Susan Lindner, Professional Speaker, CEO & Founder of Emerging Media
Cultural Anthropologist. Brand Marketer. Disruptor. Susan got her start as an AIDS educator in the brothels of Thailand, helping turn prostitutes into entrepreneurs. Today, she's the founder of Emerging Media, a branding, PR and marketing agency dedicated to helping tech founders reach their finish lines. Her award-winning strategies have gotten 10 companies acquired, and she is now hell bent on sharing them with the world. Susan speaks to startups, innovators, and top executives from 60+ countries at GE, PWC, Deutsche Bank, Capital One and at global conferences, consulates and trade organizations about strategic storytelling, mastering the message and the media for maximum impact.
AUTOMATED EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.
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[00:00:58] Welcome, everyone. This is Scaling Up Services. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host. And our guest today is Susan Lindner and she is a Professional speaker, CEO and founder of Emerging Media. We're going to talk to her a little bit about her history in PR and social media and understanding how businesses can effectively scale by driving recognition and driving marketing. So with that, Susan, welcome to the program.
[00:01:20] Thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:21] So I always like to start with hearing a little bit about guests background and their backstory. So how did you start your business? What led up to it and what was that sort of the context for becoming an entrepreneur?
[00:01:32] Yeah. So I think I am the world's most reluctant entrepreneur. I really never had any intention of starting a business. And in fact, I was a radical socialist when I was in my 20s. I went to study at the University of Costa Rica. But my intention was to join the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and join the revolution at the time, which I did. I hitchhiked my way to Nicaragua in the late 80s and I thought I would see war right up close. And I did.
[00:02:02] And it's nothing like it looks like on CNN, like many parts of life. Sometimes when you get there and you're in person, it's not quite what you thought it was going to be. But that's fascinating.
[00:02:11] Exactly. So I decided that probably taking up arms was not my way to effect change in the world. I wound up hitchhiking through five more countries, but I shifted my focus and wound up going into public health and spent after college, spent about three years in Thailand and around Southeast Asia as an AIDS educator doing AIDS education with prostitutes and their customers in brothels around northern Thailand. So I worked with entrepreneurs of a totally different strike that my focus there was helping women who didn't want to be prostitutes anymore to start their own small businesses. And that was actually my introduction to entrepreneurship. So if you can imagine, this girl born in the Bronx was spending her time teaching former sex workers how to become, you know, how to raise chickens and ducks and pigs and rabbits, as well as computer skills and things like that. JM Cutting to get out of the trade of sex work and actually reduced inflammation infection rate?
[00:03:12] Yeah, I can imagine that. You know, not only good kind of social cause, you know, making a difference in the world, but, you know, really kind of learning about entrepreneurship at it's kind of most. I was going to say simplicity, really simple. But, you know, most impactful way of really impacting the lives of individuals who want to change their situation and change the work that they're doing.
[00:03:33] If you talk about revolutionizing the oldest profession, that's probably one way to start.
[00:03:39] I love it. I love it. So how did you get into into emerging media, into doing the work that you're doing now?
[00:03:44] Yes. So I actually want to befriending a senior editor at Forbes magazine when I was working as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control who turned me on to the world of public relations or rather turned me off. He was constantly complaining about these horrible PR people who would distract him from his future goal of becoming a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. And and so I wound up learning about tech PR at the time it was 1998, the Internet boom was going full bore and I really wanted a piece of it. I had spent 10 years in public health and I was ready to take on a new challenge. So he introduced me to the PR firm that made his stomach turn the least. And as a result of that, I became a tech publicist. Unfortunately, in 2001, the market started to crash. 9/11 happened. And in fact, my biggest client was in the plane that hit the World Trade Center. And that was Danny Lewin, the CEO of Akamai Technologies. At the time, had the fourth largest IPO in Wall Street history. My boss had done exceptionally well among friends and family stock plan, but had lost the taste for PR and said, would you like to buy the business for me? And I said, How much? And he said, One million dollars.
