Marketing is a part of the business strategy that a lot of people ignore or treat as a separate silo. Guest, Cheryl Snapp Conner, begs to disagree and puts emphasis on marketing as a vital part of the business. Cheryl is the founder and CEO of SnappConner PR and the creator of Content University™. She joins host, Michelle Seiler Tucker, to share with us her expertise and give some great insights, tips, and tricks into how we can do marketing and next-level PR, especially in this time of disruption. What is the difference between PR marketing and media? How do we write content that is effective on social media, and that could get to Inc., Forbes, and other great publications? How can you find the right marketing firm for you? Cheryl answers these questions and more, guiding you on your PR to get the results you desire for your business.
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Creating Next Level PR For Your Business With Cheryl Snapp Conner
I’m excited to be interviewing Cheryl Snapp Conner. She is the Founder and CEO of SnappConner PR and the creator of Content University. She’s a speaker, author, and national columnist on business communication and PR. For six years, Conner contributed to the Entrepreneurs channel for Forbes and has been a guest contributor to The Wall Street Journal Startups and a regular contributor to Inc. She contributes a PR and an entrepreneurship column for Entrepreneur Magazine. Cheryl, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
It’s good to see you. You and I go back years. Thank you for giving us a testimony on Exit Rich. Tell us about how you got into PR.
I got into PR by fortunate accident. When I went to college for Brigham Young University in Idaho, and then graduated from BYU in Salt Lake City and probably Utah, I majored in English. That’s not just because I’m good at it, but because I love it. It’s a great field of study now. Back then it’s not so much. There was that concern of, “What would you do to make money?” I was somewhat a stay-at-home mom at the time and thought that would be my reality and it wasn’t. As what happens with so many, I ended up needing to be the family support for my five children.
I’ve known you for years but I did not know you have five children.
Even more than that if you count the ones I acquired by remarriage. My husband has four. I have three sons and they were born within a period of four years. At one time I had three little boys age four and under. We then later adopted with my then-husband two Russian children who are now young adults. When I married my husband, Vic, several of each of our children were grown and established by then. I was on the cover of Prevention Magazine one time for being one of the nation’s busiest moms. Calling me a mother of nine is giving me too much credit because I birthed three and two were from adoption from Russia. I genuinely was one of the nation’s busiest moms.
70% of businesses are going out of business after 10 years because they stopped asking and listening.
I’ve been a mother and I got into business out of necessity because I needed to know what I could do to raise these children. What is bigger than communications? When I was a student, I was on full scholarship at BYU but I needed to support myself and my then-husband who was also a student. I was hired by the college of fine arts. They had their own PR department. I was hired to be a secretary, but because of my English and writing ability, it was a plus. That was my exposure to PR and that ended up being the kind of position I took after college and I grew with it.
What makes you unique in the industry? What sets you apart from everyone else?
That’s a fun question to answer because with my team, we are business strategists. I strongly maintain that strong communication is the currency that’s more valuable to you than money. I could stand by that position in most ways but looking at everything that we do in communications and especially in PR as a strategy, weapon, and tool for your business. When people ask about public relations, I ask them right back, “What stands between you and where your business needs to be? What would be your next level? Then let’s decide how communications and PR would move the needle and that’s important.”
What’s the difference between PR, marketing, and media? Are you doing all three?
They’re tightly intertwined and yes, we’re in all three. Without media, PR has a much harder time existing because then you’d be limited to only what you say about yourself and publish yourself. The media is a strong ally. What the media reports is a high credibility marker, probably more highly ranked on search than what you would produce yourself unless you’ve produced yourself within the media. There is a real strategy for that as well. Marketing is a part of the business strategy that a lot of people ignore in PR or they treat it like a separate silo.
I’m asking the question because with we have to have a marketing company. We also have a PR company.
You want those to be intertwined otherwise you would be marketing to an audience that you identify. You could reach it far more effectively if you use PR that knows who you need to reach and with what kind of a message than to do those things separately.
Who is your ideal client?
We find the best clients tend to be growth companies, especially the hot opportunity, high growth for a couple of reasons. We can most reliably and measurably move the needle for them and that’s a good place to be. We could be effective for all kinds of clients. In terms of being an effective team, we’re a power team of eight players with no junior people who were hitting check marks to accomplish certain things. That means that if we focus on our best opportunities, it’s growth companies.
