are... they're actually having some challenges, and when it comes to being authentic, I think a lot of companies, especially these bigger brands, it's about listening to your customer base. Listen to your customer base. It's not just constantly pushing out content that they think their clients or customers want to hear. It's really about listening to what they're doing, what they're thinking, how they're interacting with the brand because I think that that is what really sets anyone apart from their competitors. When you're listening to your customer, taking in everything that they're saying, and then when you hear something that's kind of a reoccurring theme with all of your customers, then you know that you've kind of... okay, this is something that we really need to pay attention to and really speak to that as a brand.

Sophie: Awesome. Yeah, the customer service piece is just so important. So when you work with these brands, are you as an agency kind of taking the reigns and doing everything for them, or do you kind of create a strategy and then hand the reigns over to them, and help them implement that strategy?

Katie: So for us, we can do both, but most of the time, if you're working with the bigger brands, they want the strategy. They're really looking for that strategy because they actually have the arms and legs in-house to execute, so they're looking for us, for that kind of out-of-the-box thinking because sometimes when you're working with big brands, you're drinking your own Kool-Aid most of the time. It's like you're talking to each other internally. Everyone's patting each other on the back. This is great. This is awesome, and then you get that outside perspective, that agency perspective to say, "Hey, let's take a closer look, a deeper dive into really what our true message is," and then once we get to the core of what their true messaging really is, then we can create a really thoughtful strategy that's really going to make sense to not just the brand itself, but it's going to really resonate with their customer base.

Sophie: I love the drinking your own Kool-Aid comparison. I think that is so true and that's just one of the reasons it's so much fun to work in an agency because you get that diversity of all of the different companies, and just really being exposed to a lot of different industries. So on the true messaging strategy, what do those brainstorming sessions look like internally for your team when you take on a new client?

| ELEVATE THE CLIENT |

Katie: It's interesting. I actually just finished the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, and one of the things that actually brought from that program into the agency was the brainstorming strategy, how to better effectively utilize the team when we're brainstorming, and so what that process looks like, we start out with really thinking about grounded ideas, and these types, grounded ideas are the ideas that are just kind of like, "Yes, these are going to make sense. It's going to be a safe way for us to actually implement your brand across various channels." They're really that foundational piece, and then the next level of that brainstorming session goes into these blue-sky ideas. It's like, "Okay, let's think about how we're going to elevate our client past what their competitors are doing." It's just taking them to that next level, beyond their competitors, and that's really a way for us to kind of think about things, doing things differently, and then the next part of the process, that brainstorming process is spaced-out ideas. It's like, "Let's take it to wherever we want to go. Let's think about being bold. Let's think about being disruptive and really kind of taking them out of their comfort zone." So that's kind of the process that we've implemented, we started doing within our agency, starting out at that grounded idea level. The blue sky is taking them... I think about strategies way beyond their competitors, and then that's those spaced-out ideas and really bold, creative, disruptive... anything that's crazy. You think it's crazy but it might be the best thing that we've actually thought of for that client to make them disruptive in their industry.

Sophie: That sounds like an interesting strategy. I love the terminology describing each phase. When you do present the clients with these spaced-out ideas, and you're pushing them out of their comfort zone, do you often get some hesitation? Do they kind of pump the brakes there, and how do you coach them through those maybe more challenging topics to convince them that it's a good idea in the end?

Katie: It's interesting because we always go to take a strategy and we present two ideas. It's always going to be what's expected and we can show them what type of return on investment they're going to receive with that type of strategy, and that's something that makes them feel comfortable, because we want to make sure that whatever we're presenting that the client knows that we listened and that we got it right, and that's where you can kind of... that's that grounded kind of blue-sky idea mentality, and then when we present the big ideas that... space out ideas to them, we always kind of references, "Hey, do you really want to go there? Do you want to stand out? Do you want to be disruptive?" And it's all about being brave. We want our clients to be brave and sometimes they're not ready to go there depending on where they are in their business. If you're thinking about a startup or that second-stage company that are looking to scale and grow, sometimes they're not ready to really go there and be bold because they're just thinking about growth. They're thinking about revenues, those really business-oriented questions in their head, but then you think about these established brands who've been around for ages, and they're just like... they're kind of becoming really dated, and they're trying to reenter the market with something that's innovative and disruptive, and so those big ideas normally tend to be a lot more appealing to them, so it just depends on where the companies are in the stage of their business.