[00:05:02] And I thought, wow, there are a couple of zeros missing from my paycheck to make admin. And so I said, you know what? I think I'm going to find another way.
[00:05:13] And so I called all my clients who had already heard the bad news. And I said, how can I help you find a new PR firm? And they. Said, why don't you start your own firm and we'll follow you. And with that, I had three clients working out of my fifth floor walk up apartment and I gave my intern a highfalutin title and we were off to the races.
[00:05:34] And that was in 2000. That was in 2002. I had emerging media. Yeah.
[00:05:40] And so to as you as you switch from kind of being, you know, employee to being an owner. What was the shift for you? Like, what did you find that you had to kind of change in terms of either the work you did or you're thinking your mindset? Tell us about that transformation.
[00:05:56] Oh, my goodness. It was excruciating for me. And in fact, I never slept. I was afraid at the time. And I just gotten a mobile phone. And this was in 2002. I was afraid to leave the house for fear that a journalist or a client would call. And I would miss it. I worked myself from 7:00 in the morning till 1:00 in the morning and I could not stop. I became a massive workaholic with no one to delegate anything to. Everything fell on my shoulders and it was really trying. And I actually lost my first client six months in. And with that, I found myself at Mt. Sinai Hospital on a gurney in the emergency room where I used to work doing outcomes research in the E.R.. My old boss came up to me and said, Lindner, what do you do in here? And I said, I don't feel so good. I've had chest pains for a week. And he said, this PR thing that you're doing, you know what you should do.
[00:06:50] I said, what's that? He said, quit. But at that point, I couldn't write. The tech boom had gone bust. There were no jobs for tech PR people and I had never committed to my clients. At the time, I was representing the 10th largest bank in the country by myself. So I'm working upward.
[00:07:09] It's virtually it's not the first time on this program, the first people coming into the E.R. with with chest pains. And I think that there's a certain stress level that comes with early stage companies and growing them. That does increase your chance of having these kind of issues. But but you got through it clearly. Clearly, you made it out of the E.R.. I mean, I guess what. What did you think? What did you learn from that experience or what was the was a process to go from? You know, kind of sounds like a pretty high stress, kind of pivotal moment in the business to build building the company and kind of figuring out where, you know, where you're going to play in terms of, you know, what kind of customers you're going to focus on, what kind of services you were focused on. How did that sort of transformation play out for you?
[00:07:50] It was a very stern conversation with my then boyfriend at the time. He was a widower and unfortunately, his wife had passed away in that hospital in Mt. Sinai. And I had called him to please come and pick me up from the emergency room. And he said, don't ever ask me to pick you up from this hospital again. Things have to change. And about two weeks later, he came to me with a written proposal and said, I would like to come and work for you. How can we make this work? And I said, let's see. I looked at my client roster. I looked at my pencil and I said, hey, you're a high priced sales executive who's earning over one hundred and fifty thousand plus commission. What I can afford to pay you currently is an assistant account executive salary at thirty thousand dollars a year. And I know that you have a two children at home and B, you and I are dating.
[00:08:44] So how do you how do you feel about those prospects? And he said, let's do it.
[00:08:49] Well, all of my friends said you were either going to lose your business or you are going to lose your relationship. Which one do you want? And so I said, I'm going to go all in and choose both. And so we are now married for 13 years.
[00:09:05] That's amazing. So you know what's happened? I mean, I did looking back to those signs, I'm thinking back to the World Trade Center as I'm thinking back to, you know, the tech kind of a tech bubble bursting.
[00:09:15] And, you know, a lot has happened in terms of business and technology and markets and even just, you know, how people learn about things. I mean, the whole kind of advertising industry is has transformed. I mean, where have you had to kind of rethink your business and the service that you provide and kind of who you are? I guess it but as a as a professional and as a company over over that time, what are the big issues for you?