Are you also handling all the social media like Facebook ads, Google and all of that?
We’re not directly handling the ads. We can handle social media where needed. Ideally, if someone has a social media program, we can provide them with the rich content that makes it shine and applicable versus just interesting and random. The ads part, we would partner up with somebody who’s effective with ads, but give them the absolute gasoline to pour on the fire to make it be as effective as it possibly can be.
Is content still king, Cheryl?
It is still king, but its role as the king is evolving under our feet minute by minute. For a long time, a period of several years, there were many CEOs who are columnists in lead magazines. That became a big deal. For a variety of reasons, there isn’t much of that opportunity available and even when it is, it isn’t as directly applicable anymore, but content is still king. I can tell you, the very best content is content that is educated value add for things people seriously want to know and need to know. It would be a value to them and not what you want to hear told, or that you’d want to be edified by having out there in the universe.
You always need to stop, think, and act upon logic and not emotion before you react.
What is the ideal link to that content? I heard shorter is better. Is that true?
I’ve heard both schools of camp. We tend to go with the publication’s needs. A lot of the publications are wanting content of 1,000 words because it tends to carry more weight with Google. On the other hand, a lot of publications are asking for short bites, short hits because that catches the eye and you don’t have to scroll up to read all of it. There are both camps. Depending on the audience and the publication we’re aiming at, we follow their requirements.
What about video content? I heard that video content is surpassing written content now.
In many cases, yes but then there’s also the ability to look at, if everybody’s doing video, do you want to be doing what everybody else is doing? I’d want to be covering that base and then also doing what they’re not. I give Tracy Hazzard full credit for this philosophy. Do both. Why would you not do both? Many people start with the video because they can express themselves verbally better than they can in writing. If there’s a short video piece, let the transcript of that video be the core of a good article and embed the video in it.
That’s exactly what Tracy does with the podcast.
She calls it brandcasting. I credit her every time I tell people that they ought to do this because it is smart. Now you’ve given Google something attractive. Also, you’ve ensured that whatever the medium, because people send me a video and I sadly roll my eyes because I don’t have time to stop the world and hear it. If they send me something in writing, my eye could scan it in less than 30 seconds and I’d know what I need to know. Make sure you’ve covered both. Even the audio track as Tracy points out is valuable because there are people who are in their car. They don’t have the luxury of sitting in front of a screen, but you have a captive audience for as long as that track is running. They can’t fast forward past ads. You even have that opportunity that’s worth it to you.
What other tips and advice do you have for our audiences wanting to write content, wanting to get articles in Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur or any of these great publications?
My advice is to think value add. It is hard to do, but I think it’s such an obvious secret that that magazine and your audience think about them. I had an experience where I created two columns for a client doing amazing things. They took a long time to get back to me with the accuracy check and when they sent it back, what I have created in a journalist tone of voice with a lot of informational value add, they had taken those sections out and written instead what I call the heartfelt tribute, “As a founder here every day is how I try to meet the example of my father. It’s with me every day.” Certainly, that means something to him but it doesn’t mean a thing to that audience. Everything that would have allowed the article to appear because it met criteria and to provide information for the readers was stripped out and now it was simply a brochure.
Business owners are always trying to get across about them, what’s good about them, why are they special, why you should do business with them, instead of putting themselves in the reader’s or the listener’s or the client’s shoes, and asked them, “What are your wants now? What are your needs now? How can I make it easier for you?”
“What is your bleeding need? What keeps you awake having nightmares at night? Let’s talk about that and not about us.”
I truly think that that’s one of the reasons that 70% of businesses are going out of business after being in business for ten years because they stopped asking and they stopped listening. Whoever makes it easiest for a customer to do business with them is the company that’s going to win. That’s why Amazon is winning because they make it easy.
Do what makes sense for the return of investment of your time.
Even more than that, there is absolute research. There was a company in New York called the Conductor. They did some research and wrote an article on how to make your own almond milk in the blender, or what do you need to know when you get your child’s bike helmet? That’s urgent to whoever needs that information. That’s compelling. That’s interesting. If I can’t get out and get to the store, what can I do? There’s 133% more willingness to buy from the company who created that educational information that did not promote one tiny bit. That’s astonishing. They could have bought an ad for how many dollars. They could have promoted to the sky and not been as effective as providing what people wanted to hear.
