Megan Nivens-Tannett is the founder and CEO of Flourish, an agency that helps businesses thrive through strategic marketing and public relations solutions. We discuss big-picture marketing, the benefits of having a strategic business partner, and how stupid questions challenge assumptions.
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Big Picture Marketing And PR With Megan Nivens-Tannett
I have with me Megan Nivens-Tannett, the Founder and CEO of Flourish, an agency helping businesses thrive through strategic marketing and public relations solutions. Megan, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. I’m excited to be chatting with you.
It’s great to have you. I‘m curious about why someone starts a marketing PR agency. Do you have to have a certain personality for it? Is it an entrepreneurial thing to do? What is your story? How did you get here?
You have to have a little bit of insanity coupled with the ability to deal with the crazy all the time to think that this is a good path. I’m kidding. I feel so lucky every single day because I get to do something that I love to do. I don’t look at this as work. I look at these as things that fill my cup. I think like a lot of entrepreneurs. I may be wrong on this but this was an accidental journey that took me down this path. I never had the intention of starting a business and say, “This is what I want to do. I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to do this and that.”
Frankly, the idea of entrepreneurship was a very unattractive one to me initially, if I’m being honest, but it’s the way that life happens sometimes. You can’t always be prepared for that. You have to be okay with some of the unexpected things that come your way. I worked in the corporate world for eighteen years or so, doing marketing, public relations, and advertising communications. I worked in nonprofits, B2B, B2C, and so forth.
I was part of the third layoff they did in the three years I was there. I was left figuring out what I wanted to do with my career. It was my eleven-year-old daughter at thAT time who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Kids are so naive. She’s like, “Why don’t you start your business? Who cares? Do your thing. It’s not a big deal.” I was like, “It’s a big deal,” but she got me thinking. I started doing a little bit of research on it.
I was fortunate enough to get pulled into helping a former business partner of mine with a business idea that she had. She needed help getting it off the ground. I was like, “I’m not working. I’ve got a little bit of time on my side. Let me give it a shot.” I got bit by the bug of creating something from scratch, seeing it come to fruition, and being responsible for that journey from start to finish.
That was something that, in my former career, I had oversight in and the ability to take part in but it was more of this team environment. It wasn’t my mission. You were working under different parameters that weren’t yours and sometimes maybe some that you didn’t necessarily agree with. I loved that creative process of things. When she put that bug in my ear about starting a business, I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a shot and see what happens. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Of course, you have so much to lose but that’s me being naive looking back at that time. I quickly realized that I needed to surround myself with people who were way smarter than me in certain areas and rally with a team that bought into my vision and believed in wanting to do some of the things that I did I wanted to do. Within the next few years, we exploded. We started in 2018, just myself. Our first hire was in 2019. We faced the pandemic, which was extremely challenging for us as it was for most businesses. A lot of small businesses didn’t make it out of that.
Fortunately, we thrived through the pandemic. I almost feel guilty saying that out loud but we were able to grow because of how we reacted to the scenario that we were put in. That was a couple of years ago. We’ve got ten people on staff and we’re growing like crazy. We have moved offices multiple times. This devastating thing was turned around into a phenomenal silver lining but it has been such an amazing journey.
That’s awesome. To be able to own, direct, and drive is a great bonus to being an entrepreneur. One of the secrets people don’t realize is that when you put yourself in a position where you must do it, you find the internal resources to be able to do it. A lot of people are not able to be entrepreneurs because they are afraid to get out of their comfort zone and put themselves out there where they would mobilize their resources, which is in themselves. We are only using a fraction of our resources to do it.
That’s an interesting point that you mentioned too. I love my former business partner who I was working with a little bit but that was the downfall. She couldn’t make those hard decisions and take the risk that she needed to move forward at the right pace. It’s scary. There are so many unknowns but you have to jump. If you do so with a little bit of thought invested in it, you have resources around you that can help catch you, but you’re going to fail. That failure is so important but you will never be able to grow if you don’t take those leaps. A lot of people don’t take those risks and lean on the resources we have at our disposal. I was fortunate enough to discover those which contributed to the success of where we are.