[00:09:42] Yeah. So, you know, when I started the company, I called it Lotus Public Relations. And the large part that was due to the fact that Lotus Notes had just been acquired by IBM, which was a massive acquisition. And I kind of used it as a little bit of cover. So I would call a journalist at Information Week or P.C. magazine. Those old titles and would say, hey, it's Susan from Lotus. And they go, hey, how are you liking IBM? And I would say Lotus public relations. But while I have you on the phone and that was kind of my foot in the door with a lot of tech reporters and they got a chuckle out of it and it worked. But to think about that shit from Lotus Notes doesn't even exist anymore.
[00:10:20] I think our audience is going to quickly bifurcate themselves by those people that Lotus Notes.
[00:10:26] And the reason that we actually rebranded as emerging media was to take full advantage of going from just a PR firm alone to becoming a full communications and social media agency as well. And making that shift was pivotal not just for us, but more importantly for our clients, because they expected us to be the torchbearers and to show them the way into the future of what was coming next.
[00:10:47] Communications. So first and foremost, it's always incumbent upon the agency to show, you know, an especially great service firms like what are the trends and what's coming next? And as professional service firms, to be on top of those trends and to be a trusted advisor to clients on these issues. So we wanted to get out in front of that quickly. So that was step one. I think the other thing that's changed is the technology that we used. Frankly, those things that were proprietary to PR agencies and many ad agencies before are now 100 percent available and free. So where I used to pay thirty five hundred dollars a month for a media monitoring service, Google Alerts is available to you free. And it was certainly better than anything that I was paying for.
[00:11:31] And frankly, clients can do it themselves. They don't have to pay me to do that. Which also means I get to free up my time.
[00:11:37] But I also have to find ways of replacing those revenues and those tasks through that. Agencies are so well known for that. We frankly always hated it. But we're just par for the course in professional services world.
[00:11:49] I think you touched on something I think is I mean, certainly, you know, your industry has gone through a lot of it in the last 10, 15 years, but I think goes through every service industry, which is, you know, as kind of technology develops and they find ways of automating or creating systems that have done what kind of people used to do. You know, it's kind of this double edged sword where, you know, on one hand, it's it is kind of consuming your existing business. So it's taking over revenue streams.
[00:12:15] But, you know, on the flipside, it often is consuming those things, which are more kind of drudgery for a lot of folks and frees up your time to to provide higher level services. I think the challenge is always how to find that higher level service and how to kind of market and package that for sale as you've kind of evolved. What are some of the things that you've added? You mentioned social media. What are some of the services that you've had to kind of rethink or add to your portfolio or provide clients as the market has transformed? And how, I guess, what have you learned from that process?
[00:12:43] Yeah. So I found that the high touch items are what clients are willing to pay the most for and are frankly in the greatest demand. So 20 years of doing this kind of work, people want me for my strategic brain more than the ability to smile and dial a journalist, you know, and get a piece of press coverage. So my shift has gone through more higher level branding discussions, strategic discussions, turning clients into thought leaders rather than just headlines.
[00:13:10] You know how this kind of this age of thought leadership, I mean, did you see a particular for certainly service based companies that are out there that are looking you can't grow in scale and increase, you know, increase revenue, hire more people. I mean, how is thought leadership the kind of the main way that most of these companies are doing this from your point of view or how, you know, from a marketing PR branding point of view, how does this play out, how to start a leadership work in the industry?
[00:13:35] For me, it all starts with the message and we start with a purpose driven approach. We really want to get clear on what the thought leaders values are and then we want to do our homework on a couple of friends. Number one, what matters most to that thought leader that they want to get out into the market? I work with innovation companies, so it's really important for me to have something that feels innovative, at a minimum disruptive as almost a baseline. So paint a picture for me and I would encourage everyone in your audience to really consider what does life look like in the next five years? Can I be the one who is telling truth about what's going to be here and what's not going to be here in five years? What's going to work and what's not going to work?