I can see one right now. How to buy the safest and effective mask for your children before they go to school.
Where do you get it? Does it need to be laundered? How often does it need to be changed? Are there any secrets to getting the child to reliably wear it effectively and not pull it down?
What have you seen with your clients during this pandemic? Have you seen a big change?
It’s probably a microcosm of everyone and everything, but immediately we were beset. Almost half of our clients had to pause on a dime. In that moment, it doesn’t matter the contractual restrictions in anything. We’re all in this same boat. There’s nothing they can do. About 60% of our clients leaned in deeper and that’s interesting and compelling because the natural entrepreneurs lean in. Any disruption is an opportunity and they need to figure out what it is and how to leverage it.
That was good, but then our employees as well tend to fall in one of two camps, either they’re angry and they want to know how you’re going to fix it or they’re so stressed out that they’re just frozen, apoplectic. Either end of the continuum is not a position of strength. You want to have your full faculty to figure out, what does this open up for me? What do we need to do? What do we need to do first? What do we need to do next? All of that needed to happen and has happened and thankfully well.
The only thing is I’ve never worked harder in my life and I’ve heard a lot of other company owners say the same, including you but not for more money. The clients leaning in didn’t have any more money to spend. Thankfully, we fit all the criteria for PPP and I will be eternally grateful. In fact, I met the head of the SBA. She was here in Salt Lake City to meet some of the companies, and one of our clients was one of those companies. What a life-changing thing. In the press, we hear about the fraud or the problems.
We don’t hear enough about the companies who were helping and what they did with that funding, but in any case, things rebounded even better. The strong companies come back stronger still. They’ve maybe refocused. I see all of these lists of the retailers who are going under and the companies who died. In a lot of cases, I looked down that list and think, “They needed to die.” They had not kept up with time and it’s time for them to have it changed and do what they need to do. This may be accelerated what was going to happen to them anyway.
It’s because they stopped innovating in marketing a long time ago.
They depended on foot traffic as their one salvation. Now we’re in a world where that foot traffic may not come back or may not come back like it ever did before.
I told business owners, “Go through your financials, get rid of what doesn’t serve you, but the one thing you don’t cut is marketing. You lean in and you double down on that.”
Maybe your double down has to be that you clipped out of what you could live without, and then use that budget that you already have for more precision purposes. You don’t cut it off. That is absolutely the wrong time to do that.
What has been your biggest PR success story?
A company that we represent that is converting plastic trash into pure hydrogen fuel. Imagine a technology that is patented, secured and that can be used to create reactors that all of this trash and waste or fossil fuel waste could be put into it. Imagine the third world countries that could get that plastic island on the ocean, run it through this reactor, and would have hydrogen fuel that they could sell. They could remove that pollution. That’s changed my personal life already.
There is no contract in existence more powerful than human nature.
I make my husband a protein smoothie every morning and now I stick that plastic straw in there guilt-free because I know this company called Standard Hydrogen is able to deal with this. We were able to work with them even in this current world and conditions and go from zero to market leader. We’ll have to get the reactors in place. That’s not going to happen on a dime but that warms my heart. Anything in sustainability wellness that speaks to the needs that are most urgent and important now that we have to find new ways to address, those are high education. Educating on any topic is where PR plays strongly. That is heartening. That’s why we get up in the morning.
What was the one thing that you were able to do for them that will catapult their business to the next level PR wise?
I don’t know that it was any single thing in isolation, but one brilliant thing we did was create what we call a business case white paper. A lot of people create brochures. A lot of people create marketing materials. What we did was create a piece that tells the lay of the land, how big is the problem, what are the options to solving the problem, and what are the things emerging that can solve it. It didn’t mention this company until the third section. Non-promotional, that’s the exact words that journalists would use and that has been a centerpiece that we give to reporters, investors and to anyone. Because it’s not trying to grab them by the throat and hype them into anything, it flies.
Did you write that for them?
Yes, and with their input.
