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Lonny Kocina of Media Relations Agency: How To Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book

To successfully promote your book, you (or your agency) should have basic competence in marketing concepts and principles. You should be able to speak the language of marketing. If you don’t know simple concepts like the marketing mix, the promotional mix, positioning and market segmentation strategies well enough to teach them, you are not a professional marketer and your chances of success go down.
You need to be clear about how your book helps your audience.

As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lonny Kocina.

Lonny Kocina is the CEO and Founder of Media Relations Agency which has been in business for nearly 35 years. During that time, Kocina also founded and sold two other businesses: Mid America Event and Expos, and Checkerboard Internet Services. Prior to that, Lonny worked as a marketing director for Investment Rarities Inc., a company with sales over 4 billions dollars. Kocina has also been a long time member of Vistage International which is a CEO peer mentoring organization. He was also a volunteer marketing mentor for Junior Achievement and the Carlson School of Business. For fun he has taught Principles of Marketing at the college level, and his recent book, the “CEO’s Guide to Marketing” is an Axiom Business Book silver medal winner as well as an Amazon bestseller.

Lonny likes to kid that his third grade teacher may have summed him up best with a note sent home on his report card. “Lonny is a daydreamer and he’s getting worse each day. He complains of a stomach ache a lot and I don’t think he likes school much either.”

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?

Before launching Media Relations Agency nearly 35 years ago, I kept a journal of things that frustrated me. As a marketing manager, I was frustrated that PR firms charged by the hour with no guarantee of coverage. I thought that if I sold media coverage and charged per story we arranged, companies would buy it because they would be assured of getting media coverage for their money. I imagined how small Domino’s pizza would be if they charged like PR firms. Very few people would order a pizza if they had to pay by the hour with no guarantee a pizza would be delivered.

My marketing agency pioneered performance-based PR with our Pay Per Interview Publicity® pricing model. We have since arranged tens of thousands of news stories about our clients’ products and evolved into a full-service agency. It all started with a simple pricing twist.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?

I’m working with Robin Miller, our editor in chief, to write a facilitator’s manual that will bring our strategic marketing skills to the forefront of what we offer clients. Over the years, I’ve noticed that most companies, large and small, aren’t following a standardized process for their marketing. It may seem counterintuitive but creative people need structure to do their best work. It’s not creative to strike any keys on a piano. It takes a tremendous amount of skill coupled with discipline to create good music. The same goes for marketing. Marrying creativity with structure is not an easy thing to do. But when it happens, the result is like rocket fuel. That’s exciting for me.

I’m a champion of independent businesses, and of capitalism in general. Much of my current writing is directly aimed toward the business community in the form of marketing advice that will help them sell more goods. I truly believe that we have the secret sauce to help companies profit and help to make their products famous. I love watching businesses succeed because when they do well, our economy improves and everyone is lifted up.

Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?

To understand the focus of my book, “The CEO’s Guide to Marketing,” just read the subtitle: “The book every marketer should read before their boss does.” After working with hundreds of clients’ marketing departments, I can state without a doubt that most marketing teams know a lot less about marketing that they let on. As I wrote on the book jacket:

“You can prove it in an instant. Ask them to explain the difference between the marketing mix and the promotion mix. It’s a basic question but surprisingly most marketers don’t know the answer. Imagine asking your accounting staff the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement, and finding out you stumped them. Now consider this. You can maybe ring another 20% in sales out of your current customers, but that’s offset by the hole in your customer bucket. Real growth comes from new business development and you’ve entrusted a good share of that to a marketing team that can’t define a basic marketing term. Not good.”

You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?

It’s interesting that you should bring that up because everyone at Media Relations Agency takes a Strengths Finders test. We believe it is essential for all of us to work within our God-given strengths. Mine are:

  1. Strategic: Part of being a strategic leader is knowing you’ve got to surround yourself with good talent and know how to use them. Our team implemented the Strategically Aimed Marketing process outlined in the book, as we prepared for its launch. Our publicists were equipped with a media outreach plan; our content writers prepared press releases, articles, blogs and digital posts, and our digital team designed and created web pages and explainer videos as well as digital ads to support our other promotional efforts. All of these efforts guided people into our sales funnel.
  2. Ideation: I’m a visionary and I’m a visual learner. I am never far from one of my many white boards, where I write down my ideas. As we started our promotional campaign, we were constantly collaborating on angles and hooks that would attract interest in the book. My latest idea, which is in its final stages of development, is what we are calling our Brand Playbook System. The Brand Playbook System is a more dynamic version of a traditional marketing plan and it’s based on the process outlined in our book.
  3. Relator: I’ve been in my readers’ shoes. I am an entrepreneur. I started my career as a marketing manager. I knew, without doubt, that no matter which media asked to interview me, I could find a way to relate to their audience and make my book relevant. Every time I write a promotional piece for our agency, I think deeply about why anyone should care about what I’m writing. All of the good things in life come from caring about others rather than yourself.

