147: Become a Social CEO with Kristi Piehl

Kristi Piehl is the Founder & CEO of Media Minefield, a team of trained journalists, storytellers, social, creative, and paid experts who come alongside you to unlock the power and profit of your story. We discuss the problem with modern PR, how to become a social CEO fast, and the best way to tell your story.

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Become a Social CEO with Kristi Piehl

Our guest is Kristi Piehl, the founder and CEO of Media Lionfield, a team of trained journalists, storytellers, social, creative, and paid experts who come alongside you to unlock the power and profit of your story. Welcome to the show, Kristi.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Thanks for coming and to share with us about your journey and your ideas. Definitely. I mean, those of us who follow me probably also follow you on LinkedIn and see you popping up. So maybe they will not be unfamiliar with you. So let’s start at the beginning. How did you come to start a company and be a CEO, an entrepreneur? Was this kind of the plan that you always had or it was a surprising twist in your career?

Someday people are gonna ask me that question. I’m not going to want internally laugh, Steve. So I’m still internally laughing when people ask the question, “Is this what you thought you wanted to do?” Because it wasn’t. I was a TV news reporter for 12 years. I worked at different television stations across the Midwest and did some work for Good Morning America. And I, like 20 of my, along with 20 of my colleagues, we all were laid off in late 2008. I filed my last report in Minneapolis. It was an investigative news story in early 2009. And thus began my quest to find my purpose, to find my next professional endeavor. And I came to this point where I really wanted to help people with my news background. I’m a storyteller at heart. I felt that traditional public relations were broken, so that wasn’t a path for me. And I no longer wanted to have someone else telling me that I needed to miss the holidays or miss my child’s birthday party. So I got stuck. There wasn’t a job out there that met all of my criteria. I took a class at my church, and it really was about how to find your passion and help other people at the same time. And in week three of that class, the business was born, leading me down this journey that now is 12 and a half years in the making.

That’s fantastic. I mean, that’s what entrepreneurship should be all about, doing the way, working the way you like and the people you like, and having time for your family. That’s fantastic. So in your introduction, the way you explained, I kind of stuck my ear that you said that the PR needed to be reformed or disrupted? What was wrong with PR? What is wrong with PR that needs to be fixed?

A couple of things. When I was in the news industry, I worked with PR folks that were in corporations where I was interviewing someone in their organization. I worked with PR agencies. I worked with dozens and dozens of people over my career. And they all had the same weakness, frankly. They didn’t understand media. They had never worked in the media. They didn’t know what I needed. They didn’t know how to set up their client for success. It was a real mess. So I didn’t want to go into that industry. So that was one issue for me. The other issue for me is that based on the research that I did after my television career ended, is that PR is sort of put in this bucket of things where it’s, you’re so expected to have a budget line item for it. But if you get nothing in return, that’s fine. No problem, you have to spend, you know, fill in the blank 10% on it, whatever. But it may or may not work. It’s sort of like this magical, mystical thing out there that, “Well, we’ll see. If we get lucky, we get lucky.” And it’s really one of the only industries in the world where that’s accepted. If I hire someone to put a roof on my home, I better get a roof. And if I don’t, I’m to get my money back and go hire someone else. So I really felt that the results that every other industry is required to have, PR got the free pass and I wanted to bring guarantees and results to this industry that was, you know, a little murky in what it would deliver.

So how can you do that? How can you guarantee the result? I mean, people want to get into the news, they want to speak on television, and they want to have nice articles written by them, which are organic articles, not PR articles. How is this measurable, and how do you measure what impact it has?

Sure. So we have 130 clients across the US and some into Canada. And we’re now a team, we’re based just out of Minneapolis, and we’re a team of about 50 people and continue to grow. And for us, it’s about, first of all, we trademark the processes. So I spent the first year figuring out by myself what would work. If I came to the position that traditional PR wasn’t doing it well, then what does doing it well look like? So I gave some work away, I heavily discounted my services, and got down to a process that is a very clear process. We have excellent relationships with the media, we hire former journalists, former writers, former news folks, content writers, who understand how media works and how to tell a good story. And we also only accept clients who will take our lead and who will trust us and let us help them get the kind of press that will move their business. So we aren’t in the business of blanketing press releases out there. We’re really in the business of ensuring that we understand our client’s message and then connecting it to news outlets that it will give impact to their audience and then teaching our clients how to leverage that media. So that’s how we do it on the earned media side, the press side of it. And then we have a significant part of our business that’s social media, social media for executives. And we guarantee that we’re gonna double engagement for our clients or we’re gonna work for free until we do. So we have guarantees in these pieces of our business because it holds us accountable and it gives our clients the opportunity to say, “Yes, I will pay this for this” or “No, it’s not worth it to me,” and that’s fine.