[00:14:17] And every leader needs to answer that question about their own business, about what their team composition is going to look like and what the industry itself will look like in a certain time horizon. And then to do ask either your agency or yourself to do a lover of research about what other people in the market are saying that looks like and then perhaps even take the tack of being a contrarian. You know, you don't have to agree with the pundits that are out there. In fact, it's far better if you disagree vehemently because dichotomies create stories. You have a left and a right approach. You have. You have an old fashioned approach and the new fangled you like. Writers love that kind of juxtaposition. So where do we can say you're wrong? And here's why that's really powerful. From both headlines and as a positioning for for a leader.
[00:15:06] Yeah, this does mean that in order to be a thought leader that you've got to be good on camera and you've got to be quick on your feet. I mean, is this is this thought leadership, you know, kind of world that clearly is a predominant strategy or a lot of people are?
[00:15:20] Does this mean that the the the leaders who are who have that kind of that type of skill, that kind of ability to speak on their feet and to, you know, give great sound bites and stuff that they are the ones are going to be more successful in this world?
[00:15:34] Or are there other ways to be a strong thought leader, even if you don't have those skills?
[00:15:38] Ideally, a polished performance is better than than not. But I will say authenticity rules the day. So be who you are as you are. And we can feel that. So I wouldn't necessarily strive for the sound bite, but I would strive for is authenticity and start small.
[00:15:56] You know, if your tendency is to is to just fire off a method to someone, try recording it, try doing it as audio, try doing it as video just on your smartphone, on your ride home from work, try doing it sitting in your driveway and see how it feels.
[00:16:10] Now, in terms of, you know, just companies that benefit the most from working with an outside, you know, kind of PR communications expert or their general kind of rules of thumb that you could say in terms of types of companies, size of companies, situations, companies or in industries that lend themselves a room will benefit most or more from using an external communications expert.
[00:16:34] I'm going to say that you do want to have a dedicated budget. So figure out what that is first and then the other is to get a really laser focused goal of what you want to get done. There is no way to waste money faster with an agency or an outside reserves than to say you guys figure it out. Tell me what I need. That is an opportunity for lots of exploration and experimentation without results. So gather your team together, figure out what internal resources you might have already before picking up the phone and calling me rather think really hard about what it is you want to get done. Where do you want to be by December 2019? Where do you want to be in two years time? And then the agency should be tasked with working backwards from that goal. And it's really no different than what you are probably are already doing in your business. We want to hit 10 million dollar revenue goal. Great. Let's work backwards to figure out how we get there. That's exactly what we do in PR and marketing. We just take a couple of more routes that it might be a little bit more creative or out of the box than what you might have originally thought. And that's why you bring on an agency to consider getting to your destination and doing so with greater creativity and insight that comes from market research, but also from the team, you know, doing some really creative ideation to get you there in a way that you didn't think was possible.
[00:17:50] And it is revenue is I mean, you mentioned, you know, 10 million dollars in revenue. Are there other metrics that you suggest people consider and are there like, you know, customer metrics or profitability metrics or market metrics that that can work to be as effective as well?
[00:18:04] Or give us the listeners a sense of what are the things they could put on the table with an external communications expert that would give them the tools they need or the goals, the description of a goal that they can develop a plan around?
[00:18:16] Yes. So let's say that public relations and getting more visibility in your target publications, news outlets, websites or even television, if that's your goal to be seen more and to increase brand recognition.
[00:18:31] So I would want to put to a minimum six months time associated with that goal. I would want to have a minimum potentially for a professional services firm, probably in the neighborhood of five to eight thousand dollars per month. I would say and the reason why I say that is you want a multipronged approach. One, you want someone working on the messaging. You know what it is? You're going to say that the market, too, there's a little bit of research that has to get done. And three, they're the tactics. So whether that is getting on the phone and calling producers at The Today Show or calling accounting today or legal times or whomever, that's going to take time and effort. You have to remember that in the PR world today, there are six publicists for every one journalist in America today, the whole world. So the competition on my end is fierce. And what that means is things take longer than you originally anticipated. And the other is it's time to also do some testing. So what that means is if you want to do advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, you're going to want to test out certain messages to see what's works and what doesn't. And then double down on those things that work. So there is an investment in figuring out what doesn't work. So you don't keep making the same mistakes twice.