In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book? What was the “before and after picture?” What were things like before, and how did things change after the book?

The biggest plus from writing a book is the clients who have come to us after reading it. We have had several very enthusiastic clients ask to do business with us after they had read my book and had started working their way through the Strategically Aimed Marketing process. The services we sell are considered a big-ticket item that usually requires lengthy personal selling. The book is very educational so when prospective clients who have read the book call us, we have less explaining to do and the sale happens faster.

Some entrepreneurs assume that writing a book will make them a celebrity. That’s possible but not often true. Unless you’re already a celebrity, most people only care about what they’ll get from reading what you’ve written.

Books are valuable for the positive media coverage and resulting reputation boost that you’ll get from promoting them. That’s because many of the people interested in your media story will find it easier to jump onto your website and browse your social channels for more information about you and your business. Even people who may never actually read your book may come to trust you because of your media interviews. That’s the power of a book and the media’s third-party credibility.

Some competing PR firms don’t like that we charge per interview we arrange rather than bill by the hour. They feel it cheapens PR’s image in general. I remember one competitor looking down his nose at me asking, “Aren’t you the fellows who sell publicity by the pound?” I said, “No, you must be confusing me with someone else. We are the ones who sell publicity by the ton.” While my comeback put him in his place, his sentiment was clear. I also had the head of a Minnesota PRSA chapter quoted in a major newspaper saying we were a bunch of telephone monkeys who wear headsets and sit four to a desk. There are stinkers out there who like to badmouth you. Having written a good, helpful book is a nice counter to their criticism. I should point out that these criticisms happened many years ago and no one says things like that about our agency anymore. Having an Amazon best seller has further strengthened our reputation.

If a friend came to you and said “I’m considering writing a book but I’m on the fence if it is worth the effort and expense” what would you answer? Can you explain how writing a book in particular, and thought leadership in general, can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?

That’s a complicated question. It’s difficult to make a lot of money from book sales. It can certainly be done but your chances of making money are much better if the book leads the reader to purchase other items from you. Our agency pairs authors as spokespeople for our clients all the time and some of them make handsome fees for the arrangement. Other authors, like myself, have products they sell and the book helps facilitate those sales. In this case, the book may be a loss but the back-end sales more than make up for it.

Becoming a credible authority or thought leader can make your business very charismatic. Doing business with you will have its own cache. But that doesn’t happen by chance. Media Relations works behind the scenes to build reputations and careers. While a book is an important piece of the puzzle, you should always be looking for other opportunities to get your name in the news. The more people who notice your name associated with your industry, the more influence you will gain.

When you’re writing a book, always approach it from your audience’s perspective. Tell your story as they may see it through their eyes. Why should they want to know what you have to say? How will it make their lives better? Only then will your book — your story — become the type of high-value content that attracts media attention. That’s what the media will be looking for: How will your book help their audience?

What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share some stories about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?

I knew some marketers would be insulted when I wrote on the back cover that most marketers know a lot less about marketing than they let on. I believe a few of them have paid me back for my insult by writing snarky reviews. The subtitle is true and intriguing to the media, which has helped with promotion, but I wish I would have thought that through a little more. I think I could have found a way to make my point and not offend people.

One thing I can’t emphasize strongly enough: Every media opportunity has the potential to help establish and grow your reputation. Some entrepreneurs want to hold out for national media placements; or they’ll stipulate that they only want to be interviewed by certain well-known blogger personalities. You build a brand, or in this case your reputation as a thought leader, by rising to fame one rung on the ladder at a time. If that means having to humble yourself, so be it. No opportunity for exposure is too small.