Talking about resources and discoveries, I like your framework. Maybe you can call it the Flourish Communication Framework. Would you share that with our readers?
Flourish is who we are and what we do. Our business model is built around helping businesses thrive. We’re not a very reactive marketing company where we just do Facebook. We’re much more of a strategic growth partner. Throughout that process, there has been a light that has shined on the importance of things, ensuring that they are done with intention, have a purposeful or meaningful impact and that they are very tailored.
Everything that we do in the company, whether it’s internal in promoting what Flourish is as it relates to our content strategy, how we interact with our clients, or how we promote ourselves through social media or content generation, or if it’s a way that we engage with our clients, needs to follow that Flourish Framework, which is done with intention. It has a purposeful meaning or impact. Everything is very tailored. There are a lot of different directions that you can take in those categories. I’m happy to dive into a couple of those if you like.
It’s done with intention, has meaning and is tailored. How do you discover the intention? Is the intention obvious? Is it something that needs to be brought out?
It’s something that needs to be brought out. I’ll give you an example of what I mean with intention. I’m sure your audience can relate to this. Oftentimes, you have individuals, companies, or presidents of an organization. I’m going to be a little bit biased toward our industry but it’s very relevant to the discussion. They will say, “I’ve worked with a marketing agency before. I’ve had someone who did marketing before. We didn’t see the return that we were hoping for but it was okay.”
What I have found is that companies, such as ours or individuals in this field, will go to a prospective client or approach a specific project and say, “What is it that you want to achieve? What do you want me to do?” When you ask that, people don’t know what they don’t know. There’s a reason why they lean on an expert to help them shape and determine what those potential growth opportunities are. Every time that we engage with a client, whether it’s for the 1st time or the 20th time, it is very intentional.
For example, I don’t walk into a new client meeting and say, “What can we do to help increase your Facebook following? What can we do to make a better video that puts you in a different light and showcases you in a different way?” That’s focusing on these granular tactics that, at that level of that conversation, are not necessary. We have to be much more intentional with the vision, the growth strategy, and the strategic direction of where that company is going.
If you don’t figure out the intentional efforts behind what it is that you’re trying to achieve, where it is that you want your business to go, and how you want your brand perceived within the community in front of key influencers, industries, events, and so forth, you’re going to completely miss the mark. For example, a client of ours is going through an acquisition a little bit later and acquiring a small cybersecurity company. What that’s going to do is expand their capability offering, both with the business they go after toward the federal government as well as those commercial sectors.If you don't figure out the intentional efforts behind what it is that you're trying to achieve, where it is that you want your business to go, and how you want your brand perceived within the community, you're going to completely miss the mark. Click To Tweet
The intent is not to add a line on their website that says they have a cybersecurity capability or start creating social graphics that align with cybersecurity. Let’s be a lot more intentional and think about the bigger picture. We want this company to be known for its cybersecurity services as it relates to these core areas. What does that mean? We want their brand to be represented when people think about getting CMMC-certified and they want to be compliant when it relates to doing business with the government. They want to be well-respected and well-regarded.
They want people to look at their brand and know that it is one that is dependable, relevant, and up to speed on anything that they need to be up to speed on. That way, there are no issues when it relates to compliance, contracts, or anything like that. The goal is much bigger, more intentional, and more strategic as opposed to it being a granular effort that we’re trying to get through and check the box. We try to be intentional with those types of questions.
Oftentimes, when we go in and ask these bigger open-ended questions, “We’re going through an acquisition later. We need to establish the company as a cybersecurity expert within these core audiences and maybe even further to find that in these core geotarget markets because we know that’s where a higher propensity of our customers might lie.” We then think much bigger picture about some of the things we can do that will gain them longer-term equity in the market as opposed to these short-term quickfire responses that they get but are relevant to that particular thing. We’re very intentional about those types of questions.