I’ve been following you for a while and one of the things that you talk about is being a social CEO and how important it is to become a social CEO. And I’ve been wondering, what does it even mean to be a social CEO? and can introverts be social CEOs or is it just for extroverts? So what does it mean and how does one become one?

Sure, so several years ago, I read this stat, it was from Forbes, and the stat was that 44% of a company’s valuation is directly connected to the persona of the CEO. So 44% of a company’s valuation is connected to the CEO, then the CEO, the highest level of leadership in any organization, better have a way that they’re sharing their message out there. And I think, you know, we just have recently seen, Steve, a pretty well-known example. What Elon Musk, when he started to go a little bit off script with Twitter and some of the things he was saying and he said some things that were questionable. His company’s stock and his company reputation followed quickly behind. So this works both ways. So I think that that’s an example. And when I use examples like that, that are really big, owners of small companies or leaders of small companies say, “Well, that’s Tesla, that’s a giant company. What does that mean for me? I don’t have stock.” But I would say that everyone in your organization, whether that’s 5 people or 5,000 or 500,000 people or 5 million people, look to the leader and take the lead from the leader and make decisions about, are they going to work there? Are they going to invest there? Are they going to buy from there? Based on that persona of the CEO. And currently, one of the best ways to get that CEO’s message out there is on social media. So when I think about a social CEO, I mean a leader who is sharing their message on social media, who is leveraging LinkedIn, and who is, specifically LinkedIn for most leaders, and who is being transparent. And that’s a really different place, and I have all sorts of data, Steve. Let me share one with you. So executives on social media are perceived 23% more positively. That’s from a Hootsuite report. It’s data piece after data piece about how people are making their buying decisions and their hiring decisions on what they’re finding on social media. Which, you know, folks of a certain age, they don’t want to hear this. They’re like, ah, my business has been going fine. I don’t want to hear this. We have new consumers. The pandemic has changed us. Employees of a certain age and a certain mindset are looking for different things in their leaders. And we have an opportunity to embrace that, to lean into that, and frankly, to capitalize from that.

I don’t think it’s just the young people. I mean, I always Google, I always go on LinkedIn. If I was to have a call with anyone, the first place I check them out is LinkedIn. If they’re not on LinkedIn, I’m already feeling a little bit uncomfortable about that person. Then I try to find them on Facebook or somewhere else and see all the information that is out there. And if there’s no information, I’m always wondering, “Why is there no information? Why is there no picture of this person? Is this even a real person? Or do they have something to hide?” So definitely, these concerns are out there and totally understandable. However, I’m still wondering about the social the socialness of that thing, because, for example, my wife would never allow me to put any pictures of my family on LinkedIn and and she doesn’t want my business to be in any way connected to my personal life. If it was up to her, it wouldn’t. So what is the things that someone can share if, let’s say, if the family is off limits, what kind of things can we share? And, you know, how transparent a CEO needs to be in order to actually reap the rewards of being a social CEO?

It’s a great question. And I get it all the time. We have a trademark process around the work that we do for executives that’s called positive online presence. And the first step in our, and because we’re in the Midwest, we call it POP, because we don’t drink soda in the Midwest if you’re not aware we drink POP. But the first step is really to understand the boundaries. So even if your family isn’t comfortable on social media, there are parts of your life outside of work that would be appropriate for social media. So for example, if you take time during your week to go for a walk, to clear your head, to take a vacation, to read a book, all those things are a little bit not connected directly to your work. However, they are connected to you as a holistic person who does things besides just work. You also can share other people’s content if you read a great article that is Connects with you and you agree with you can share that on LinkedIn and that’s another way to have engagement My rule with my family is I have two sons. They’re 20 and 15 almost 16 I’ll have another driver which yeah, I’ll have another driver and then I married my prom date so I’ve been married for quite some time. And my role with them, and we came to this agreement several years ago, is that before I post any pictures of them on social media, my public social media, so social media sites where anyone can friend me or connect with me, they have to approve the image. So that’s how we’ve worked it at our house. We’ve got some of our clients who, “You can do whatever you want, go for it, use my, not use my family, but feel free to show my family as they are.” And we have other folks who are where your wife sits. “Absolutely not. These are two separate things.” Now, I would challenge your wife. If I go to dinner with your wife someday, here’s what I’m going to tell her. I’m going to ask her for five minutes on my phone, and I bet I can tell her your address and the name of your children. So people have concerns about privacy, and yet it’s pretty much all out there. So I get the concern. And odds are someone who really was looking for it could find it, and that may not be the reason that she doesn’t want it out there. And I’m not trying to question her at all, but just the world has changed so much.