You’re a copywriter obviously. I always say writing copy is an art. I’m a writer. I’ve written numerous books, songs and poetry. I love writing, but I don’t think I’m a good copywriter. What’s the secret to writing a good copy? What are some tips that you can give us?
The real secret is telling the things information you would tell your best friend. Skip the promotion, get straight to the heart of it. You would tell your best friend a different story than people tend to want to tell the world in their press release. You’re thinking of things like, “What were my other options? Who did I have to convince? What kind of money was involved?” You hear these press releases talk about extensible, all of this glory and praise words, and they forget to tell you what it is or how you’d even get it. You don’t know, “Is this freeware? Is it $1 million or somewhere in between? Give me a clue.”
It’s like reading a business card and you can’t tell what the person does or what the company does.
There’s someone pursuing me saying, “We need an appointment.” I can get your email function, but I have no idea. Is this a product? Are these consulting sessions? When I pushed back, I was able to get a price. I still am not as a CEO able to set an appointment to go through a demo to vet this and decide whether it fits me or not. It’s not something I can afford the time to do. If someone like a best friend would say, “This was one thing I did. Here’s what was involved. I would do it again. Here’s how much it saved me.” The black and white. Get to the point, short sentences. Skip all of the adjectives. In fact, if you blacked out with a marker all the adjectives and maybe choose one, and choose the one you mean. Skip all of the rest and think about hardcore information, that would help somebody close a deal, not the silver bullet testimonials. I don’t even like the word testimonials.
What word do you like?
I like customer experiences or use cases. I think use cases for people who understand that concept. A short case study or case study vignette. A use case could be as short as vignettes like it was a medical practice. We were able to reduce the support function from 10 people to 1 and save these many dollars.
You are the Founder of Content University.
We’re not actively marketing that program now, but we do have it. That grew out of the whole era of executives creating thought leadership. When it’s done well, it can be powerful. In fact, we talked about an interview that we’re doing. The reason it flies is that you’re providing thought leadership. If it were to be a prospect of promotion, they wouldn’t let us in and it wouldn’t be valuable for us anyway. Where it used to be and still is for many people, they think, “How much promotion can I get past the gatekeeper and not get thrown out?”
The gatekeepers have gotten smarter. We’ve all gotten better ability to see who’s reading, how many, and does it matter to them? That’s important information. There have been people historically who could get columns in Forbes and have 49 readers. If you’re on a publication with 75 million-plus readers a month and 49 people looked at your copy, you’re missing something. Think about, how would it compel the person who receives it? What would be magic for them? It may be something that you know by the back of your hand, but they don’t. It could solve problems for them or it would capture their interest. Now you’re on to something, and then tell it in straight forward language. Forget all the heartfelt tributes and the flowery language. Get straight to the point and give examples.
What are some of the biggest marketing and PR mistakes you’ve seen entrepreneurs and business owners make?
Starting too late. I would be the first to say don’t overspend when you’re still on your own savings, borrowed money or investor money. Be careful about starting too soon. Do it yourself while you can, but provide value add, get the PR resource to be a source of advice and strategy, and maybe have connections. Don’t go out too soon hoping that they’ll do it for you. Don’t try to over-promote but be savvy to the right things. There was this little company from a LinkedIn group that I cried for them. This man says, “I’ve done everything right.” You looked at the name of the company and it was something like a logo in a box. He was charging people $250. I don’t know about you but I would not pay $250 for something that sounds like it’s available free on Clip Art.
There’s a company logo works that did well. They had a fine exit, but they had a team and nest of people that could provide worthy design work for much less money than the traditional model could produce. That was good, but if you have something that sounds like it’s a one size fits all kit that could be gotten for free, you’re sunk before you ever walked out the door. Get the advice at that point and have a website that looks at least decent. There were people who would beg me to write Forbes columns about them and I would look up their website and I could tell it was two people with an idea working out of the garage. That wasn’t enough to warrant the national article. It was too soon.
Too soon is a good point because that couple working on a garage could turn into a multi-dollar business, but timing is everything in marketing and business.