It sounds like you‘re much more a brand promotion company rather than a marketing tactics company.
Maybe you can help me with this. We’re more of this strategic growth partner because we often will look at and go into these meetings with prospective clients, being very intentional about those questions that we ask. After we go through our strategy development, discovery, and research, and our team is executing on managing their plan, we find that we are influencing recruitment and retention and working very closely with HR.
We find that we may be working with operations and helping to influence process improvement within an organization. We find that we’re working with some of their younger candidates who have come on board to help shift the culture. That way, they’re able to recruit a greater pool of candidates that are meeting the criteria that they’re looking for who are fresh out of college.
We get a much bigger picture of how we can help influence the organization as a whole. Oftentimes, those tactics do tie back to the marketing communications and public relations realm but what we have found is that when we go in with a much clearer and intentional purpose, their end result is so much greater and adds so much greater value to the longevity and the impacts that we’re able to make for our clients.
I love that. This is a different perspective on the whole marketing discussion and marketing PR. You are elevating it to the strategic level. It feels much more long-term as well. Most of the companies I talk to want immediate results. They want three more clients tomorrow, and just because they want that doesn’t mean that they’re going to get it. If they don’t do the right steps, they are going to burn their time tomorrow trying to scramble and hustle for those swift clients. They are ruining their reputation in the marketplace because they’re going to come across as desperate.
I love this strategic approach to it. The intention is great. You figure out what the vision behind is and what they are trying to achieve and tailor the program but you’re not there tailoring yet because that’s step three. Step two is meaning. What do you mean by meaning? Everything has to be meaningful. Let’s say this company is acquiring this cybersecurity company. They work in the public sector. They want to be positioned as a cybersecurity expert through this acquisition. What is then the meaning? How does the meaning come into the picture?
When we think about having a purposeful meaning or impact in what we’re doing, it boils down to being very thoughtful and purposeful with the type of content, outreach, approach, and strategy that we are doing. The most simple way to describe that, and I’ll tie it back to the cybersecurity company in a bit, is that so many people think that because there are twelve different social media platforms, give or take. They have to be on all twelve. That’s not exactly the case.
You want to be purposeful with where you put your efforts. You’re only going to be purposeful with that if you ensure that you do your due diligence upfront to make sure that’s where your audience is. If your focus is going to be on targeting business development professionals within the cybersecurity space, and you know that they spend a good majority of their time on LinkedIn versus Facebook when evaluating certain social media platforms, be purposeful with how you use that particular platform and leverage it to the best of your ability.
A lot of people have FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out. They’re like, “If I’m not over here, I may miss that conversation. If I’m not over here, I may miss sharing so-and-so’s post and whatever the case might be.” The reality is, as a business owner, you have limited resources that you can work with. Sometimes when you try to tackle and do all of the things without a meaningful purpose, you have a tendency to half-ass your approach on that. That does come across. It can hinder more than it can help with your brand because it looks like you’re trying to be part of the conversation but you’re doing it at 15%. The quality of that content will come across.
When we talk about being very purposeful and meaningful, let’s truly put some thought behind the types of things we are going to do. If we’re going to sponsor an event, do your due diligence to ensure it’s the right audience and the right time. There are the right opportunities. You’ve got the right message. I realize as a business owner that this is much easier said than done, especially when you’re a big business. You’re like, “We have to be at every single trade show because if we’re not, people are going to then wonder where we are.”Do your due diligence to ensure it's the right audience, it's the right time, there are the right opportunities, and you've got the right message. Click To Tweet
The details may get completely lost on 30% of those trade shows because you don’t have the resources or bandwidth to do it. If you think about it and if you put your time upfront into developing a purposeful strategy behind what those trade shows are going to look like, how you’re going to execute, and what that message is going to be, does it align with a product launch, capability launch, or whatever it might be? You can scale back the amount of trade shows that you do and focus on the quality over quantity.