The first step is really to understand the boundaries. So even if your family isn't comfortable on social media, there are parts of your life outside of work that would be appropriate for social media. Share on X

Yeah, no, I agree with you. I agree with you. So, so that’s that’s that’s good. And I see people who put things like that, you know, the way they work on the new book or they go for a walk. And and, you know, they write about what they think, the people they meet, the events they attended. So definitely I can see that this is this is possible. Now, what else can a CEO do? So other than being president of social media, is there still a way to to get in the newspaper or TV channels? Do they even matter, those channels anymore? Where in the era of Netflix and streaming television, do people even watch channels and listen to radio? So what are the alternatives to social media?

Yes. So traditional media, so radio interviews, podcasts, television, articles, those sorts of things, still have a lot of value. The reason they have a lot of value, especially in local places, so I’m in the Twin Cities market, I’m in Minneapolis-St. Paul. If I do a news interview here, which all of my employees are here, a percentage of my clients are here, but if I do an interview here about something that’s happening in the company or if I weigh in on a trending topic, there’s value in when I am doing that news interview. Also, when I post that on social media, it’s going to get a lot of engagement. People will see it. They will recognize it as being a reputable news source, which has a lot of value. And beyond that, I think folks who say, ah, who watches the nightly news anymore? Well, people are still paying attention to that content, but they may be consuming that content on social media. So they may be following the news outlet on social media and watching content there, and a lot of people share content from news outlets on their social media channels. So it appears in different ways, and my parents, my grandparents consumed the evening news, but there’s still an appetite and a hunger, especially in local news, which we still see has most people are still trusting of their local news sources. And nationally, my goodness, if we have clients that can get an appearance on Good Morning America or on CNN or on Fox News or whatever it might be nationally, boy, that goes a long way, especially when they put that on social media. So when I did a news interview a couple of weeks ago about a new policy that we have here regarding four-day work weeks, and while I was on the newscast, it was a Saturday morning, while I was on the newscast, we had several people signing up for our newsletter. We had new job resumes come into the company, and we had people filling out forms asking if they could, that they were interested in our services. So that’s a pretty significant impact, and that’s even before we put that out on social media. So it looks different now, but it still works.

That’s great. So let’s switch gears here a little bit. I’d like to ask you about the way you tell your story. So how is it different the way Media Mindfield tells the story that maybe how most other PR agencies would want to approach this and tell the story? Do you have a different process for that?

We really start with what the company or the executive, what are they an expert in? So for example, I’m gonna use you as an example. Okay, so you are an expert in entrepreneurship, you’re an expert in helping businesses scale and grow. So a traditional PR agency would say to you, Steve, tell me when is your next book coming out? And when are you gonna have some kind of event? Are you opening an office? So let’s make sure that we’re really doing something exciting around those events, and we’re going to wait for the news media to call us. That’d be a pretty traditional approach, perhaps put out a press release now and then. Maybe if one of your clients is doing something, they might put something out. And we go the opposite way. “We say, we’re going to position you as an expert. So we’re going to pay attention to what people are talking about. And then we’re going to have you be the expert in the field that you’re in entrepreneurship.” So if a study came out that said that the number of entrepreneurs in the United States was decreasing, we’d say, “Excellent, that’s fantastic. Steve can talk about that. He’s got a perception, he’s got an opinion about that. He’s a thought leader. So we’re going to reach out to our media contacts that we have, and we’re gonna tell them about what you can talk about. We’re gonna give them some data around it. We’re gonna even write out the questions for them. We’re gonna get you ready for that interview, so that that interview can be awesome, and you can be elevated as an expert in your field.” So when we work with healthcare, we work with med tech, we work with people in the financial sector, we work with people who are launching products, we really start with, What are they an expert in? What is their unique ability in their industry?” And that’s what we want them talking about because it’s much more effective and there are opportunities. We want our clients really doing news interviews at least once or twice a month so that they can be regularly featured as a thought leader in their industry.