You wouldn’t want to expend $250,000 a year when your product isn’t ready. If you had even a placeholder website that was a professional view that told people what they needed to know, directed them to where they needed to be, get up on something like Crunchbase. That’s historically been how a lot of reporters would vet you. You say, “I’ve got this idea.” Don’t go out with too big a claim too soon. There was a young man who said, “I have got this headline. I’ve cured COVID. I’ve got a solution.” Tell me a little bit more. It turns out he had an app that was going to gather all of the informational resources into one key location, like The New York Times isn’t doing that for us? If you go out with too big a claim for not enough delivered and you’re out the gate, you don’t even have it available for people to download yet.
I’ve worked with media as well and I’ve heard, “Don’t piggyback off of COVID. Go out there and talk about your business, how you can benefit, and solve problems for other people.” Do you agree with that?
Yes and no. Many people gratuitously tried to jump on the trend of the day, whether it’s COVID or whatever it is, but COVID is something too big to ignore. Write your article in the context of what people’s current reality is. That’s important. Yes, that means COVID but that doesn’t mean that your story is about COVID. It’s about something and you’ve made it applicable by tying it into the reality that exists right now. If we hear one more ad that says, “In these uncertain times,” you feel like shooting somebody. Never mind COVID, I’ll just shoot everybody instead because you’re tired of people trying to leap on or people rushing to put out their statement about COVID or their statement about Black Lives Matter, and then all the aftermath if somebody thinks your statement wasn’t good enough. Why not skip all of that? Why not do what you ought to do in the first place? Make it publicly available so people know what you’re doing so that if they have input where it impinges on their decision, they can make that decision. Don’t think that every one of those things needs to be a headline now.
You do this for all of your clients.
They can do it themselves or we can do it for them, but having some strategy advice can be everything.
I think everybody benefits from having a mentor for our weaknesses and hiring those core competencies because you don’t know what you don’t know. Share some advice with our audience because one of the most complicated things out there, and I’ve been through this myself, is hiring the right marketing team. Hiring the right PR firm because marketing firms will promise you the world. Many of them over promise and underdeliver. What’s some advice you can share of how to hire the right one, what questions to ask, and what to look for?
Go to trusted people and ask what they did and who they used because they will give you the straight scoop on it. Make certain that you’re asking some people who have similar criteria, similar size, and similar audience. When you do shop for the solutions, ask them to give you good references and good examples of what they did for those references. Ask them who you’ll be working with on their team. That could be important because an agency could come with somebody qualified and then assign you to a junior account lead. In the cases of marketing, especially in PR coverage, you tend to get relegated to people who were checkmark hitters. They’re like, “Look at this, we got into this. We got mentioned in that.” That doesn’t help and there’s nothing strategic about it.
At one time, I didn’t like it at all but we are having more and more engagements that are paid for performance. I’ve had clients walk in the door and even say, “I feel like weeping. I’m grateful. I didn’t know there was such a thing because we’re scared to commit to potentially a mountain of money and not know that there’s a guarantee of what we will get.” Frequently, we’re suggesting to get the foundation, make certain your message is correct before you do anything. That is vital. That shouldn’t be a time delay. Do it quickly, but if your story comes out consistently again and again, then with that messaging, we’d say a press release.
It’s written in an interesting journalistic style, not the traditional brag sheet that’s time dated because it’s going to stay up on the SEO charts forever. We get to control every word of that. If we write it in an interesting evergreen way, that will go straight to the top of the SEO charts and set the foundation. Then several stories that consistently tell the right story and are credible good sources, the press is telling the story. You’re not telling the story. That’s surprisingly enough to create a foundation that from here forward, you can do press coverage based on return on investment. What a concept.
I don’t know too many companies that will work based upon performance. Are you saying your company does that?
We do that. There would be that foundation, but that would be a fee and we’d get it done in 60 days. Based on that, we all know a lot more than we do going into it because we see how the world has responded to those first several foundational pieces. We fine-tune our messaging if need to be. Now if we go to national broadcast, if we go to the top-ranked magazines, we know we have a meaningful message and they know that they’re not going to be charged until they see the results.
Do you charge them per position or per interview? Is that how you work?
It’s per produced piece. For some of them, that’s going well. Somebody has got a subscription box and they need to be in all of the reviews. That’s straightforward for us to go after. Before sending their invoice each month, we go through the list of pieces that have come out and give them the traffic of each, and then we agree. It’s a little bit of a sliding scale that they know exactly what that’s worth to them. It takes all the guess work out.