Sophie: Absolutely. Can you provide an example of a company, either that you've worked with or that was external from Media Frenzy that is doing a great job with those blue-sky ideas?

Katie: Oh, gosh, there's so many that are doing some really great jobs with just the blue-sky ideas. I always like to go to Apple. That's a company that is a respected brand. I really respect them from a marketing standpoint. I think that they're very creative and I don't know if you remember, but this past over the holidays, they actually had a really, really, really thoughtful campaign that they did, and it was called the Share Your Gift campaign. It was done so well and the message behind it was great because I'm always about brands really being thoughtful about their message, and how they make people feel. I think when you can make people feel a certain way, you've really done your job, as a marketer, but the thing that really kind of made me think, "Wow, this was really done really, really well" is that if you go on YouTube and you actually see the behind the scenes of how they actually developed that particular television campaign, it was done so well, the team that they actually pulled together to pull this off was... they were so creative, and one of the things that was just kind of setting them apart was that they were committed. They were so committed to the campaign, and when you get a group of creatives together, and they're committed, they're working overnight, and this particular television spot was just so over the top from a creative standpoint. There was a level of commitment from everyone on that team, and I think that that's what really kind of resonated with me more than anything. The message was great. It was clear. It was thoughtful and Apple does a great job with that, but being able to see the behind the scenes of how they actually created the campaign and the people that were working were so committed to it, being so great, that's what really made me think that it was such an amazing campaign.

Sophie: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree more that Apple just has their marketing down pat. Every single time I see something of theirs, I'm just over and over again impressed. I love what you said about how if you can make people feel or exhibit an emotion, you've done your job as a marketer, and I think that's so true. I'd love to get your perspective on the brands like... I'm thinking of two that come to mind, like Nike and Gillette who have taken more of a political stance in some of their marketing efforts, like Gillette put out one commercial about being a good man kind of in line with the #MeToo movement. Nike has taken a lot on the women and feminism standpoint, so do you guys ever advise brands to go that direction, or have you experienced that?

Katie: It's really difficult, especially... we work with a lot of technology companies and sometimes it doesn't really necessarily allow them to take a stance, a political stance or a social justice stance within their industry, but one of the things that we have done for technology companies is to utilize some of the great things that they have in-house, which are making sure that they recognize women, women in technology, making sure that they recognize diversity in technology. We actually had the opportunity of working with a really great organization called Opportunity Hub, and this organization actually, they take students from HBCUs, and these are black students, Latina students, and they take them to South by Southwest. They give them an opportunity to go to South by Southwest, experience all of the great learnings from South by Southwest and then also get an opportunity to network with industry leaders at these technology companies. This organization is phenomenal. They took 150 students. They paid for them to be there for four days. They treated them to great experiences with Facebook, and with Dell, and with all these great companies that really made their experience, and that type of experience life changing, and we were so just really, really proud to be a part of that type of program. We were able to do the PR for them, and they got a lot of great coverage because of the great things that they were doing, but just the feel good effect for us, just being able to be a part of that, it was just phenomenal. It was phenomenal to be a part of.

Sophie: That sounds really, really special. I agree so much. The community piece is very important, whether you're working with a giant brand or a non-profit, it always feels very, very rewarding to give back.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely.