So, is there like a specific method of linking the positioning, the news flow and trying to find these matches? Is there a process to that?

You know, it really is us paying attention. First, we have to understand what our clients want to talk about. And then we have keyword searches and we’re constantly paying attention to what they care about and knowing when new things are happening in their industries and then positioning our clients. So if someone wants to do this on their own, they don’t have budget to hire someone and they want to do this on their own. I think the way that I talk about it is to really get clear about what it is you want to talk about, and then understand who in your market, so wherever it is that you live, or whatever it is that you pay attention to, whether that’s a podcast or some niche publication, what writers, what reporters are covering that. So for example, I wouldn’t pitch you as a business expert to the medical reporter. I wouldn’t pitch you to the sports team. So it’s important to understand who it is exactly that you wanna pitch your positioning to and then reach out to them via email. There’s, I think, a lot of mis perception that, “Boy, if I just get really active on Twitter and I start following people, they’re gonna pay attention to me.” Well, the reality is most reporters, there’s thousands of people that are following them and paying attention, so you’re going to get lost. So it’s really about, you know, I would say once a week, dedicate some time to thinking about how to send an email to a reporter about what you could talk about and send that email. And if they say “No, thank you,” make sure that you’re responding because they might say “No, thank you now,” but perhaps they’ll say yes in a month or two.

I think the way that I talk about it is to really get clear about what it is you want to talk about, and then understand who in your market, so wherever it is that you live, or whatever it is that you pay attention to. Share on X

Yeah. This is hard work. I mean, getting out to the point of finding out who the right person is and then being persevering and contacting them and following up, that’s definitely not something I want to take on myself. So I would definitely look to someone like you to help me with that. The other thing I’m very uncomfortable with is this whole idea that social media is constantly evolving. So I’m getting emails from people offering their services to put me on TikTok and Instagram and other places. So what do you see out there other than LinkedIn, what other platforms are becoming interesting for business people to be present on?

You know, I ask business folks to think about what their challenges are. If their challenge is hiring, for example, then I would encourage them to look at the age they need to hire from and determine which platform those people are on and then be really intentional about putting out messages there. And not messages like, please come work for me, but to be a holistic person, because remember, like all of us know, we work for people or with people, we don’t work for organizations or for organizations, who we work with and for really matters. So that’s what I would say. If your number one issue is you need clients, really need more customers, understand the age group and the persona of your customer and what social media platforms they would be on and then spend time there. So because I have this creative agency, I hadn’t been on TikTok for a long time. When it was coming, I was paying attention to it. My kids were on it. I wasn’t on it initially because, boy, that isn’t where most of my clients are. Again, three, four years ago, I got, as we were hiring people, a couple of people that we were hiring said, it’s really weird that Christy isn’t on TikTok. So the reason I’m there is honestly less for my customers. And currently, my number one reason is because I believe that a lot of my potential employees and excellent right fit employees would pay attention and wanna know. If you say you’re a creative agency with a thought leader entrepreneur at the helm, then she better be on TikTok and she better know how that works. So that’s why we’re active on that platform. So I think it’s really a specific approach. What do you need? Who are you trying to reach? And where are they?

If your number one issue is you need clients, really need more customers, understand the age group and the persona of your customer and what social media platforms they would be on and then spend time there. Share on X

Yeah, that’s a good point. So maybe I can still hold on, hold off on TikTok for a while, for a couple more years.

I mean, you can if you want, but jump in now. It’s pretty interesting. You know, TikTok has really surprised me. I’m learning, and it is a great place to learn and to follow different people. It’s fascinating to me who’s on TikTok. And I do have to set a timer for myself mentally, cause I can go down this rabbit hole, like that’s interesting, I didn’t know that, I didn’t know that and like 10 minutes went by. So I can’t do that, but it is a fascinating platform. And I do have concerns about data privacy. So there are folks who don’t wanna be on that platform because China and data privacy, and I absolutely respect that and understand it. And I think we’re gonna see what’s gonna happen there as the government is telling people they can’t have TikTok on government devices. So it is an interesting place to watch.