You do a combination of a podcast, radio, TV and articles.
We have learned to work effectively with partners who are the best in the biz on radio, podcast, and national broadcast. I did not realize so much that we are considered the King of Articles. Being good partners makes it great for everyone because then if somebody has a need for more broadcasts, we can achieve it. As a company, being a power team that we need to have fully booked with the best fitting clients, that changes the complexion of things. We will gladly refer people if there’s a better fit. We lose nothing. In fact, we all gain if we give them direct information and help place them with where they should be. Don’t act like we’re too important for them. It’s just an ideal fit.
Tell us about your biggest success story. Tell us about a big blunder. What are some of the big blunders that you had with a client?
The one that’s most painful in my mind has been some years ago. We were doing a worldwide webcast, one of the first to ever be accomplished because we were introducing a new industry standard that was going to affect all parts of the world. We knew that in Norway, a team of people were having a cocktail party that we’re going to listen to this webcast be announced so it would go to everyone in the world at the same time. What we didn’t know was that the internet service provider, fearful that the connection might not work quickly or reliably, they left it going all night. Our rehearsal in the final hour before we went live was viewable by anyone who logged in early and that cocktail party was logged in on the other side of the world. They were unhappy and angry. It was not something that would have occurred to me to double-check. When you begin a webcast, you double-check before you start that everything is connected and going but you wouldn’t think to double check. You didn’t turn it on early or leave it running through the night.
I think this is big in business. I always talk about the six-piece. One of the biggest pieces is branding and how well branded your company is. Talk about strategies to protect that brand equity that a business owner has.
The brand is everything both verbal and visual. You know that about us. That is something that we edify above many others. You want to make certain your visual brand and your presentation ability matches the power of your message. Here’s where that might come into play for many of us. If you had a message that was ready for national TV, a client might come to us and say, “I don’t want to see anything lower than Fox & Friends. That’s where I’ve got to be.”
If you have not perfected your visual brand, if you’re not ready for that 4.5 million views, you don’t want that to be the first time where everyone is fairly well broadcasting remotely. We’re not going into New York to do those broadcasts in a studio. You may have an earpiece that you’re not used to, you hear all the static and they need to use Skype because it is more ruggedized and secure than Zoom and some other things. That would be options. There’s this static and newsroom chatter in the background and then all of a sudden, you’re on and you can’t see yourself on.
That’s not something you want to do for the first time you were in front of 4.5 million viewers. There are many things about your appearance that you might not know like don’t wear a bright white shirt, it’s going to bounce on the screen. If you have eyeglasses, what are the secrets? People tend to tip their head back and look down the bridge of their nose and then the camera angles shooting straight up your nostril. All of those things besides which, you look and sound like a deer in the headlights.
I’m sure you do some PR training.
Not only do we train, but we also make sure that their first experience is not the do or die global audience.
I was at Fox & Friends years ago. It was a Skype interview just like you said. There was a horrible thunderstorm in New Orleans. It was horrible, lightning and thunder. It was a terrible interview because the internet kept going in and out. I did well with what I had. It was terrible because of the thunderstorm.
You wouldn’t want your first huge experience to be going viral for the wrong reasons.
That was not my first experience and I was comfortable handling that, and still maintaining composure and being professional.
There you are with the thunderstorm. What would you do? How would you look? Would your face register that startled reaction?
Tell any other tips that you have for our audiences as it relates to marketing, PR, media, everything that Cheryl Snapp Conner is famous for.
I would say be present and be on the record for who you are. That is also good protection against the negative press because none of us know. There have been many things that a large company, and it’s a good thing that I can’t remember which one because I wouldn’t call them out by name. A former employee didn’t like the statement they made about Black Lives Matter. She didn’t think it was sufficient and took them on. She made this demand in the media that that CEO be removed immediately and be replaced by a black female CEO.
He took such offense to this. He called her out on LinkedIn by name and said, “You don’t know me. You don’t know our company. How dare you?” It ended up being a big royal mess. While she surely probably didn’t have full right to make the claims and demands that she did. She was not a shareholder. She was not a board member. I think maybe she had been a former employee. That happens these days that somebody comes down like they’re the voice of God and says, “I command your company to outcast the CEO on the spot. I think he did a poor job.”