Sophie: So switching gears, what are some of the main marketing mistakes that you've seen brands make? And you don't have to provide a specific example if you don't feel comfortable, but just kind of in general.

| THOUGHTFUL DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION |

Katie: No, I actually do feel comfortable. I think we need to call out these brands that are not doing a great job with marketing, and I'm very vocal when it comes to brands that are not doing a great job. I think I can just name off one off the top of my head, Gucci. I think that they were very, very just dismissive and not being thoughtful about how they are viewing themselves as a brand that wasn't being thoughtful about how they represented themselves when it comes to African Americans. Having clothing designed to be offensive, and this piece of clothing being advertised and walking down the runway was a very, very... it was very, very amiss for Gucci. They've recovered, I think from that because they put a very, I would say thoughtful diversity and inclusion program in place, but for a lot of people, it's kind of too little too late. People were very offended and not very forgiving of the mistakes that they made, but I think that it's a lesson for other brands to say, "It's important to have people of diverse backgrounds and race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever that looks like. It's so important to have that type of representation when you are a major brand like that." Even a small brand, I think it's just important to have some sort of diversity so that you don't make those types of mistakes.

Sophie: Yeah, absolutely, and in this day and age when people can immediately just clap back online, it can be pretty catastrophic.

Katie: And there was a huge clap back that happened with Gucci, so I hope that they learned from this mistake, and I hope that other brands take note, and really make some changes because there is proven data that says when you have a diverse group of people working together, your business performs better.

Sophie: I believe that 100%. Have you ever had to coach a brand through a crisis like that?

Katie: We never had to really coach a brand through that but I'll give you an example of the political take, so we actually had a brand that we worked with, and we did, and their keynote speaker was President Bill Clinton, and they announced that to their attendees and to their customer base through email and through social media that the keynote speaker was President Bill Clinton. So of course, everyone is not a Bill Clinton fan. Everyone's not a democrat, and they got a lot of backlash, lot of backlash for them stating that this is who's going to be the keynote speaker at this conference that this particular client of ours actually hosts once a year. The way that we handled that was to make sure that our council to our client was to take everything offline, all those conversations offline so that you weren't flooding your social media platforms with just responses because it felt a little bit defensive and make sure that they responded to each, individual person with a personal phone call. We didn't want it to be this kind of robotic response where it's just, "Hey, this is our response. This is how we're going to respond to everyone." We made sure that we took a collective list of everyone who responded, whether it was social media, whether it was responses through the online email communication that was shared, and respond to them with a personal phone call. Have a conversation. Be very thoughtful about it. Understand their position and then move on from there. We didn't say pull Bill Clinton out of being the keynote speaker, but I think that they deserved... their clients deserved, and their attendees who were offended did deserve a great response from them and a personal response from them, so I think that they didn't hide behind just whatever that blanket response was going to be. They really were thoughtful about it to make sure that they reached out to every single person directly with a personal response.

Sophie: That sounds like an incredible effort and just such a sincere impactful way to respond to it, so I imagine it was successful in that respect?

Katie: It was. It was very successful, and everyone who showed up, when they actually heard Bill Clinton speak, it wasn't like they were offended because what he was actually speaking about was leadership. It had nothing to do with politics. It was about leadership and how to be a better leader, and everyone in that room, that's what they came there for, to be inspired to become a better leader, so the message was clear. The message was not off putting or offensive to anyone who does not believe in Bill Clinton's politics. It was all about leadership and how to inspire a team, so it was good. It was very good.

Sophie: That's incredible. Yeah, we always take conversations offline when it's about those tougher subjects, but I don't think I've ever heard if a brand going as far as calling people, so that's really, really special. So switching gears a little bit, where do you turn to for your marketing news, or tips, or resources to just kind of stay ahead of this ever-changing industry?

Katie: I've actually started listening to more podcasts. I really do love podcasts. I love your podcast.

Sophie: Thank you.