Well, definitely we’ll check it out, but I am afraid of being sucked into it. That’s my other concern. So so finally, before we wrap up here, I’d like to ask you about this four day workweek initiative that you’ve taken. This is pretty dramatic. And I mean, I totally see that people would love that, especially with parents who want to spend time with their kids and have more balance, life balance with their family. My question is more about your business. How is it, is it helping your business? To what degree and what’s your concerns before you actually announce it?

Sure, so last winter, I started getting really interested in the global movement of the four-day work week. I invited the founders of that movement onto my podcast, which is called Flip Your Script. So those two people, I interviewed them, I wanted to learn about it. They’ve really flipped the script on how we think about work weeks. And different countries and different industries have made the four-day work week the norm. And I spent a lot of time researching it and thinking about it. And to be honest, there isn’t a spreadsheet where you can make it make sense, because it just doesn’t make sense. How can you do the same amount of work in less days and the company can have the same amount of output and revenue, profitability, it doesn’t make sense. And yet I know in my gut, in my soul, that people are capable of more than we think, and we don’t give them enough credit.

And I learned that personally during the pandemic, I was so impressed and frankly surprised at what my folks could do remote. I had no idea we could be effective and grow a business in a remote environment during a pandemic. So I put all those things together and really thought about what would it be like if we did it here? So at Media Minefield, we’re a service industry, we’re deeply connected to the media, which is a 24/7 industry, we’re deeply connected to social media, which is a never-ending, all the time, even when you want to shut it off, you can’t, industry. So how could we make a four-day workweek work? So we launched, we told our team in July that we were going to have the 4M, which is the four-day workweek mindset, and we’re gonna launch it in mid-August of 22. So we launched it in August of last year, and it was a transition. So our charge to our folks is we want you to work the equivalent of four days based on what your team needs, what your family needs, what your clients need, and every week might look a little bit different. We will not have any internal meetings on Fridays, and you can use that time as you’d like. And we asked everyone to innovate. How long are your meetings? Are all the right people in the meetings? Do we have too many meetings? Or are we doing things in meetings that aren’t adding value for anyone? And we’re always gonna be available for our clients. So we’re not closed today, we’re not not answering the phones, we’re not not responding to texts. We just ask people to innovate and use their time differently.

And what we’ve seen since then is we’ve seen no change in our output. We’ve seen our people working less hours, and we haven’t had any client complaints about this policy. Most don’t know that, I mean, we told them we’re doing it, but they’re not sensing anything different with us and how we work. And in Q4 of last year, after we announced this, we got quite a bit of press buzz, which was a bonus, and we landed three pretty significant clients for us. And I think it was because we’re in the innovative business. And if you’re going to be innovative in my perspective, and you’re going to disrupt an industry that’s known for burning people out and overworking folks and lots of turnover, then you better innovate in all areas. And to me, that’s what the four day mindset does. And for me personally, I get a weekend now. I would work all day Friday, spend some time over the weekend getting ready, and I have totally shifted how I think about time, and it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s very courageous, so I commend you for taking the plunge. And this is one of those things that are easier to announce and to take it back, so you better make it stick as well. But surely, if I was a young high flyer and I went to work for a company that I know would take care of me or would care about me, this would certainly be a very attractive thing to consider. So fantastic. So, Kristi, if people would like to learn about what Media MindField can do for them and connect with you, you’re a social CEO extraordinaire, so obviously they can find you on LinkedIn, but what other ways would you recommend people to seek you guys out?

Sure, I’m on all the social platforms and we talked about TikTok, so you can find me anywhere on social media. I also, the website for the company is Media Minefield and minefield is M-I-N-E-F-I-E-L-D, minefield, mediaminefield.com, and you can find us and communicate with us. And we also, as I mentioned, have a newsletter. So we, every month we’re putting out what’s trending in the industry, how we can help give people information to help with their marketing, how they can rethink public relations. That’s free. We’re not going to sell your data, but sign up for the newsletter and we’ll make sure that you kind of stay on top of what people are talking about. So really excited about being on your podcast. I appreciate the opportunity.

Fantastic. Kristi, thanks for coming and thanks for sharing your innovative ideas and the social making, creating a lot of social CEOs with your company and the four day work week and this whole disruption of the media and I guess, what do you say, diffusing the minefield. That’s a pretty powerful thing. So thanks for coming.

Thank you so much.

 

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