Often, we lose sight of that and being very purposeful. Instead, we lead with that FOMO component where we think we have to do everything. You wonder why executives are disappointed when they look at a postmortem report or results from a campaign and are like, “We invested in that but we didn’t get anything out of it.” What did the purposeful plan look like going into it? How did you see that through execution? That is often a challenge.
You have to create enough energy behind this point of pressure so that you break through with your message and get to the right audience. The three legs of the tool are intention, meaning, and the tailor. We’re going to the tailor in a minute. The intention is this strategic realm. What are we trying to achieve here? What’s the end goal? How do we come up with this idea of communication? The meaning is the tactics. We’ve got the strategy. What are the tactical execution paths where we can get the most bang for our buck or the most return on our energy and focus? The next one is the tailor. You’ve got the strategy, the tactics, the right platforms, and the right approach. What do you mean by tailoring?
When we think about being very purposeful, that ties into the strategy part of it. That’s a combination of being strategic and tactical. One of the things that we pride ourselves on as the business Flourish is focusing on that strategy development. We spend a lot of time on strategy before we do anything. I’ll be honest with you. We have some businesses that don’t understand what that means. They’re like, “I don’t understand. Why are you spending the first couple of weeks doing this thing? I don’t understand what that’s going to look like.” When they see it come to fruition, they’re like, “I get it.” Their minds are blown.
Often, we get into this mindset where we rush to do the thing and we don’t give enough thought about whether or not that thing is where it needs to be. Being very intentional and purposeful with some of those efforts is a strategic effort with the intent for that to trickle down into tactical execution with success. When we think about being tailored to our audience, let’s go back to that example of the trade shows.
I was at a company a couple of years ago. No joke, we probably did, all-in-all, roughly around 50 or so trade shows per year. That’s a lot of trade shows. Those can be small and intimate settings that are unique with distributors, OEMs, or whatever it might be but then you can have the big ones too where you’ve got the 50×50 booth space and all of that. The thought going into that was, “We have to be at every single one because if we’re not, we’re going to miss out.”
There are a lot of what-ifs associated with that. It was looking at an event calendar and having a dispersed sales team pull together what those recommendations are with little research behind them. They’re doing a Google search in their backyard to see what’s there, whether or not they’re successful or not. Did you look at the postmortem from the last couple of years’ events to see if those are good ones for you to go back to? What did you yield on those particular events as a return? That is hard to determine sometimes but that should be factored into that equation.
All of those things lend to the two legs of the stool. Think about being tailored to your audience. When you’re at that particular trade show or focused on that particular capability, what are you truly trying to say and what matters to your audience? Steve, you probably get this too. I get blown away at how many random emails or LinkedIn requests I get from people who are like, “My name is John. My software platform provides a robust offering.” I’m like, “That’s great. Do you know anything about me, how that’s going to help my business, what my business needs are, or what my biggest pain points are?”
You can rephrase that email and say, “As a small business owner, you may be struggling with X, Y, and Z or whatever the case might be.” That’s going to be hard when you’re doing that generic sales outreach to customize that. I get it but we have to be tailored to the type of content and the type of approach that we are taking. We’ve got to speak to our audience in the way that they want to be spoken to. Nobody wants to be sold to. They want to have the flexibility and the freedom to know that they can make a decision on their own independent being.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for us. This is not just for social media. This is as a whole when you think about content strategy and developing content. Eighty percent of the content that businesses produce should not have an underlying sales mechanism associated with it. Should you have a call to action that says, “To learn more, check this out to chat with someone from our team if you’re interested in learning more.” You can do that but we don’t want to sell. Instead, we have to do our due diligence upfront to understand the markets we’re trying to go after and what the pain points are of those core audiences and then create content that is very tailored to their particular needs.
This is one of those things based on your business model that you may not have to do. You may not have to focus on 10,000 people to get 100 good-quality leads with the result of 10 closed deals. You can focus on 500 but if you’re more tailored and purposeful, and everything is done with intention, you spend a little bit of time more so upfront on that research but the end result of that quality leave and the lifetime value that it will yield is going to be much greater in the long run.