Katie: I think it's great, so I really do love podcasts. One of the ones that I'm listening to right now is called Momentum. It's by Alex Charfen. He's a really interesting character, but he gives some really great nuggets on how to be a better entrepreneur and how to be a better leader, how to inspire people, and that's really... right now in my career, that's what I'm really looking to do is to really inspire people, and really to be a mentor for my team. Other resources is just going online. I know that when we have interns that are coming in, helping us with social media, I have them to go to Imagine Media, to your social media profiles online because you guys do such a great job with social media and giving a lot of great tips. I have them to subscribe to your newsletter because you guys give so many great tips on how to be... to effectively do social media and influencer relations, and how to take great photographs. Who knew there's a process to that versus hiring a photographer? So we really look to people that are doing really great work in their industry, so Imagine Media is one of those people. Yeah, you guys are a resource for us.

Sophie: Well, that's incredible. You can't see me but I'm blushing for sure. What's one of the most valuable pieces of advice you've been given during your experience?

| WE DO PR NOT ER |

Katie: Probably for me, I am a type A personality so I'm always very, very intense when it comes to the work that I do. I'm a hard worker. I take my work very seriously. I believe in excellence and I remember being very, very overwhelmed, and I had a big project that I was working on, and one of my... my direct report at the time, she was like, "Katie, hey. We do PR, not ER. No one's going to die from what we do." And I'm like, "Oh, my God. She just really put things into perspective." And I think being in marketing, I think that you just have to relax. Everyone wants to do a great job. Everyone wants to do a great job not for just themselves, but for their clients, but really be so... just be easy and relaxed, and have fun. We're in marketing. We can have fun. We're not saving lives. We can really have some fun, and at the end of the day, we can change lives by just the messages that we create, so I think that's the best advice that I've ever received is that, "You know what? We do PR, not ER," and it's absolutely the truth.

Sophie: I'm so pleased that you said that. We tell all of our incoming interns that just like anybody who's starting out in the social media or marketing world. I think it's just such a valuable piece of advice because it does feel very life or death the first time you put out a post that might have a spelling error. God forbid something's just wrong or the wrong photo, but it's very true. I think that's a great piece of advice. So how can we follow Media Frenzy and what is next on the horizon for you guys?

Katie: Absolutely, you can follow Media Frenzy. We are on every single channel you can think of, as we should be as a digital marketing company, and so it's at @mediafrenzyglobal. That's pretty much across all of our platforms. Mediafrenzyglobal.com is our website. You can check out some of the great things that we do there. We have a lot of great case studies there. We have a lot of great content that we've shared in our blog and news section. What's next on the horizon for Media Frenzy? My business partner and I, Sarah Tourville, we're headed to London next week to actually sign a partnership with a UK agency, so we're going to be doing a lot more in the UK that we haven't been doing before, so this partnership is going to allow us to not only work with more clients over in the UK, but actually be able to take clients here in the US to market in the UK, so there's a lot of clients that we work with that are trying to become more global, and just having access to a lot of the resources that we'll be working with in this partnership to really kind of take our clients to market in the UK, so we're excited. We're very, very excited.

Sophie: That's really exciting. I'm obviously biased, but I'm very thrilled to hear that you guys will be branching out to London and I can't wait to follow along.

Katie: Absolutely, so a lot of great things happening with Media Frenzy. We are an agency that's... we're small and mighty at this point, but we're growing every single... by leaps and bounds, and we're just an agency that gets it. We want to take clients to the next level, and then we want to make sure that they're as great as they think they are because there's so many companies out there. There's so many brands out there that don't think that they can be seen in a certain light, and we like to kind of unveil that for them, and show them how great they can really be through storytelling.

Sophie: Well, that's awesome, and a great not to end on because at the end of the day, that's what we're truly doing in marketing is storytelling, and I always love infusing the message with that. So thank you so much for being on the show, Katie. We so appreciate your time.

Katie: I am so happy to have been able to talk to you about just marketing in general, my story, and also Media Frenzy, so thank you so much for the opportunity, Sophie. I look forward to following Imagine Media even more on all the social channels, so great job and kudos to you guys too.

Sophie: Thank you so much. We love having you as a fan.