[00:19:45] What are some of the other events you mentioned, this multi prong or multifaceted strategy? What are the kind of the basic pieces in today's world of communication that you look at or that, you know, checklist that you go down to see what might be applicable for a given client?
[00:19:59] Sure. So first and foremost, I'm going to start off with, as always, the message. What does this client actually trying to communicate? And is it differentiated from everything else in the market? So the message is, is king? Next is content. Great. So we'll figure out, can we write some blog, some longer form pieces where we can really give our thought leaders a sense of who are. And what did they stand for? And I want to make sure that that's consistent and ongoing. So before we ever launch a blog for a client, I'm going to have about a two month store of things written. So we're not scrambling and we can respond to what works. So, for example, for one client, I know that content around millennials and the workplace is always a hit. We get tons of click through. However, we get no sign ups as a result of that content. So we now put that content in the bucket of community building, knowing that one day those people who are using that content will come back and buy from us. But they're not buying now. The things that are really driving the buyer are things like top five lists on how to pick out the best software for the workplace or how do I can't promoted as a facilities manager in the workplace today or how do I get promoted as a head of corporate real estate? Great.
[00:21:11] So those are people who I know are in job transition and they might take my client software with them. Those are people who are actually converting. So I now have to look at my content in the context of funnels that drive leads and drive sales. Either way, the focus is on creating a community of people who are not just going to like the content but share it. And sharing is the key in the sharing economy. Because I want the community to do all the heavy lifting so I don't have to buy more ad words. So the more content that I can create that shared, the better I'm off and doesn't mean creating click bait. It means creating stuff that's quality that my community can use. So we start with more community minded mindset then just how do I get my guy out there? And that's a big shift too from what it was 10 years ago.
[00:21:57] Yeah, like that in terms of saying I've see I've engaged. Communication expert. We're working together over time. What are the things that I can do as kind of a client that are going to help me make this whole process more successful? Help me leverage the resource, the effort that I brought in, essentially, how do I do a better client for someone like you?
[00:22:19] So first and foremost is weekly meetings. I don't feel like I'm doing a good job unless I have my finger on the pulse of your business. So that means I'm going to ask you to open the kimono a little bit. I'm going to ask you to tell me about the new clients that you've closed, the difficulty that you're having with your analysts. The challenges that you may find on the growth front, because it will open new doors and opportunities to be authentic, but also to talk about the excitement that's going on in the business and also to talk about where we're struggling. So, for example, as a PR agency, you might not think to use them as a way to generate more awareness around hiring. But the reality is PR started as a discipline within H.R. and we were set to get on every best places to work list and the most innovative companies list as a tool to bring in new staff. So if you can tell us like, wow, we're really dying on the developer front or wow, we just can't get enough accountants, we can't get enough lawyers in here. I can do work on the PR front to say, wow, company X is hiring. Let's talk about the job market. Looks like in a particular region. So no one is be really honest, open and transparent. Number two, hold your agency accountable. That says it's time for a review of the goals every month. Without that goal review, then we don't know if we're actually driving to the end point that we need.
[00:23:37] No, I get it. Good advice. So I know you've been doing a little work on the sort of innovation side and working with different companies on kind of driving the development of new products and services for the service sector. What are some of the things that you've seen in terms of things that are kind of disrupting or transforming the nature of some of these service companies? I know. You know, there's various things going on in law and accounting that are really kind of changing the business. What have you seen in terms of forces at play here that service based businesses really need to be aware of?