That makes a lot of sense. Be strategic with intention and have the right purposeful approaches. That’s the technical piece. It’s meaningful, and then tailor it to your target audience and speak to them. Don’t push your product. Touch them with your message to understand what they need. They’re going to respond. People hate to be sold but they love to buy. How do you identify credible resources in the eyes of the specific target audience? You talk about this idea of when you’re tailoring your offering, you want to provide credible resources. You come across as credible. How do you figure out what comes across as credible for your target?
This boils back to being tailored and purposeful. If you understand your audience upfront and ask those open-ended, more strategic questions, you’re going to be able to determine what some of those pain points are that particular customer has. Also, what particular pain points your audience has as well as figure out what makes the most sense to them. What is the content that they want to see? What is credible when they’re evaluating a particular vendor, supplier, or partner to work with? Those types of questions are going to help unearth what some of those things might be.
With anything else, you need to do your research, figure out what makes the most sense, and follow trends and ideas around different types of content that will resonate with your particular audience. The most simple thing that I can respond to that is doing research and due diligence. There are million-plus ways to find information about people, sources, and topics. Being able to communicate on those from your perspective and unique differentiator is key but you have to understand what matters to your customers and what aligns with your business and your mission as an organization and then be able to communicate that effectively.
It‘s so important to ask the right questions. What I find sometimes is when an outsider comes in and starts asking questions without the baggage of being in that company, having gone through a lot of conversations, being in this group-think mindset sometimes, and asking a question that maybe looks stupid on the surface. It brings something out that is a fundamental thing that has not been explored. Why do you think it’s difficult to ask these stupid questions? Why is it good to ask them?
I’m a huge fan of stupid questions but it’s so cliché. There is no stupid question. The reality is that people have to have context. That’s the bottom line. I can’t think of it off the top of my head, but there’s this great book that I read. It was all about the science behind words and the origin of words. To simplify it in its greatest sense, it is without context, there is so much confusion and inaccurate assumption to be made. You and I come from very different backgrounds. Where are you from originally?
I’m from Hungary.
You’re from Hungary. I have never been to Hungary in my entire life. I am from Clearwater, Florida. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Clearwater.
I have been to Clearwater.
We’ve got the top ten beaches. I’m not surprised there. Our backgrounds, our upbringings, our experiences, the environments that we have grown up in, our religious beliefs, and everything are so different. The way that you may decipher a particular word or phrase is very different than how I would decipher that word or phrase. We talk a lot about context. That is so important. We have to break down the barrier to assume that because we are human and because we are all in business trying to go through this race of life that all of us have the same context to every situation.
As a business owner, a wife, a mother of three, a friend, and a community leader, the number one issue that I see as it relates to miscommunication is context because individuals don’t have context as to why that comment was made when it was, why the tone of that comment came off the way that it did, and how individuals use different methods of communication in a different way. The way you text may be different than how I text. The way that you send an email can be different than how I send an email.
I get on my team’s case because they overuse exclamation points. There are some people who are like, “That drives me nuts because you’re yelling at me constantly.” To me, it delineates the significance that I want to portray when we’re communicating certain recommendations. I don’t want to be like, “Let’s build a strategy.” Instead, it’s, “We need to build your strategy.” That comes across in different ways.
Going back to your question about asking stupid questions, there aren’t stupid questions. There are only questions that lack context. That way, everybody can be able to contribute to that discussion with the best possible outcome they can possibly have. For me to come into a conversation with you and feel bad about asking you a question, I become better suited to participate in that conversation. Shame on you for thinking anything negative about me because I’m trying to ensure that I can give you my absolute best during that engagement.There are no stupid questions. There are only questions that lack context. That way, everybody can be able to contribute to that discussion with the best possible outcome they can possibly have. Click To Tweet
If I don’t have all of those tools available at my disposal and the understanding behind what some of those things might be that we’re trying to discuss, how am I able to give 100%? They’re asking stupid questions. We can call it that. Let’s level set. That way, we’re all on the same page. That way, we can build and move forward at the same optimization rate because if we’re unable to do that, then we can’t all be at 100% and contribute to a successful outcome.