That’s tough. One of the things to remember is if everything that you do embodies who you are and what your strong principles are, you’re helped. Another thing to remember is if a crisis happens, do not respond off the cuff. He did. Ultimately it was solved and there was a photo on social media of him and his company and his board. They were eating this black and white cake and he said, “From now on, my golden rule is when something happened with social media, I’m going to chill.”
I always tell people don’t react to emotion. Don’t make decisions when you’re acting out emotion. You always need to stop, think, and act upon logic, not emotion. In your career, you’ve had to do a lot of damage control for situations like that.
For every situation you can imagine. They are weird. You can’t make these things up. If you are readily visible and apparent for who you are and what you do stand for, and you bear that in mind through everything that you do, that the company does through the very appearance. If you say customers are important and then there are unbelievably long customer response, wait times, for example, make sure the things that are important to you are true. That helps you more than anything else but then if something comes out of the left-field, get some counsel. Don’t react on the fly and stay out there consistently enough to be relevant. Do what makes sense for the return of investment of that time from there.
That’s a good point. You said to stay out there to be consistent, to be relevant as long as it makes sense for the budget too. How many impressions does it take for someone to pick up the phone or send an email and do a business with a company?
It depends on the nature of the company and the product. I can tell you that according to Inside Sales, now the company is pivoted to become XANT, their research says six touches. One of their fund secrets, they wouldn’t mind because they publicly give people this advice. They have got things they call ELF like electronic engines that can support you. If you are speaking to someone, you’re well down that chain of six if you’re on the phone with them. At the same time that you’re talking, be sending a LinkedIn invite or the engine could send an invite because that’s another touch. Get them down that path. I pointed out to people, “If you are an executive who is publishing material, publish some of that on LinkedIn because people are going to be a lot more comfortable responding to it.”
If they’re in a conversation with you on LinkedIn in that comment string, they’re halfway there. Even if they’re allowed to comment on something like Forbes, which a lot of those publications for security reasons have taken down those comment strings. If you could, people are self-conscious the most they probably say is, “Thank you very much.” They’re scared about having to register, get on that site, and know that they’re visible now to that audience that is Forbes. They’re not going to be candid in your question.
You mentioned Forbes. We have Steve Forbes who gave us a testimonial for Exit Rich.
I still have to admire and respect everything that the key publications like that are doing to provide real information and real value add. Kudos to them. We know the world is weird and thank you for persisting.
What is the best color to use? I know everybody has their branding color. Is there a certain color to use in print, to use on your website, to use when you’re in media? I know you said don’t use white or don’t wear white.
You wouldn’t wear white on broadcast. That would be a great question for my counterpart Lauren Solomon because colors go in and out of vogue. For example, in the dot-com boom, everybody had this vibrant electric blue and lime green. It was like the color de jure. Our own website, which I love. I don’t feel the need to change it for a long time. We went from vibrant primary colors, red, yellow, violet-blue to navy blue and gold.
That’s the color of my website. That’s our branding color.
That’s a corporate level of brand. There are emotional triggers around the style of the graphics around the colors. For example, Standard Hydrogen, there’s a bit of green for all the right reasons and it’s like a plant green, not a lime green.
We’ll have to bring Lauren on and talk to her about that as well. Cheryl, we do mergers and acquisitions on exit strategies. What do you feel is the biggest mistake that business owners make when exiting a business? From a mergers and acquisition standpoint, have you seen them make mistakes in handing them in the public eyes?
If I had to say two mistakes, one is assuming you’re poised for an exit, “I’ve worked all of these years so it’s going to happen. What am I going to do?” and then not be prepared in the right ways. Two is that especially in the down economy, it’s going to be more tempting or more prevalent that the exit is an earn-out and not a buy-out. Those are treacherous. The two formerly most pernicious competitors we had, neither one is an issue for us anymore, both were acquired, both are in earn-outs. It completely changed the complexion of both companies and honestly, they’re not in our hair anymore.
It worked out for you but didn’t work out well for them.
In terms of an exit, we operate more like an LLC. We would rather earn profit for ourselves than for an inquiring body if we could discipline ourselves. To us what that says is be more disciplined because if you are not along a path that would cleanly lead to a majority investor or a complete exit, know that you’re going to need to be reliably producing profit and doing the right things with it all along the way and that becomes in lieu of a traditional exit.