[00:24:08] I spend about two thirds of my time now as a professional speaker at conferences with large companies at consulates and accelerators and incubators. Seeing firsthand where innovation is taking hold and where people are utilizing innovation in new ways. And I am seeing professional services firms that are looking at startups to shortcut their own innovation cycles and to get ahead of certain trends. So this is especially true in legal tech. So a lot of law firms are looking at tech startups in the legal space to cut down on what is that routine, boring kind of cut and paste lawyering. Let's say like updating contracts or updating agreements that are the same. If you're a real estate attorney, how many leases do you have to cut over the course of a year? How many termination notices? How many cease and desist do you have to do? So law firms, medium sized and larger are looking to start up saying, show me how. And it's not just using the technology. It's acquiring those companies to create whole innovation departments within companies. And that's a new trend that I'm seeing for large companies on the scale of G.E. or Capital One or TWC. They're actually creating whole. Incubators of startups as almost like innovation farms to shortcut are indeed and to not get the development team's eyes off the prize of their own profit making technology. But rather using startups to think about what's coming 5 10 years down the road.
[00:25:39] I certainly I've seen that and we've seen that accounting as well, where companies are accounting firms are looking at the work they're doing and realizing that the day to day, you know, the tax preparation tax return stuff is, you know, is now outsourced or even there's now, you know, A.I. systems that are being developed that will do all automate all these things. So figuring out how to I can innovate on my own services and focus on the higher level. It's kind of what we were talking about before is how do I how do I get rid of the mundane tasks or find ways of funding automated solutions around the mundane task and focus on the higher level strategic work. And I like that idea of really looking out startups to see, you know, what are they doing, where can I partner and where can I find these product and services out there that will let me do my job and really kind of level up. I mean, I guess what what do you see in terms of what kind of mindset or attitude do companies need to take in order to really effectively take advantage of that, I guess? Because I I certainly it's not easy. I've seen a lot of companies that don't that don't effectively, you know, see what's going on in the market. And, you know, they kind of head in the sand and pretend like it's not happening. I guess if you notice anything in terms of, you know, attitudes or approaches or cultural values that that help companies do a better job of that.
[00:26:52] So first, I think is figuring on exactly what those automation tasks should be and then what is the desire for. As we're always trying to punch out with higher strategic value that we can sell to a client that really matters to them. And so having I think first and foremost the conversation with clients saying what you need from us or either being the guide and saying, here's where we believe the market's going over the next five years, here's what you'll need. We are going to make that reality happen. And then it's coming up with kind of the organizational plan that says, what will my people be doing five years from now? Do they still need to be doing these tasks or what higher touch opportunities can we create in terms of going through and doing an aqua hire or doing acquisition of start ups to build an innovation program or an the program? That's a huge, deep dive because it's very capital intensive. So oftentimes what I'm seeing is people evaluating technologies, using it themselves and then saying, okay, I want to become a strategic partner. I want to become a strategic investor. And, you know, dip your toe in the water around innovation before making the big dive of buying an entire tech company before you know what you're getting yourself into. Plus, the culture challenges from a tech company to a professional services firm. Big gap.
[00:28:09] And it's hard because it is in a lot of the stuff is blending. I mean, we're the kind of you know, the reality as a service companies are sort to deal more more like product companies.
[00:28:17] And product companies are sort of looks more like service companies. Is this differentiation is somewhat is somewhat of a depending on how you look at it, depending on how you're kind of framing the strategic questions. I think it's very true. So, Susan, there have been great if people want to find out more information about you and about the work that you do. What's the best way to get that information?
[00:28:35] Absolutely. So I am an innovation communicator, so I spend a lot of time speaking to groups about how to tell that incredible story between strategy, culture and innovation and helping leaders get that next level discussion out. So to learn more about that, you can just go to WW W.. That's SusanLindner.com. And if you need PR branding and marketing support, my Web site is emergingmediapr.com. And either one of those. I'll get your response really quick.
[00:29:05] Good. I'll make sure that both of those are in the show notes. People can click through. Suzanne, there's been a pleasure. It's wonderful to kind of catch up and hear the details of your story and hear what you're doing now. Great stuff.
[00:29:15] Thanks. And no more trips to the E.R., that's for sure. Thanks again. Thanks so much.
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