What happens with these so-called stupid questions is that when you have a topic where people have a common assumption around something that is not being challenged because it’s taken as gospel. If someone comes in and asks a stupid question, I challenge the assumption. That’s when big things can happen because those are things that we don’t know but we assume where we make the big mistakes. If we are uncertain about something, at least we have to be careful around that topic and do the research but if we are sure about it and we‘re wrong, that’s the biggest danger.
You bring up a great point because I admire leaders. This was something that I had to learn at a very early age in my career with Flourish. I quickly had to check my ego at the door. I was like, “I don’t know a lot, and I’m okay with that.” I was quick to realize that if I’m going to go through this journey having all of the sacred knowledge that I hold onto and that I have to know everything, 1) I’m going to be dead in five years and 2) I’m going to going to be a miserable person to be around because there’s no way that I can be able to master that effectively, still be the person that I needed to be to run a business and still be a mom, a partner, a friend that I needed to be.
Ensuring that everybody is on the same page is super important. One of the things that we will often do when we go through our strategy development is to have stakeholder interviews with employees, customers, business partners, vendors, and suppliers. That way, we can get a good 360 glimpse at all things in that organization. Honestly, the first thing we do is break down that barrier of making assumptions around the intent behind that discussion or anything that may cause somebody to hold back information. I’m thinking about some of those stupid questions.
The intent for us to come in is to provide an unbiased perspective on the process and say, “This is great. It has been working well for you so far but there are some limitations to growth. We’re trying to figure out ways that we can expand upon what has already been done. We want you to think outside the box and don’t hold anything back.” Another thing that we will often do as well is when we go into those conversations, we ask people if they have it to remove any marketing lens from their viewpoint because oftentimes people go into a conversation with us, and they’re like, “Let me answer this question as it relates to marketing.”
Don’t ever do that because often, what we have found is that when we keep it open freely, we want to talk about everything and anything. We find so much opportunity that it could potentially fall within the marketing umbrella but those are things that our efforts can help influence and make a big change around. If all we look at is through this silo, we’re not going to be able to look at anything else that potentially could be indirectly or directly impacting what some of those efforts are. We’ve got to take those blinders down and think big picture.
Years ago, I had this Hi–Fi system at home. My amplifier broke down. I said, “I have to get this fixed.” I found this guy who was fixing amplifiers and went to him. He saw my amplifier and said, “What is the problem?” I said, “The amplifier is not working.” He says, “I can’t deal with it. I look at audio systems. I have to see your turntable, tuner, and other things.”
I said, “I just got my amplifier implant fixed,” but maybe he was right. He wanted to get the big picture because it was a Hi–Fi system. He wanted to diagnose what the real problem was. That’s fascinating. Thank you, Megan, for sharing this. If you want to have big–picture marketing and contextual marketing, then reach out to Megan. Where can people find you? How can they engage with Flourish, your company, and yourself?
First things first, let’s connect on LinkedIn. I’m a big LinkedIn person. I love spending time on LinkedIn and having great conversations that fuel industry discussion honestly. You can find me there personally. Megan Nivens-Tannett is what I’m under. Our company Flourish is based in Huntsville, Alabama. Our website is FlourishConsultingServices.com. You can find us on all the channels. We’re everywhere. We’ve got a lot of great content that we put out.
Going back to that intention and purposeful mindset, our website is filled with information that is 100% value-add. We try to give as much information away as we possibly can about this industry. Not everybody is a good fit for us as a client but we’re super passionate about what we do. Our goal is to elevate the mindset and approach around strategic marketing and take it away from that very reactive effort that it once was. We strive to publish a lot of content around those types of topics. We can be found anywhere.
Check out Flourish‘s website and connect with Megan. Megan, thank you for coming and sharing your wisdom on the show.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
- Megan Nivens-Tannett – LinkedIn