Do they do a complete earn-out? Tell me they got some cash upfront.
I don’t know because those things are confidential but now you have teams of people being directed by out of state management. The people who were the golden talents that launch a company are either not involved or far less involved. You’ve got more junior people who are incented and driven entirely by their absolute need to hit numbers. You see the concern.
I certainly never recommend my clients to do a full earn-out. The only time that we ever entertain an earn-out is when we’re trying to bridge that pricing gap. Let’s say 2020 was maybe the biggest year ever and the next five years are looking good, but you’re not sure, 2020 could be an anomaly. We want to bridge that pricing gap to see if those projections are going to hold true for the next 2 to 3 years. We still are going to get 70%, 80% of that purchase price upfront. Our earn-out is an upside.
We’re service businesses. This has been an interesting thing because the big vogue for the last several years has been digital marketing. These digital marketing companies have been successful power to them in requiring eighteen-month contracts. The fact that that’s a long-term contract is in respect of protection and a valuation consideration. When those relations don’t go well, now there’s a problem on all sides.
The contract has to also be transferable because in all likelihood it’s going to be an asset not as a stock sell. Ninety-nine percent of companies do not add the transferable language to their contracts.
One of the wisest pieces of wisdom is I sold half of my first company, and the attorney giving me counsel said that there is no contract in existence more powerful than human nature. People will find a way to not do something that’s too painful or that they don’t believe is in their best interest. They’ll just give up and say, “Sue me.” I went in eyes open and I knew that was the case. I was burned out. It was like on the borderline of my health tipping over. It went halfway before that founder renegotiated with unfortunately my former husband. That was sign of the times. I’ve learned so much along the way. I was not even in the room when they negotiated that redo. I was the asset being fought over. I have no voice. I got what I needed but that would never happen again.
If the owner is the asset, that asset has to have consideration to also stay to ensure a smooth transition for 1 to 2 or 3 years, depending upon what that’s going to be. As you said, you could have an eighteen-month contract, but the relationship is not there. It’s nurturing and making sure that that contract stays valid, then the whole business won’t fall apart.
Be sure that that’s going to go well, that they’re willing, that they’re able, and that transition isn’t going to be too hard on either side to make it come true.
We always factor that in the asset, which is the owner and how long they’re needed to stay in that company to ensure that the business stays and is sustainable. Any last-minute tips?
I hope everybody’s tuning in to you. You’ve given such good wisdom that progressively I’ve been able to hear and benefit from over the years. I advise everyone to keep your ears open and stay tuned.
Thank you so much. How can our audiences get in touch with you?
Look me up on Google. You can find me whether it’s Cheryl Snapp Conner or even Cheryl Conner, you will find me. Our website is easy to find but rather than have to spell it, look it up.
I have one more question for you. You’re successful. You’ve been successful for decades. What were you like as a little girl?
I was intellectual. My parents had put me forward. My birth date is in late September. They had that option of forwarding or back and they put me forward. I was scholastically prepared enough. I was always a star there but that meant I was emotionally at least a year younger than everyone else in my circle. It wasn’t like Sheldon but I always felt like a beat or two behind everyone else growing up. I was not like the shining social star by any imagination but I tested well.
I asked you that question because as a little girl, I never played with toys. I never played with dolls. I never did anything like that. I was always running around asking everybody a million questions just as I am now asking you all these questions. My mom used to always say, “She’s going to be Barbara Walters.”
I played with Barbie dolls, but I made them wardrobe of clothes. Sitting there and play-acting with them held no appeal to me, but I love to make wardrobes.
You could have been a fashion designer.
I was always creating things and driven to get things done.
It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here. For all of our audiences, google Cheryl Snapp Conner. Call her before you make any huge PR mistakes. Thank you for joining us on another episode.
About Cheryl Snapp Conner
Cheryl Snapp Conner is founder and CEO of SnappConner PR and creator of Content University™. She is a speaker, author and national columnist on business communication and PR. For six years Conner contributed to the Entrepreneurs channel for Forbes and has been a guest contributor to WSJ Startups and a regular contributor to Inc. Currently, she contributes a PR and entrepreneurship column for Entrepreneur magazine.