I had a friend who was a low-level media personality. He thought promoting himself by riding in small town parades was a waste of time. So that was it. No point in thinking about it. No point in doing them. No parades for him. I had another friend with a positive attitude. No opportunity to promote himself went to waste. He figured out that if he got near the front of the parade, he could get back in cue and go around again. People thought it was funny when they saw him twice. They would laugh and wave as he went by for the second time.

My first friend’s career fizzled and he slipped quietly into anonymity. My second friend, the positive one who could see possibilities in even the smallest opportunities, went on to become a Governor.

Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging an expert?

Of course, if you don’t have the money to hire experts, you just have to bootstrap it. But let me turn this question around. If you’re writing a book to promote your business, how much time can you spare away from your business to learn how to handle all of the promotional elements? How long will it take for you to get really good at pitching the media, writing the content, following up on leads, creating the digital images, placing the ads, sending the newsletters, etc.? Will your novice mistakes cost you interview opportunities?

A lot of entrepreneurs fear losing control. A well-structured strategic marketing campaign is collaborative. You know your subject matter better than anyone. Your role is to provide those details to an experienced marketing team, and let them work within their strengths to make things happen. We coach our authors before and after interviews so they get better and better at sharing their value points with audiences. It’s exciting to see the interviews get more powerful as our clients’ experience matures.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

You threw me a softball with this one. Whether you’re promoting a book or a widget, my book, The CEO’s Guide to Marketing, is a step-by-step process that answers your question in detail.

  1. To successfully promote your book, you (or your agency) should have basic competence in marketing concepts and principles. You should be able to speak the language of marketing. If you don’t know simple concepts like the marketing mix, the promotional mix, positioning and market segmentation strategies well enough to teach them, you are not a professional marketer and your chances of success go down.
    You need to be clear about how your book helps your audience.
  2. Stay on point with your message. My book will show you how to use what we call Code Sheets to capture such details as primary value points, audience demographics and positioning. You can use this document to stay on point with all of your marketing materials. You will find it invaluable. I used mine while writing my responses to this article. For instance, the primary value points of my book are: It teaches a process; it exposes the problem that most marketers don’t know basic marketing terms; it will increase leads, sales and build a stronger brand; It removes tension. You will notice all of these points as you read this article because my code sheets remind me to stay focused on why people buy my book.
  3. Identify which promotional channels will give you the best bang for your buck and time: publicity, website, social media, advertising and personal selling. They all have pros and cons. Publicity is earned, which gives your story more credibility, but it’s harder to achieve. Blogs and your website give you complete control over your message. Even though I wrote the book on the subject of staying on point, it can be difficult. Especially when I do media interviews. Reporters have a way of leading you down paths that get you off track. Dr. Dan Cohen, who launched Breathe Right Nasal Strips, was a client of ours (and still is). We arranged media coverage for two years while they ramped up distribution. Dr. Dan would do any media anywhere, anytime. We arranged hundreds of media stories for him. He called one day laughing. A late night radio show we booked him on had a goofy host. Dan was talking about how Breathe Right would help reduce snoring for people with a deviated septum. The host asked if it would help reduce gas from a deviated rectum. You have to be prepared to get your interview back on track.
  4. Create a schedule calendar. You will need to repeat the message of your book over and over in many different ways. A calendar will force you to think about things such as: How frequently should your promotions go out? How much money and manpower will be expended each month? If your book has multiple audiences, how much attention will you spend trying to reach each one? Which value points will get the most attention? Remember this: Marketing is like teaching a very misbehaved class. Unlike a traditional classroom, your students both listen and come and go as they please. Teaching the masses is a long and arduous job. A calendarized promotional schedule will prod you along even when you don’t feel like it. Sort of like this morning when I had to get up early to finish writing this article because it was due today…
  5. Give your creative team clear direction. In our agency we use what we call a control template. I give an example of a control template and explain it in detail in The CEO’s Guide to Marketing. If you trust your creative team to get your promotions right you will be disappointed. It’s ok to delegate creative work but don’t abdicate your responsibility to keep your promotions on point.

You’ll need to be disciplined and keep constant vigil when it comes to marketing your book. Following a clear marketing process will reduce your tension and give you peace. I compare good marketing to keeping a clean and organized home. There’s a reason we don’t keep our chainsaw in the kitchen and our silverware in the garage. There is order to marketing. And when it’s done right it feels good just like when your home is neat and clean.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My blogs appear frequently on our website, Publicity.com. We also post links to all of my interviews (written, podcast and broadcast) online.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.

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